BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — As California coach Justin Wilcox looks to navigate a season like no other, he can at least lean on a veteran quarterback who has endured his share of trials winning the job.
Chase Garbers has emerged as a reliable option under center at a school that has produced its share of elite quarterbacks but most recently had shined on the defensive side of the ball. Garbers redshirted then played through a pair of quarterback competitions to become the Golden Bears' offensive leader.
Now, Garbers is the most experienced quarterback in the Pac-12, an understated star who leads all others in the conference at his position for starts and wins.
“Experience this year will be a huge part of anyone’s success especially with the shortened season that we have,” Garbers said. “I think we’re one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12 this year and that will help us with where we want to succeed.”
Wilcox realizes every college football team faces challenges with COVID-19 protocols and social-distancing. So rather than focusing on what his team can’t do, he is determined to send the message that Cal must proceed and persevere despite it all.
“There are just some of these things that we could be frustrated, you have a lot of questions, but it really doesn’t do any good, it doesn’t serve a purpose,” said Wilcox, beginning his fourth season in Berkeley. “Our purpose right now is to go out there as a team and practice and improve so we can get ready to play Nov. 7.”
For football social-distancing in Berkeley to work, that meant two separate practices during training camp.
“It’s definitely been a little bit different,” Garbers said.
Camryn Bynum changed his mind and returned to the Cal program after previously having announced he would enter the 2021 NFL draft.
The Bears’ star cornerback announced Sept. 6 he would forego his senior season, then switched gears less than a month later on Oct. 5 with another social media post of his intentions to have his “sequel” in Berkeley.
“A movie with no sequel? Never that!” wrote Bynum, who also considered turning pro in 2018 and '19.
Cal’s leader in pass breakups and passes defensed while starting all 38 games from 2017-19, this is a big deal.
“When he made the decision to leave we all understood but when we found out he was coming back it was even more excitement, more joy,” Garbers said.
Last season was largely focused on making offensive strides for Garbers and his unit after the defense shined the previous year.
Garbers completed 131 of 215 passes for 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions as Cal finished 8-5.
He has more starts and wins than any Pac-12 quarterback.
Wide receiver Kekoa Crawford should be a top target after he missed four games with an injury last season.
“Offensively we’re right where we want to be. We’ve kind of started over installing,” Garbers said. “We can’t wait for what we have in store.”
The offense will look different under new coordinator Bill Musgrave, also the quarterbacks coach on Wilcox’s staff.
Musgrave spent 20 years coaching in the NFL.
Garbers, for one, can’t wait to run a pro-style offense and expects he will be going deep with some regularity.
“I can’t wait to execute this offense this year,” Garbers said.
Cal was able to practice from Day 1 on Oct. 9 as the Pac-12 allowed teams to begin.
The Bears haven't had any positive coronavirus tests since practice began.
“There are going to be challenges in preparing the team for the season,” Wilcox said. “We’re not going to make any excuses on the limitations.”
Cal was supposed to begin by playing UNLV in the first game at the Las Vegas Raiders’ new home in Sin City, Allegiant Stadium, on Aug. 29. Now, Cal will instead open with a home game Nov. 7 against Washington at Memorial Stadium.
“Everybody’s so energized to be back on the field after having the shelter in place and all the uncertainty that surrounded the summer,” Wilcox said.
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