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Cal football seals fate by naming freshman to start at quarterback

August 16, 2013|By Chris Dufresne

Legendary L.A. Rams and Washington Redskins coach George Allen loved to play veterans as he lived by the credo "The Future is Now."

First-year Cal Coach Sonny Dykes, on the other hand, announced Friday the future is 2015 when he named true freshman Jared Goff as starting quarterback.

There are few axioms more true in college football than this one: "You can't win big with a true freshman at quarterback."

USC infamously tried to tempt this theory five years ago this summer when Pete Carroll shockingly announced first-year man Matt Barkley, not third-year junior Aaron Corp, would start. Corp lost his job after he was injured in camp and never got it back.

USC was coming off an 11-1 season and was still in the business of competing for national titles. But history said no true freshman who started the season had ever led his team to a national title.

In 1985, true frosh Jamelle Holieway led Oklahoma to the title but he was forced into the job after starter Troy Aikman broke his leg. Coach Barry Switzer, in a bind, switched to the Wishbone and it worked out beautifully.

I asked Switzer a few years ago if he was nervous playing a freshman. "Hell yeah," he said.

USC's Barkley decision backfired as I predicted it would in this story.

Carroll covered his decision by almost shamelessly repeating how great Barkley was going to be, but he was merely OK-to-good as a freshman. He finished with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Trojans finished 9-4 with a trip to the Emerald Bowl.

Barkley ended up having a really fine career, even though he was never named first team all conference. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Cal's decision to play a freshman, though, is way different. The Bears are clearly in transition coming off a 3-9 season, with a new coach. Cal is not a contender for the league title, let alone the BCS.

Dykes isn't gambling much by starting Goff as Cal figures to struggle this year against one of the nation's toughest schedules. The Bears host Northwestern and Ohio State in non-conference with Pac 12 games at Oregon, UCLA and Stanford.

Cal can afford to have a quarterback grow up on the job. It almost makes sense.

In 2009, though, USC could not afford it and it didn't make sense.

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