Don't be surprised if... California

Fourth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see California's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if ... California quarterback Kevin Riley, after an inconsistent career, turns in a solid senior season.

Watching Riley during the Bears listless loss to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl made my head hurt, but the good news is it made me forget about stabbing my eyes out while watching him in the regular-season finale at Washington.

My overriding thought as Cal's extraordinarily disappointing 2009 season thudded to an end: No way Riley can start at quarterback in 2010. No way.

But Riley will start at QB in 2010. And my feeling for what Bears fans can expect from him has changed, and not just because Riley is a stand-up guy and an often amusing interview.

Let's put it this way: Think of yourself at this time last year. If I had written that Sean Canfield would be the first-team All-Pac-10 QB in 2009, you would have flown to Scottsdale and beaten me over the head with a stick. Canfield's resume last summer included: 1. 15 interceptions vs. nine TD passes in 2007; 2. A junior year as a backup with shoulder issues.

Then: Poof! Senior break through.

Former USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002 after a stellar season. The year before, he threw 13 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

Oregon fans were writing sonnets about Dennis Dixon before he got hurt in 2007. And so was I. Guy was unstoppable. And he became that way despite throwing nine interceptions and just two TD passes in the final six games of 2006.

Before USC's run, it was almost a prerequisite to have experience at QB if a team wanted to compete for the Pac-10 championship. Just look at the conference champions and the first-team All-Pac-10 QBs starting in 2002 and going back: Palmer and Jason Gesser, Joey Harrington, Marques Tuiasosopo, Todd Husak, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf (albeit a junior who finished with 24 career starts), Jake Plummer, etc.

Sure, Riley completed just 46 percent of his passes and was sacked 18 times in Cal's five losses last year. But the Bears offensive line and receiving corps should be better in 2010 because -- just like Riley -- they are more experienced.

Is Riley going to win first-team All-Pac-10 QB? Probably not in a conference with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.

But the expectation here is that Riley will turn in solid numbers this fall.