SAN FRANCISCO — When California opens its first fall camp under new coach Sonny Dykes, the top priority will be identifying the starting quarterback.
The Golden Bears came out of spring ball with junior Austin Hinder, redshirt freshman Zach Kline and freshman Jared Goff in the mix to take over the offense when practice starts Aug. 5.
None of the three quarterbacks has ever played a game in college, leaving the Bears untested at the most important position heading into Dykes’ first season. That places added priority on identifying the starter as soon as possible to get him ready for a tough opening stretch of the schedule that begins at home against Northwestern on Aug. 31.
“I’m hoping it will happen quickly,” Dykes said Monday. “We’ll see how it plays out. I don’t know if it will be a guy that’s a lot better than the other two guys from day one. I don’t know if it will be two guys separating themselves from a third guy. I don’t know if there’s not going to be much separation. I just don’t know. There has to be a level of flexibility with this and how you’re going to treat it.”
Improving the quarterback play is one of the top priorities for Dykes, who takes over a team from Jeff Tedford that went 3-9 last season and has had inconsistent quarterback play in the eight seasons since Aaron Rodgers left school.
All three of this year’s quarterbacks came to Cal as heralded high school passers and there was little separation after spring practice.
They have different attributes with Hinder being the most mobile and experienced with three years in the program, Kline having the strongest arm and Goff being the most accurate and familiar with Dykes’ spread system.
“There’s different strengths and weaknesses,” Dykes said. “The big thing we have to do is see which one we think can lead us to win.”
Dykes has no problems starting a true freshman like Goff, having done it with 17-year-old Nick Isham at Louisiana Tech in 2010.
Doing that this year could be slightly more problematic given the difficult early schedule. After hosting Northwestern, the Bears have a home game two weeks later against an Ohio State team that went undefeated last year and also have road games against Pac-12 division favorites Oregon and UCLA in the first half of the season.
“The silver lining in all of this is our weaknesses will be exposed and we’ll be able to address them early because we’re going to play good football teams,” he said. “If you play three patsies nonconference then you don’t really know what you have to get fixed. We’ll know probably two or three series into that Northwestern game here is what we have to get fixed and here’s how we’re going to do it.”
On the injury front, Dykes expects his team to be almost completely healthy when practice starts with the exception of offensive tackle Bill Tyndall, who is recovering from a broken ankle in spring ball. Tyndall is expected back for the opener.
Big-play running back Brendan Bigelow is healthy after missing spring practice recovering from knee surgery and cornerback Stefan McClure is back after missing all of 2012 recovering from a knee injury.