BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — It’s hard to go anywhere near California’s campus and not see Jared Goff these days.
His picture is on highway billboards, subway cars and fliers. His No. 16 jersey is increasingly worn by fans, and his likeness is on banners.
If that’s not enough, it’s pretty easy to spot the 6-foot-4, blond-haired quarterback walking around the university. All anybody has to do is follow the head-turns from others.
“He’s kind of the golden-boy Cal guy,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “Both his parents went to Cal and he grew up a Cal fan. He’s a tall, good-looking guy. He’s kind of what you want as a quarterback. If you said, ‘What do you want a quarterback to look like?’ It’d be him with about 25 more pounds.”
In less than two years, Goff has become the face of Cal’s recovering program.
The native of nearby Marin County has the look of an all-American kid and the skills of a potential All-American quarterback someday soon. He’s already one of the Pac-12 Conference’s best players, and Cal’s athletic department is even mulling marketing ideas for a possible Heisman Trophy campaign next season.
Goff can give those hopes a boost and add to his budding legacy when the Golden Bears (5-5, 3-5 Pac-12) host rival Stanford (5-5, 3-4) in the 117th Big Game on Saturday.
He’s thrown for 3,398 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. He’s one TD pass from Pat Barnes’ record of 31 in 1996 and just shy of his own school-record of 3,508 yards passing set as a freshman last year.
Goff also is on pace to own every major school passing record — and challenge for conference and national records — by the time his Cal career is finished.
“He’s a guy if you give him three seconds, he’ll pick a defense apart,” wide receiver Bryce Treggs said.
Goff is aware of the public’s increasing interests in his game, though his coaches and teammates swear he’s oblivious to the attention. To them, he’s still the same guy who pokes fun at receivers and jokes that he won’t throw them the ball if they mouth anything back at him.
“You can tell by his haircut that he’s a goofy guy,” Treggs said of Goff’s free-flowing hair. “He’s a very funny guy. He’s like the team clown. He always makes the atmosphere a little less serious off the field.”
Goff said the recognition has been fun, at times, but his life is still the same as it has been since he arrived in Berkeley.
“I’m just playing football,” he said, doing his best to deflect attention — as he usually does. “I’m not a celebrity or anything. I’m just trying to win games.”
Goff has steered Cal back to respectability, and with that, more notoriety is starting to build for both.
The Bears went 1-11 in Goff’s freshman season, with the win coming against lower-tier Portland State. They also lost by an average of 25.6 points, in large part because of a horrendous defense, which overshadowed most of Goff’s greatness.
Goff’s numbers are no doubt helped by Dykes’ pass-happy “Bear Raid” offense. But he has also been remarkably efficient in the system, completing 62.5 percent of his passes and minimizing turnovers.
And unlike last season, Goff’s success comes as Cal — with a slightly improved defense and a more balanced offense — is also having success as a team.
“I think the numbers were just a product of the way the games would go last year,” Goff said. “We’d be down often and we’d have to throw the ball, and my receivers are good enough to make plays and I would get the ball out to them enough times. This year, the numbers are up for the whole team. That’s what you want.”
Dykes attributes Goff’s growth to his understanding of the playbook, an improved offensive line and the emergence of Daniel Lasco and the running game. He also cites experience, comfort and confidence — which he believes are tied together.
“At the end of the day, probably the most important characteristic for a quarterback to have is confidence,” Dykes said. “I think confidence allows players to play better than they really are. It’s always the chicken or the egg thing: Do they get confidence by playing well, or do they play well because they have confidence? The important thing is that they get it.”
And Goff seems to have it now.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP