BERKELEY, Calif. — Oregon State's Sean Mannion is headed home this week, even if it is for a brief stop to say hello to friends and family.
Mannion, the Beavers' junior quarterback who leads the country in passing, grew up in Northern California about 30 miles away from the University of California campus in Berkeley. That is where he will be tonight when the Beavers (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) play the Golden Bears (1-5, 0-3).
The game will feature two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation.
Mannion set an OSU single-game record last week when he passed for 493 yards in a 52-24 win at Washington State. He leads the Pac-12 Conference in passing and has thrown 24 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
“They've put him in good situations and have done a nice job of building the offense around him,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “They've simplified the game a little bit for him and he's improved. The combination of those things have allowed him to be much more successful.”
Cal's Jared Goff — whose father attended high school with Mannion's father — is not far behind.
A true freshman, Goff already owns three of the top four single-game passing performances in Cal history. He is fourth in the country at 339.3 yards per game and is the second Cal quarterback ever to pass for more than 450 yards in three games.
A week after getting benched in the first half against No. 2 Oregon, Goff set a school record with 504 yards in a 44-22 loss to Washington State on Oct. 5.
Here are five things to watch when the Bears host the Beavers:
Rolling on the road: Oregon State is attempting to go 3-0 on the road for the first time since 1939, when they finished 9-1-1 and played in the inaugural Pineapple Bowl in Honolulu. History is on the Beavers' side, too. They have won five straight games in Berkeley and 11 of 14 overall in the series between these two longtime conference rivals. Cal beat Oregon State 23-6 at home in 2011, but that game was played in San Francisco at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Keeping the faith: Cal has not had a lot of success in Sonny Dykes' first season. Barring a significant turnaround, the Bears will be headed for one of their worst records in more than 10 years. Dykes, who replaced longtime Cal coach Jeff Tedford, has not wavered in his approach to rebuilding the Bears. Steadily, he is beginning to see the payoff, even if it has not shown up on the scoreboard. “Like anything else when you're 18-22 years old, you want to see results yesterday,” Dykes said of his players. “There's a little bit better sense of mental toughness. We were a little fragile earlier in the year. The fact that they've continued to buy in when things haven't gone our way shows a lot of maturity and commitment from those kids.”
Changing positions: Brendan Bigelow leads Cal with 277 yards rushing, but it might be some time before he returns to the Bears' backfield. One week ago, Bigelow was switched to receiver and has been lining up in the slot ever since. He caught just two passes for 18 yards in the loss to No. 9 UCLA on Oct. 12, but Dykes is confident the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Bigelow will excel as a receiver. The move was made due to a series of knee injuries Bigelow has suffered over the past few years. By using him as a receiver, the Bears believe they will get Bigelow in more favorable matchups.
Moving the chains: Brandin Cooks has gotten plenty of attention as Oregon State's top wide receiver, and for good reason. Cooks has caught 63 passes for 944 yards already this season, and he leads the nation with 11 touchdown receptions. The Beavers are also getting plenty of solid production out of Richard Mullaney and Kevin Cummings. Mullaney is second on the Beavers with 30 receptions, 24 of which have resulted in either a touchdown or a first down. Cummings has also come up big, turning 12 of his 18 catches into first downs or touchdowns.
Opportunistic defense: The Beavers get plenty of recognition for their high-powered offense. Their defense is not too shabby either. Oregon State is second in the Pac-12 and tied for eighth nationally with a plus-eight turnover ratio. That matches its mark for all of 2012. More telling is how well the Beavers have played when their offense has coughed the ball up. They have committed seven turnovers but have yet to give up a touchdown on any of the ensuing drives. Cal owns a plus-nine turnover ratio but has not been as fortunate as the Beavers. Opponents are averaging nearly 44 points a game against the Bears.