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Andy Furillo: Ahead of Utah game, Cal hits the big time in college football

Cal quarterback Jared Goff passes against Washington State in the first half Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Berkeley. Goff had four touchdown passes in the Bears’ 34-28 win over the Cougars.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff passes against Washington State in the first half Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Berkeley. Goff had four touchdown passes in the Bears’ 34-28 win over the Cougars. The Associated Press

At Tuesday’s weekly media gathering at Cal’s Memorial Stadium, Bay Area football writers needled the Bears public relations staff for “big-timing” them.

With Cal playing Utah on Saturday in the school’s biggest game since the beginning of the Obama presidency, the writers moaned when told there would be no interviews this week with the team’s biggest star.

Cal had instead slotted Jared Goff for an appearance earlier in the day on Jim Rome’s radio show. On Monday, the record-setting Bears quarterback shot a “Big Man on Campus” segment with ESPN. An interview loomed with Rich Eisen on Sirius XM.

Goff, of course, is only a junior, and like most young adults, he is still trying to figure out the meaning of life. The hope here is that once he does, he will communicate it to the older ones among us who can’t figure out how to properly turn on a computer. In the meantime, he has other commitments, such as attending class and preparing for Utah.

So the locals got no Goff time this week. And if the Bears (5-0) beat Utah and keep winning, Northern California media may never see him again. Want to see some big-time big-timing? Get ready for a Goff sit-down on “The View.” Megyn Kelly and Rachel Maddow can fight it out for him. Colbert, Kimmel, Conan and Fallon will draw straws.

For the records, Goff now holds 23 for Cal, including most touchdown passes in a career. He now has 68, a number established last weekend in the Bears’ 34-28 win over Washington State. He is a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, although it may be tough for anybody to beat LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the other-worldly runner out of New Orleans.

Goff accumulated most of his numbers during his freshman and sophomore years, when the team went 1-11 and 5-7. It is only right that he is the big-time focus now, while the team – ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press’ poll – is winning, and winning big, and winning on the road, in front of massive crowds, in Austin (91,568, it was announced) and Seattle (61,066).

Salt Lake City may not be as culturally attuned as the towns that gave us Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. But it can get more than 45,000 into Rice-Eccles Stadium, and the people who fill that joint can turn it up at least as loud as Stevie Ray and Jimi.

Big games are usually a great time to big-time your star, and Saturday’s qualifies. Salt Lake City will host ESPN’s “Game Day” crew, meaning thousands of fans will show up as props for the morning show, 11 hours before kickoff.

Utah, like Cal, is undefeated. The No. 5 Utes are the only smudge on the Michigan resurgence under Jim Harbaugh, having beaten the Wolverines in the season opener. On Sept. 26, they knocked Oregon out of the AP poll for the first time in 98 college football weeks. You may remember Oregon as the territory famous for “54-40 or Fight.” The loss to Utah was worse – 62-20, all night.

The Utes, great in both lines, have a very tall quarterback. Travis Wilson is 6-foot-7 and runs like a gazelle. He also throws like a shot putter, although 68 percent of his passes get caught, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like when he heaves.

Del Paso Heights’ Devontae Booker makes Wilson’s world much easier to navigate. In an early-season effort at big-timing, the Utah sports information machine nominated the Grant High School grad for the Heisman Trophy. It’s too soon to say Book won’t get it, and he is leading the Utes in all-purpose yards with 148 per game. But his rushing average is down, and it looks as if he’ll have to content himself with being the focal point of the Utah offense that makes defenders forget about Wilson on the zone read.

Against Oregon, Booker also showed he can throw. He left-handed his only toss of the season on a halfback pass for 25 yards and a touchdown. It improved his passer efficiency rating to 640.0. Jared Goff’s, by contrast, is only 170.5, seventh best in the country in his peer group of Football Bowl Subdivision chuckers.

While the Cal PR guys big-timed Goff, the Bears coaching staff, as it has all season, tried to keep the team from getting too crazy over one big game. They’re all big-time, according to head coach Sonny Dykes.

At his news conference, Dykes said he doesn’t get out much during the season. News on little things like the drought or the refugee crisis in Europe do not penetrate the football bunker in Berkeley, although Dykes could catch up on world events fairly quickly with a stroll down to Sproul Plaza, where free speech has been on the menu for 41 years.

Dykes, however, does sense something in the Berkeley air when it comes to football. He feels it from his neighborhood baristas.

“You don’t really know what it is, but it does seem when you get coffee in the morning, maybe those people are a little nicer than they used to be,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about somebody poisoning my coffee like I used to.”

Two years removed from 1-11, Dykes, too, is getting big-timed.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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