Kevin Riley's Continued Development is Key for California's Pac-10 Title Hopes

Danny PenzaSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2009

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Kevin Riley #13 of the California Golden Bears celebrates a touchdown by Jahvid Best that gave the Bear a 13-0 lead over the Maryland Terrapins at California Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A year ago, we didn't really know what Kevin Riley we were going to get. We all knew the kid has serious talent as a quarterback, we but we only saw it in glimpses.

Due to consistently inconsistent play, Riley was shuttled in and out of the lineup with senior Nate Longshore. The merry-go-round under center in Berkeley was something that Riley certainly found frustrating. He obviously never established himself as the full-time starter and no real groove with the offense could happen.

With Longshore off and graduated, California's starting quarterback job was Riley's to lose entering fall camp.

Armed with refined mechanics and the confidence in knowing he is head coach Jeff Tedford's top choice, Riley entered Saturday night's game against Maryland ready to roll.

And the performance that Riley turned in against the Terps showed that the junior is ready to lead the Cal offense and attempt to meet the lofty expectations hovering above Strawberry Canyon that comes with a preseason ranking of No. 12 in the country.

It wasn't all easy for Riley. He did start slow, going 1-for-5 in the first quarter. It seemed as though this might be the same quarterback from last season who looked nervous and uncertain. The touch wasn't there one bit and it showed in the results.

Cal was up 14-3 after the first, but it wasn't because Riley was lighting things up.

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The second quarter was a totally different story and it seemed as though things just instantly clicked as the nerves of the season's opener went away. Riley led scoring drives of 62, 49, and 69 yards that saw Cal's lead balloon up to 31-6.

His second half seemingly picked up right where the first lest off. Riley made probably his prettiest throw of the game when he threw a 42-yeard bomb into the arms of receiver Marvin Jones in the back of the end zone.

It was a fitting exclamation point on a great two quarters of play for Riley and showed that Cal have the potential to be an all-around great offense.

Throwing out the first quarter struggles, Riley showed that this isn't the same quarterback we saw last season. He finished the game going 17-for-26 for 298 yards and a career-high four touchdowns and most importantly, no interceptions.

It was definitely a nice line to see in the season-opener, but the performance by Riley means a lot more than just throwing close to 300 yards in one game.

Seeing running back Jahvid Best scamper up and down the field at Memorial Stadium is somewhat predictable, but trying to predict what kind of Riley we would see against Maryland wasn't exactly easy. His success after he settled in, although the Terps aren't close to being the team they were last year or toughest team Cal will face this season, showed that he is most likely the determining factor as to how far the team can go.

When he's on, like he was Saturday, Cal is a serious force to be reckoned with. He adds yet another dimension to go along with Best and fellow running back Shane Vareen carrying the ball.

It's no surprise that Best said when Riley is playing like he did for the good portion of Saturday night that they are "unstoppable." When you have a sufficient compliment to the speed demon that is the center of the Golden Bears' offense, teams can't always plan their defense around him.

Having Riley on point will not only keep defenses honest, it will certainly open up chances for Best to get even more involved—whether it is through the passing game or carrying the ball. That’s what you like to hear when you have one of the most dangerous weapons in college football.

But when he's off, like he was for a lot of last season, the team struggles to establish consistency. That causes Best to even carry more of the load than he already has to do.

Although it’s not always a bad thing to have Best recorded a good chunk of yardage, Tedford, or any coach for that matter, will tell you that balance offensively is crucial to their team’s success.

If Riley can continue to improve over the course of the season like he did over the course of the Maryland game, Cal without a doubt will be pushing USC for the Pac-10 title as well as a BCS bowl bid.

Cal will always be a threat running the ball and a productive Riley only makes them that much better.

So far, so good for Mr. Riley. Test No. 1 passed with ease.

Apparently things are easier when you know you're the man.