LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Cal’s Jared Goff is the current face of Pac-12 quarterbacks. The junior and three-year starter has been the cornerstone on which head coach Sonny Dykes built the program from a one-game winner just two years ago, into a Top 25 team and contender for the Pac-12 North title.
UCLA’s Josh Rosen is the future face of the Pac-12. A 5-star recruit from Southern California prep powerhouse St. John Bosco, Rosen lived up to his blue-chip billing by winning the vacant starting job three-year starter Brett Hundley vacated in the offseason.
Present and future underscores Thursday’s Pac-12 Conference showdown between the Golden Bears and Bruins.
Goff is the crystal ball image of all Rosen can be: savvy field-general; quick to read his progression; anticipates defenses and places passes accurately all over the field. Goff’s impressive skill set has made him arguably the most coveted quarterback in the 2016 draft class.
Goff’s road to potential No. 1 draft pick wasn’t exactly smooth, though. In Rosen’s play, there’s a reflection of how Goff came to this point.
Like Rosen, Goff became the starting quarterback as a freshman without the benefit of a redshirt season. From the proverbial firing pan into the fire.
Most college freshmen struggle adapting to their class schedules and not putting on too much weight from eating student union food. Imagine learning a playbook and captaining a Pac-12 offense just months removed from high school.
Quarterbacking a team as a freshman is a cumbersome task, and even the most talented are sure to endure growing pains.
Goff’s debut campaign featured plenty of flashes of the stardom to come. He was brilliant against Ohio State, throwing for 371 yards and three touchdowns. But, like 10 other games on the 2013 docket, that Ohio State contest ended in a Cal loss.
The potholes in Rosen’s road midway through his freshman season aren’t nearly as deep. The Bruins enter Thursday’s contest losers of two straight, but remain contenders for the Pac-12 South title. A win over Cal is necessary to keep that hope alive, but UCLA is more than capable of doing just that.
Rosen’s learning curve is less pronounced because, quite frankly, the team around him is significantly better than 2013 Cal. But that in and of itself isn’t enough to protect Rosen from freshman mistakes.
He’s thrown seven interceptions through six games, including three in the Bruins’ current losing skid. Excluding a stellar Week 1 performance against Virginia, Rosen’s completed more than 60 percent of his pass attempts just once, in UCLA’s rout of Arizona.
A productive run game anchored by veteran Paul Perkins isn’t enough to mask the reality that while Rosen’s future is incredibly bright, uncertainty defines his present.
Rosen will be better for the wear as his UCLA career progresses. Already labeled a potential NFL “franchise quarterback” by former scout and NFL.com columnist Bucky Brooks, he boasts every attribute that makes Goff so successful at Cal.
Those attributes require refinement, and each outing inches the talented freshman closer to his destiny.
The end goal for Rosen in his time at UCLA will be on full display tonight. He’ll just be wearing a different shade of blue and gold.