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The Carson Strong Heisman Watch kicks off Saturday night when Nevada visits California in a nonconference season opener at Berkeley, Calif.
Strong, the reigning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, enters his junior year riding the hype of having already been named to several publications’ Maxwell Award watch lists.
He threw for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, his first year as the Wolf Pack’s full-time starter, putting himself on the 2021 Heisman map with a 271-yard, five-touchdown finale against Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.
Strong, who missed his senior season at Will C. Wood High in Vacaville, Calif., because of a knee injury, prompting local schools like Cal to focus their recruiting elsewhere, is focused on team goals rather than individual glory.
“Winning is the only thing that matters,” said Strong, his team coming off a 7-2 season. “At the end of the day, you have to go out there and win. That’s the only thing I’m worried about. I just want to go out there and win a championship for Nevada and play in a New Year’s Six bowl.”
He could be facing one of his toughest assignments of the season right off the bat against a Cal defense that figures to be tough against the pass.
The Golden Bears are strong both on the defensive perimeter with outside linebackers Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng and in the secondary with safety Elijah Hicks and cornerback Josh Drayden.
Cal allowed just 197.8 passing yards per game during its abbreviated 1-3 campaign last year, limiting Stanford’s Davis Mills and Oregon’s Tyler Shough to one touchdown apiece in the last two games.
Cal will counter Strong with an awards candidate of its own. Senior Chase Garbers is a veteran of 23 college starts, during which the Golden Bears have gone 14-9. The 14 wins as a starter are tops among all returning Pac-12 quarterbacks.
The 225-pounder also is a capable runner as well as a passer, having accumulated 718 rushing yards in his career, just 213 shy of Joe Kapp’s all-time school record among quarterbacks.
Cal offers good depth in its running game, with Christopher Brooks, who ran for 914 yards in 2019, and Damien Moore, who rolled up 121 yards against Stanford last season, splitting opportunities.
Bears coach Justin Wilcox offered no apologies for winding up with Garbers rather than Strong as his starting quarterback.
“Things happen in recruiting,” he said. “(Strong) has had a heck of a career. We know he’s going to be a great challenge for our defense.”
–Field Level Media