BERKELEY, California — For the first time since his initial season as California coach, Sonny Dykes will go into spring practice looking for a quarterback.
With three-year, record-breaking starter Jared Goff heading off to the NFL, the Golden Bears will have an open competition with four candidates vying for the starting role when spring practice begins in about two months.
But with three full years to build up the roster and implement his system, Dykes expects a much smoother transition than the one the Bears endured during a one-win season in Goff's first season as starter in 2013.
"We'll kind of toss the ball out and see where it goes," Dykes said Wednesday. "Hopefully what will happen is two of them will stand out, or three of them will stand out and we'll give them more reps. We'll divvy up the reps according to who deserves them and how it plays out. If one guy takes the lead, we'll invest some more reps and see how he plays. All of that stuff really depends on the play of the quarterbacks."
The four quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job are last year's backup Chase Forrest, 2014 second-stringer Luke Rubenzer, who played safety last season, Ross Bowers, who sat out as a freshman last year, and early enrollee freshman Max Gilliam.
Forest threw 18 passes last season as a freshman, while Rubenzer threw 21 passes and ran 52 times the previous season when he came in to spot Goff with his running ability.
With three of the four quarterbacks having experience in the system, Dykes expects a cleaner competition than the one Goff won as an early enrollee freshman in 2013.
But Goff will leave a big void. He holds school records for yards passing (12,200), completions (977) and touchdown passes (96). He improved every season and finished this past year with career highs of 4,719 yards passing, 43 touchdown passes, 64.5 percent completion rate and a 161.3 passer rating.
Depending on who wins the job, the Bear Raid offense might need tinkering.
"That's one of the things we've always done pretty well is figure out what a quarterback can do and adjust the offense accordingly," Dykes said. "We have some base things that we do. If we have more of a running quarterback then obviously the offense will change to feature more quarterback runs and more play-action passes and that type of thing than maybe have if you have a pure pocket guy."
While Cal returns four starting offensive linemen and its top three rushers from last season, the new quarterback will have to break in some new receivers. With Kenny Lawler's decision last week to leave early for the NFL, the Bears will be without their top six receivers from last season.
Chad Hansen is the leading returner with 19 catches last season and Raymond Hudson had 10. Dykes is looking for Carlos Strickland and Brandon Singleton to step up after sitting most of the past season as freshmen, as well as hoping to get contributions from some incoming freshmen.
"That's going to be the fun thing about spring football," he said. "There will be a lot of guys catching balls and having a competition to get on the radar. ... I love the talent level of these guys. I wish they had more experience, but I think it will be a good group."
With Cal having improved from one win in Dykes' first year to a 5-7 mark in 2014 to an 8-5 record this past season, recruiting has become easier. Dykes also credited improved relationships with his coaches and high school coaches and the improved academics at Cal that make it easier to sell to high school players and their parents.
"From that standpoint, it's a night and day difference," Dykes said.
The Bears already have nine early enrollees for this year's recruiting class and several other commitments, leaving only a handful of open scholarships to offer to players in the coming weeks.