By Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports Senior Writer
BERKELEY (CBS Sports) — It wasn’t entirely a redemptive, feel-good story this week with Aaron Rodgers. With his success, Green Bay’s Super Bowl savior also shined a light on the quarterback situation at his alma mater, California.
Since 2005, The Replacements — the quarterbacks to follow Rodgers in Berkeley — haven’t come close to measuring up. Only once since Rodgers left has a Cal quarterback finished in the top 60 in NCAA pass efficiency. Pac-10 cellar-dweller Washington State has had quarterbacks finish in the top 50 four times in the same period.
Something has happened since then. Rodgers was the sixth first-round quarterback overseen by Cal coach Jeff Tedford. The mojo/momentum/magic that started for Tedford in 1992 at Fresno State has, inexplicably, died. Sure, Cal has won but the coach who built his career by building quarterbacks has been forced to do it a different way lately.
If we’re going to judge Tedford by his quarterbacks’ post-college accomplishments — and we are — then it’s only fair we zero in on the post-Rodgers group. Among them are a current broadcaster for a high school cable network and a couple of guys with arena league teams, including one with a fever. Rather, a guy with the Fever. That would be Joseph Ayoob (Cal, 2005-06) of the Tri-Cities Fever.
“The last great one [at Cal] was Aaron,” said Rick Kimbrel, a Rivals.com West Coast recruiting analyst and a one-time CBS Sports contributor. “Guys that they picked just haven’t panned out. I have no idea what’s going on with that quarterback situation. When that happens, you’re picking the wrong guys.”
Tedford built a large part of his reputation as offensive coordinator at Fresno and Oregon before going to Cal in 2002. His NFL prodigies include Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Rodgers. Two of those — Dilfer and Rodgers — have won Super Bowls. Dilfer, Smith, Carr and Harrington all threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Rodgers was the exception in that group — a difference maker drafted 24th overall by the Packers and bred as the eventual successor to Brett Favre. Tedford was at the top of his game following Rodgers’ final college season in 2004. His program was emerging as the primary Pac-10 challenger to Southern California in the mid-2000s. Rodgers had beaten the Trojans in a three-overtime epic in 2003 and fell just short in 2004 despite completing 23 consecutive passes against the Trojans.
It can be argued Cal has never been the same. The bitter 23-17 loss to USC in 2004 was the difference in the Bears not getting to a BCS bowl that year. What followed was the Cal quarterback malaise that continues today. The quarterbacks to follow Rodgers — Nate Longshore, Ayoob, Steve Levy, Kevin Riley and current rising senior Brock Mansion — didn’t exactly stir the blood. Or put up enough points.
Levy is the one working for MSG Varsity, a 24/7 high school cable network. Longshore recently signed with the San Jose SaberCats to play arena football. Don’t forget Kyle Reed, a prep All-American from Oakland who spent a couple of years on campus before transferring to San Jose State.
Longshore finished 28th in pass efficiency in 2006, but slumped to 72nd in 2007. Last season, the Bears didn’t have a quarterback in the top 100 in NCAA passing stats. That’s understandable since the program of the one-time quarterback expert was second-to-last in the Pac-10 and 94th nationally in passing offense.
This from a school that produced Craig Morton, Joe Kapp, Mike Pawlawski, Steve Bartkowski and Boller before Rodgers. To be fair, Tedford arguably has been the most successful Cal coach in a half century. Almost 90 percent of his seniors have earned their degrees and/or played in the NFL. While quarterbacking has suffered, the two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year has become a position guru in a different area. The Bears have morphed into a tailback factory, pumping out J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best in recent years.
It’s hard to blame the quarterback failings all on recruiting. Reed was a high school-All American. Ayoob was one of the best junior college players in the country. Call it luck but Tedford reportedly found Rodgers while recruiting tight end Garrett Cross at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Kimbrel said. “I called Aaron up and he had no offers out of high school. He had a 4.0, 1400 SAT and nobody was going for him. Yeah, he was short. I talked to him for a good hour, when he was a senior in high school, ‘Just go to a juco and prove them wrong.’ All during the Super Bowl I was thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if he remembers that.’”
So what’s next?
A new, tougher, Pac-12 where Cal will compete with Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford in the North Division. Coordinator Andy Ludwig is out, which might point out some of the quarterback problems. New offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik is the program’s fifth in 10 years. This is his second go-round, having also coordinated the offense in 2007.
It should be an interesting spring with six quarterbacks in the mix, seven by the time fall drills roll around. Mansion, a fifth-year senior from Dallas, started the final four games of 2010. The next guy to be measured against Rodgers’ legacy could be a transfer from the University of Buffalo.
Remember the name Zach Maynard. No, really, remember it. It’s a long way from Rodgers to here. The former Buffalo starter in 2009 is expected by some to be the Cal frontrunner in 2011.
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