QB Longshore to start Cal opener vs. Tennessee

Updated: August 30, 2006, 5:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Sophomore Nate Longshore will start at quarterback for No. 9 Cal in Saturday's season opener at No. 23 Tennessee, coach Jeff Tedford announced Tuesday.

Longshore outlasted last year's starter Joe Ayoob, who struggled in 2005 with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Tedford will still consider using Ayoob depending on the flow of the game.

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Listen to ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel break down the latest news on Cal QB Nate Longshore and former Oklahoma lineman J. D. Quinn. ESPNU Insider

"They've both had great camps, [but] somebody has got to take the first snap," Tedford said. "It's very possible they'll both play. Nate has run the offense very well. There wasn't a lot of difference between them, but Nate has been real consistent."

Longshore missed all of last season after tearing ligaments in an ankle and breaking a leg in the second quarter of the opener against Sacramento State and has battled back problems recently.

"I've been working hard just to be able to play again," Longshore said after practice. "My back is fine now. It was stiff yesterday but fine today. I'm ready to roll."

Longshore is not worried about his lack of experience on the field.

"I feel old, to be honest," Longshore said. "As a freshman, I watched Aaron Rodgers play. Then last year I had to watch from the sidelines. I'm fired up to play at Tennessee. It's pretty loud on the video game, so I'm sure it will be 100 times louder in person."

Blue Ribbon preview: California
California
Others, especially Bears fans, could -- and probably have -- talk for hours, throwing around statistics showing just how remarkable a turnaround the Cal program has made under fifth-year coach Jeff Tedford. There's really no need, though.

Tedford's success can be summed up quickly:

In 2001, the Bears won a single football game. That's 1-10.

Last season, a mere four years removed from that debacle, Cal finished 8-4. However, here's the catch -- last season was considered not only a transition year, but also somewhat of a disappointment.

•  To read more of Blue Ribbon's preview of California, click here

The Golden Bears have their highest preseason ranking in 54 years despite a summer of uncertainty at quarterback, where Tedford has tutored a series of valued NFL prospects in his career.

Longshore also beat out Ayoob last season, but broke his leg near the ankle in the first half of Cal's first game. Ayoob took over and started nine games as a junior, but lost the job to third-stringer Steve Levy after throwing 11 interceptions in his final four games.

Levy, who won't travel to Knoxville as punishment for his involvement in an offseason bar fight, led Cal to victories over Stanford and Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Longshore, who redshirted in 2004, worked tirelessly to get back into shape after the serious injury in his college debut. He then injured his back in practice last week, forcing him to miss four days of workouts -- but Tedford still had faith in the 6-foot-5 sophomore.

"Either way, I'm sure we'll both play, and we just want to go out there and execute the offense," said Longshore, who stayed late after Tuesday's practice and threw 55-yard passes to receiver DeSean Jackson. "I'm excited. We're jelling and we're getting each other's timing down. We're figuring everything out, and it's coming together at the right time."

Cal changed its offense in the offseason, adding elements of a spread attack from new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. Ayoob starred in a spread offense in community college, but Longshore also has been adept with the shotgun snaps and athletic plays required in the spread.

Ayoob, who passed for 1,707 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, took the news fairly well -- though his disappointment was obvious.

"If Nate comes out and goes 10-for-10, I don't think I'll go in," Ayoob said of Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium. "But my understanding is I'll get some playing time, so we'll see what happens. It's not about who's starting or not. It's about winning games."

ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.