Riley to start in Bears' season opener

Updated: August 21, 2008, 11:16 PM ET
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com

A late surge in preseason practices earned California sophomore Kevin Riley the starting nod over senior Nate Longshore in the competition to be the Bears starting quarterback in the Aug. 30 season opener against Michigan State.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford made the announcement after Thursday's practice, and he added that Longshore would play against the Spartans.

Longshore missed most of spring practices, but his knowledge of the offense and consistency made him the early front-runner. Yet Riley caught fire of late, and his mobility in the pocket gives him a dimension that Longshore doesn't have.

"We feel like both of them have had great camps, but Kevin's going to take the first snaps," Tedford said after practice in a statement. "We'll see how it goes from there. Nate will play in the game; I don't know exactly when, but Kevin will start."

Riley saw action in four games last year, throwing for 563 yards and five touchdowns. In the Armed Forces Bowl, he played the final three quarters and helped the Bears erase a 21-0 deficit en route to a 42-36 victory. He connected on 16-of-19 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns to earn game MVP honors.

He admitted he struggled early in camp.

"My first day with the ones was probably my worst practice at camp," Riley said. "After that, I just calmed down and stopped thinking so much and just played football. It's continued through camp and every day I feel like I'm getting better and better."

Longshore has thrown for 62 touchdowns in his career but he's also battled injuries and inconsistency. He threw 13 interceptions last season, a number of which came at inopportune moments late in close games. That made Riley the favorite among fans, many of whom blamed Longshore for last season's slide that included losses in six of the Bears' final seven regular-season games.

Riley also had his own dubious moments, most notably when -- filling in for an injured Longshore -- he made an ill-advised scramble in the waning moments against Oregon State and allowed the clock to run out, which cost the Bears an opportunity to tie the game with a field goal. At the time of the 31-28 defeat to the Beavers, Cal was ranked No. 2 and poised to ascend to the nation's No. 1 spot.

"We feel like Kevin has the ability to make plays; we feel great about Nate's experience and knowledge and his play-making ability as well," Tedford said. "We want to see with the roles reversed, how that works. We're looking for the best chance to be successful. It's so close, it's going to continual evaluation."

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for ESPN.com and can be reached at tedmillerespn@gmail.com.

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