Cal Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff is probably the best college quarterback you’ve never heard of. He plays for a Pac-12 squad that has constantly played second fiddle to programs like Oregon, Stanford and others in recent years, and Cal has only gone 11-18 (5-15 Pac-12) since he arrived on campus as a four-star freshman out of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin Catholic High School in 2013.
And, despite all of that, Goff is putting together a Heisman-caliber season and has his team undefeated thus far, with a big game against No. 5 Utah coming up in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Long story short, No. 23 Cal’s chances of pulling off the upset start and end with how well Goff performs.
Goff could be destined for another great game if he continues playing like he has all season long. He has thrown for 1,630 yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions while completing 70.2 percent of his passes, and has filled out nicely into an ideal quarterback’s build of 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.
The craziest part is that, after going 6-18 over his first two seasons, Cal is 5-0 (2-0 Pac-12) in 2015. After winning by sheer luck against Texas in Week 3, with the Longhorns having missed a final-seconds extra point that would have tied the game, Goff has led Cal to consecutive in-conference victories against Washington and Washington State. The Golden Bears’ defense has left plenty to be desired, ranking 84th in the nation in that area, but Goff has put the team on his back to get them where they are now. Against the Cougars last weekend, he brought Cal back from a 21-7 deficit and engineered a game-winning drive to help pull off a 34-28 win.
Although Goff and Cal have plenty of momentum at their backs heading into their game against the Utes, there is no denying that this game is going to be their biggest test of the season thus far. Utah is coming off a bye week following an absolute thrashing of Oregon two weeks ago, to the tune of 62-20, and ranks 32nd in total defense.
Utah is also the only team this year to have defeated a Michigan Wolverines squad that appears resurgent under coach Jim Harbaugh. The Utes also have eight sacks on the season and only allow 238.5 pass yards per game, below Goff’s season average of 326.
This means that Goff needs to be fully focused come Saturday. Unlike Utah, he and his teammates have not had the luxury of a bye week and though they won’t be as fresh, the fact that they have played more recently should count for something.
More importantly, Goff’s name is being tossed around as a potential top draft pick for next year. He stock is rocketing skyward right now and can continue doing so with a win over Utah. However, a loss could see his momentum stall, which could hurt his overall value come draft time.
But Goff has proven with each passing season that his football IQ is only one that grows with time. He has managed to look good even in defeat, having thrown for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions his freshman year, when Cal went 1-11.
The only difference is that this time around, Cal is actually in a position to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff, which means beating Utah in Salt Lake City. In order for that to happen, Goff needs to be in top form against a strong Utes defense.
If he can win that battle and keep the Golden Bears moving up the ladder and not stumble, he could easily find himself being called the best quarterback in the game.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports