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Fernando Mendoza is Cal's No. 1 QB Entering Spring, But Chandler Rogers is in The Mix

Coach Justin Wilcox says every position is open to competition as Bears prep for their ACC debut.

Fernando Mendoza will be the No. 1 quarterback when Cal football begins spring workouts on Monday, March 18 in preparation for its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But coach Justin Wilcox stressed that every position on the team — including QB — will be an ongoing competition.

Mendoza started the final eight games last season, directing the Bears to a 3-5 record while averaging nearly 30 points per game. In the offseason, Cal signed transfer quarterback Chandler Rogers, who passed for more than 7,000 yards in three seasons at Louisiana-Monroe and North Texas.

Chandler Rogers

New Cal quarterback Chandler Rogers

“Right now, Fernando’s the No. 1 quarterback. As we go through spring, just like every position, those guys are going to be evaluated,” Wilcox said. “What I want them to be concerned with — and all of us to be concerned with — is just how the individuals are getting better.

“The depth chart I understand is important, but really we’re going to be concerned with the depth chart when we get into fall. Right now it’s just about the individuals getting better in the program.”

The Bears open their season on Aug. 31 at home against UC Davis.

Wilcox said the Bears didn’t go into the transfer portal to find another quarterback because they were dissatisfied with Mendoza, who passed for 1,708 yards and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman with wins in each of Cal’s final three regular-season games to land the program’s first bowl bid since 2019.

“Fernando did a good job finishing off the season,” Wilcox said. "He’s a very competitive guy, had some really good moments for us. He’s got to continue to get better. He knows that. It’s our job to help him get better. I still think he’s got a lot to room to grow as a football player.”

Wilcox is trying to build a deeper, more talented roster, and he makes little distinction between quarterback and any other position.

“We did the same at other positions, where we’re going to recruit as many good players as we possibly can,” he said. “And as long as they fit here at Cal, we want to bring those guys in and let everybody compete. I think that’s when you get the best out of each and every player.”

He is expecting growth across the board during spring ball, which ends with the annual Spring Showcase on Saturday, April 20.

“Ultimately, in the fall at every position, we want to have as many good players as we can and let the competition sort out the depth chart.”

Wilcox said Rogers was promised just one thing during the recruiting process.

“When we recruit, we don’t guarantee people anything. We guarantee them an opportunity to come in and compete at the highest level,” Wilcox explained. “We’ll do that for Chandler and we’ll do that for everybody else on the roster, whether they’re a transfer, a returner or an incoming freshman.”

Asked if it’s possible the Bears could add another transfer quarterback this spring, Wilcox said everything is on the table.

The Bears recruited Rogers a year ago when he transferred out of Louisiana-Monroe, which plays in the Sun Belt, and ultimately chose North Texas in the American Conference. Rogers played in mop-up duty in the 2023 opener when Cal visited Denton, Texas, and beat the Mean Green 58-21.

The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Mansfield, Texas, eventually became UNT’s starter and went on to pass for 3,382 yards with 29 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He threw for 411 yards and five TDs against Memphis, but the Mean Green lost 49-32.

He also has some ability to run, although he used it more freely during his two seasons at Louisiana-Monroe than he did last year.

“Chandler’s been a very productive quarterback at the college level and we’re excited to watch him kind of get his feet underneath him here in our program,” Wilcox said. “He’s played in a similar system and he’s a smart guy. So we’re eager to get him out on the practice field.

“He’s an experienced guy, has played a lot of football. He’s played in a similar system. He can throw the ball. He throws it accurately. He can do things with his feet, get out on move and run. He’s a good football player.”

Fernando Mendoza

Fernando Mendoza tries to elude pressure vs. Texas Tech

Mendoza, a 6-5, 220-pound native of Miami, developed a good rapport with his teammates last year and gained their confidence through generally solid performances. But he’s still early in his development and has areas of his game that need to be better.

“Ultimately, we want Fernando to continue to improve playing the position. He’s doing a great job making decisions,” Wilcox said. “He’s got to take care of the football. He’s a very competitor guy, he’s tough, he spends a lot of time on it. He’s got a good, strong arm. We’ve got to make good decisions with the ball to protect it. Also learning when to go down.”

The message there is Mendoza must reduce his turnovers, which were a problem for the Bears last season regardless of who was playing quarterback. Cal had 28 interceptions and lost 24 fumbles, 21 of them in the team’s seven defeats.

Mendoza contributed 10 picks and four fumbles to those totals. He had 10 giveaways in five losses, just four in three victories.

Those aren’t numbers that will lead to success when the Bears make their ACC debut at Florida State on Sept. 21.

Cover photo of Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza by Kirby Lee, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo