A former Cal head coach told me a long time ago that the most important position on the football field is the starting quarterback, and the second-most important position is the second-string quarterback.
Cal provided some evidence for that last year, going 7-0 in games in which Chase Garbers played more than one half and having a 1-5 record when he didn't.
Devon Modster (video above) was the Bears' backup last year, and he is Garbers' backup again this season heading into the season opener against Washington next Saturday night in Berkeley.
But it might be a different for Modster this season.
"I think Devon has gotten a lot better too," head coach Justin Wilcox said Friday. "That's been fun to watch him."
Modster lost out to Garbers in a competion for the starting quarterback job in the spring of 2019, and he will admit that he was not at his best early last season.
"2019 was definitely a shaky start," Modster said Saturday, the day Cal began preparation specifically for Washington. "The first three games I would say I did not play up to my standards, and then picked it up at Washington State."
His first significant game action came in the second half against Arizona State, after Garbers sufferened a broken collarbone late in the second quarter. That was followed by starts against Oregon and Oregon State. He completed 34-of-75 passes (45.3%) with more interceptions (three) than touchdown passes (two) in those three games, all losses.
But he bounced back against WSU, going 16-for-24 for 260 yards, three scores and no picks as well as rushing for 43 yards in the victory.
"This year I've kind of taken a different approach," said Modster, who was forced to sit out the first three games of the 2019 season as a transfer. "This year I've been able to be in the offense more and see what we're trying to do as far as cooperations, and be a leader on the sideline, and bring a lot of energy and support to Garbers and the rest of the team."
Garber's history of injuries makes the backup job critical at Cal, and the No. 2 spot may be more important than ever this year with the uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 virus. No. 1 Clemson had to play unranked Boston College without Trevor Lawrence on Saturday because Lawrence had tested positive for the virus, and the Tigers had to mount a comeback at home to avoid an upset in a 34-28 win.
"This season there's so much uncertainty and a lot of things could happen, so as a backup quarterback you need to stay ready," Modster said.
The offense Bill Musgrave has installed might fit Modster's skills. Certainly Modster his been adaptable, since he has had five different offensive coordinators and five different offensive schemes in his five college seasons -- Kennedy Polamalu at UCLA in 2016, Jedd Fisch at UCLA in 2017, Justin Frye in Chip Kelly's offense in 2018, Baeu Baldwin at Cal in 2019 and now Musgrave.
Modster says Musgrave's offense has a lot of similarities to the offense installed in his redshirt freshman season at UCLA by Fisch, who is now the New England Patriots' quarterbacks coach. Garbers even noted that Modster helps him out with some of the wrinkles in Musgrave's offense.
The Bears will depend heavily on Modster if something should anything happen to Garbers, because Garbers and Modster are getting the bulk of the work in practice, as Musgrave notes in this video:
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