- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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As you might have heard, the Pac-12 has a bit of depth at quarterback this year. Actually, a ridiculous amount. Maybe the most in college football history.
The chances are slim, but there’s a foreseeable scenario in which the conference could feature two Heisman Trophy finalists (Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota), the nation’s leader in touchdown passes (Sean Mannion), the nation’s passing yardage leader (Connor Halliday) and send two others to the NFL next season (Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan).
That’s before factoring in USC’s Cody Kessler, whom Bovada installed at 75-to-1 to win the Heisman, and Utah’s Travis Wilson, who has a chance to become one of the best comeback stories in recent memory.
With all that talent, Cal’s Jared Goff and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau are, for the most part, flying comfortably below the radar. However, if things progress the way the pair of sophomores -- both of whom started as true freshmen -- are expecting, that will soon change.
It was at about this time a year ago that Goff was named the starter, but he and Liufau were still getting comfortable with their teammates, learning new offenses and unsure of the road ahead.
"Fall camp was a little overwhelming," Liufau said. "It was hard to grasp the whole offense and decipher what defenses were doing, call out the protections, run the correct play, use all the signals. Things were going too fast for me to comprehend."
"Night and day," he said. "Everything has slowed down."
For Goff, the difference is equally palpable.
"Last year, I was more focused on bigger things, the basics," he said, "and now I can go into more detailed stuff and make more intricate reads."
Getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman quarterback ranks up there with the more difficult tasks in college football, but because they were also playing for first-year coaches in systems that were foreign to their teammates, the learning curve was even tougher. Goff didn’t have the luxury of a soft opening, either, facing four ranked teams in his first six starts.
All things considered, Goff’s freshman season — from an individual standpoint — went about as well as one could have hoped. He completed 320 of 531 passes (60.3 percent) for 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns. Of the 16 quarterbacks at the FBS level that attempted at least 430 passes, only five had fewer interceptions than Goff’s 10.
After a summer in which he spent at least three days a week running 7-on-7 drills with the Golden Bears' impressive collection of receivers, Goff's development has been obvious during Cal practices.
"His ability to be on the same page with the receivers has really improved," coach Sonny Dykes said. "He's a lot more poised, a lot more confident. He's stronger. The ball is coming out quicker and he's a lot more decisive."
Unlike Goff, Liufau was eased into the job last season. He sat for the first four games and came off the bench against Arizona State in the fifth before taking the reins against Charleston Southern and keeping them the rest of the year. He completed 149 of 251 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,779 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The numbers won't blow anyone away, but it was enough of a foundation for Colorado fans to be confident they had a guy with a bright future.
However, that was with talented receiver Paul Richardson. The Seattle Seahawks' second-round pick averaged 6.9 catches for nearly 98 yards with Liufau entrenched as the starter and was as reliable a security blanket as there was in college football.
Without him, there's reasons for skepticism, but Liufau doesn't seem worried.
"I see big strides from numerous players and the team overall," he said. "I think we can win every game. It sounds crazy to people, but if we execute the way we have in fall camp, it’s definitely possible."