Cal starting Levy over Ayoob against Stanford

Updated: November 17, 2005, 8:11 PM ET
Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Steve Levy was named California's starting quarterback for the 108th Big Game on Thursday, replacing struggling Joe Ayoob in the Golden Bears' regular-season finale.

Levy, a junior who played fullback last season, will make his first career start Saturday when Cal (6-4, 3-4 Pac-10) travels across the San Francisco Bay to face archrival Stanford.

Coach Jeff Tedford had hinted at the decision since last weekend, when Ayoob struggled in a 35-10 loss to No. 1 Southern California. The junior-college transfer had the latest in a series of poor performances, going 9-for-19 with four interceptions before getting benched in the fourth quarter.

"Both Steve and Joe Ayoob had a good week of practice and will be ready to play," Tedford said Thursday. "This change also allows Joe an opportunity to observe the defense from a different perspective."

Levy, who hadn't played since throwing a touchdown pass in the season opener against Sacramento State, went 4-for-4 against the Trojans and led Cal's only touchdown drive. He was a backup quarterback before an aborted one-year adventure as a fullback last season, when playing opportunities were scarce behind Aaron Rodgers.

Levy and Ayoob weren't available to reporters after Thursday's practice at Memorial Stadium.

"It's an honor to be able to start in the Big Game, where so many legends have played," Levy said in a statement. "I'm excited about the opportunity that's been given to me. Hopefully I can make something happen."

The Bears were due for some sort of change after losing four of their last five games to ruin a 5-0 start to the season. But Tedford's decision to start Levy is an admission of the quarterback guru's frustration with his inability to reach Ayoob, one of the nation's top juco passers last season at City College of San Francisco.

Ever since playing well in a last-minute loss to UCLA, Ayoob has been tentative and inaccurate. In the last four games, Ayoob is 51-of-119 with 11 interceptions and just five touchdown passes, four in a come-from-behind victory over Washington State.

Ayoob acknowledged his confidence is shot, and he hasn't dealt well with booing from Cal's fans at Memorial Stadium. His mechanics have suffered as well: After an incompletion against USC, an exasperated Tedford pointed out a fundamental flaw in Ayoob's footwork on the sideline.

"Of course I would like to start, but I respect Coach Tedford's decision and what he thinks is best for the team," Ayoob said. "I'm ready to be out there on the sidelines to support Steve during the game, and be ready if my number is called."

Ayoob was beaten out by freshman Nate Longshore for the starting job in training camp, but Longshore broke his ankle in the season opener against Sacramento State. Ayoob went 0-for-10 after relieving Longshore in the opener, but recovered for a handful of decent starts.

The Bears already have qualified for a second-tier bowl game, but Stanford (5-4, 4-3) must win one of its final games against Cal or No. 6 Notre Dame to qualify for its first bowl since 2001.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press