Open up the hood on the California football team, and it is clear that the skill-player parts are in place for the offense to perform like a powerful car.
More than 90 percent of the team’s receiving yards from 2005 are back, and the offensive line — despite losing three starters — boasts experience, since last year’s backups got plenty of playing time due to injuries.
Oh, and there is tailback Marshawn Lynch, the 1,200-yard rusher who is the Pac-10’s top preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.
All the Golden Bears need to do with this high-performance vehicle is find the right guy to start the engine. Quarterback is the only question mark that Cal coach Jeff Tedford has.
“We have tremendous competition at quarterback, and that gives us a lot of confidence,” said Tedford, whose team is ranked ninth in the preseason Associated Press poll.
Considered perhaps the best QB coach in the country, Tedford has rarely had inconsistency at the position like he did last season. The same cast has returned, as Nate Longshore, Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy are competing for the starting job.
Longshore won the QB role out of camp in 2005 but suffered an ankle injury in the first game. Ayoob was so inconsistent that Tedford turned to Levy, a former fullback, for the final two contests — the rivalry game at Stanford and the Las Vegas Bowl against Brigham Young, both victories.
Levy’s chances of making the first team have been hurt by his suspension for the Bears’ opening game at Tennessee because of his involvement in an offseason bar fight.
“(In) preparation of being in the offense and game-planning, Nate has the most experience,” Tedford said. “He doesn’t have the on-field experience of Joe, but the physical part with Nate — he’s big with a great arm and can throw any ball on the field — he’s got a lot of positives. . .
“And then Steve, he brings his competitiveness, his love for the game and his passion for game.”
Another facet of the QB competition is how each candidate handles the spread formation, which Tedford will utilize at times this season. The idea is to force the defense to open up and create more angles for Lynch.
Another indication of how loaded Cal is on offense is the fact that Justin Forcett, the second-string tailback, would start for many teams. Forcett ran for 999 yards last season — a whopping 7.6 yards per attempt.
“He’s my favorite back in the country,” Lynch said of his backup.
2005 record: 8-4 overall, 4-4 Pac-10 (tied for fourth)
Coach: Jeff Tedford (fifth season at Cal; 33-17)
Offensive formation: Multiple
Defensive formation: 4-3
Returning starters: 15
Five guys to eye:
LB Desmond Bishop (6-2, 245, Sr.);
CB Daymeion Hughes (6-2, 185, Sr.);
RB Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215, Jr.);
DT Brandon Mebane (6-3, 290, Sr.);
DE Nu’u Tafisi (6-2, 260, Sr.)
Sept. 2 — at Tennessee;
Sept. 9 — Minnesota;
Sept. 16 — Portland State;
Sept. 23 — Arizona State;
Sept. 30 — at Oregon State;
Oct. 7 — Oregon;
Oct. 14 — at Washington State;
Oct. 21 — Washington;
Nov. 4 — UCLA;
Nov. 11 — at Arizona;
Nov. 18 — at USC;
Dec. 2 — Stanford
This is the fifth of a nine-part series previewing each of Arizona State’s rivals in the Pac-10.
Coming Thursday: Stanford