Can Cal Survive Another Year with Their Achilles Heel Kevin Riley Under Center?

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Can Cal Survive Another Year with Their Achilles Heel Kevin Riley Under Center?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

I’m spent.

Seriously, I used my 6-month-old daughter as an excuse to skip the Cal football team’s spring game.

She couldn’t possibly sit through that and a Cal-Stanford tennis match.

Really, all it took to send this featured column into a month-long hibernation was one CalBears.com box score.

In Cal’s first scrimmage of spring practice, Kevin Riley attempted seven more passes than Beau Sweeney and nine more than Brock Mansion, despite what Cal coach Jeff Tedford had deemed an "open" quarterback competition. In fact, Kevin Riley attempted more passes than any other quarterback wearing blue and gold in every practice documented during spring ball.

I was praying I wouldn’t have to write a Kevin Riley column. Swearing on Oski’s plastic eye tube, I refused to pen another piece on the Bears’ fifth-year Achilles heel.

But here we are again.

Kevin Riley will be Cal’s starter come opening day 2010.

No question in my mind.

And not much has changed since August 21, 2009 (the last time I wrote a Riley manifesto), other than the fact that Phil Steele no longer has KR on his Heisman Trophy watch list and he should be closer to No. 122 than No. 22 amongst draft eligible quarterbacks ranked by Steele , or anyone else.

I asked last season, somewhat rhetorically:

"If [Kevin Riley] doesn’t improve immensely, will a serviceable quarterback be enough to compliment eight returning starters on defense and a Heisman hopeful in the backfield? Or will Riley cost his team another shot at greatness?"

Sure the offensive line didn’t give him enough time, yes the defense didn’t live up to expectations and I could write a dozen columns on the not-so-special teams.

But again, Kevin Riley was serviceable, not spectacular.

He couldn’t complement the Bears brilliant backfield.

Couldn’t complete critical third downs.

Couldn’t keep defenses honest.

Couldn’t play a simple game of catch with a wide-open Shane Vereen on one of the best trick plays of Jeff Tedford’s tenure.

Jeremiah Masoli is gone . Pete Carroll too (along with his entire secondary). Toby Gerhart and Brian Price will both be playing on Sundays, not Saturdays, and the Washington and Arizona schools amount to Jake Locker and, well, not much else. That leaves Oregon State as the class of the conference in my mind, assuming Andrew Luck and LaMichael James can’t do it all on their own.

It also leaves Cal somewhere in the middle, with far fewer expectations than in Riley's past four seasons in the Strawberry Canyon.

My take: I think Shane Vereen puts up Jahvid Best-like numbers minus the Heisman hype this season, that Jeremy Ross has a breakout year, and the defense and special teams return to solid status.

But I can't help but ask myself the same question this season as I did last: will Riley cost his team yet another shot at greatness? Or if not greatness, how about a Rose Bowl?

I'm guessing at season's end the blue and gold faithful will just be glad the fifth-year Achilles is finally out of eligibility.

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