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Cal's Riley not afraid to compete (again) for starting job

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

No, California quarterback Kevin Riley didn't like alternating the starting job with Nate Longshore in 2008. And, no, he's not happy that coach Jeff Tedford said there will be open competition for starting quarterback in 2009.

That's being honest but not (necessarily) disgruntled.

Riley knows, however, that he has a lot to prove after an inconsistent performance this past season, and that proving starts even before spring practices get rolling on March 10.

"Just determined," Riley said of his present attitude. "I believe the team has faith in me. I think the coaches have faith in me. I'm expecting to be the guy."

And if Riley breaks through?

The Bears, with 18 starters back from a team that won nine games, could become the team that finally unseats USC atop the Pac-10.

"Looking at who we return -- we've got a lot of people back -- I don't think anyone is going to be happy on this team without the Pac-10 title," Riley said.

A lot hinges on which Riley shows up. Will it be the guy who led the Bears to a 3-1 start last fall, completing 57 percent of his passes while amassing a 7:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio?

Or the guy who lost his confidence and accuracy as he was yanked in and out of the lineup over the final two-thirds of the season?

Of course, to be fair, there was some general, er, strangeness to last year.

Those numbers listed as the "Good Riley" weren't enough to keep Riley in the starting lineup, as he was replaced by Nate Longshore for game five against Arizona State.

That started the quarterback merry-go-round that reignited an endless -- and we mean ENDLESS -- subject of debate among Cal fans and media.

"It's not the easiest thing," Riley said. "We didn't really know who was going to play until the day before [the game], on that Friday. It was something you've got to live with. It would be nice to have the position stable."

Riley admitted that it damaged his confidence.

"Yeah I'd say so," he said. "When you're in the game and a couple of things go wrong -- you don't like that this happens -- but it kind of pops into your head that, 'Man, I wonder if I'm going to get benched.' So you try to do too much to get out of the funk that you are in."

Also surprising was the lack of a final turn on the quarterback merry-go-round.

Riley stayed on the sideline the entire game while Longshore struggled mightily during the Emerald Bowl victory -- a game Cal would have won easily if it just had gotten adequate quarterback play.

There was considerable speculation afterward that Riley had an unreported injury, which might also explain some of his passing struggles during the season's second half.

Riley admits he had some issues, but he seems determined to avoid sounding like he's making an excuse.

"I got beat up a little bit," he said. "Had a couple of throwing shoulder problems. It wasn't terrible. It was playable. Just basic stuff everyone else goes through."

Also beat up was his pride. Tedford said during Emerald Bowl preparation that sophomore Brock Mansion will challenge Riley for the starting job this spring.

"It bothered me a little bit but it's not a big deal," Riley said. "Competition makes everybody better. I'm excited for it, excited to go out there and prove who I am on the field."

Riley said his accuracy will come back. It also might help that his entire receiving corps -- perhaps the greenest unit in the Pac-10 in 2008 -- returns intact.

"They're going to be tenfold better," Riley said.

That should help the Cal quarterback look a lot better in 2009.

Or will that be quarterbacks?