SAN FRANCISCO - Jeff Tedford could have kicked off the week's Big Game festivities by naming California's starting quarterback. Instead, the coach is planning to wait as long as possible - perhaps until Saturday.
Tedford's indecision at Monday's kickoff luncheon for Cal's 108th meeting with Stanford was another sign that struggling Joe Ayoob could be replaced by unheralded backup Steve Levy for the final game of a once-promising season for the Golden Bears (6-4, 3-4 Pac-10), who have lost four of their last five games.
"We'll see how practice goes this week, and make a decision later in the week," Tedford said at an upscale San Francisco pizzeria. "They'll both get (practice time) equally. ... Maybe Steve will have a few more reps this week as we get closer."
Tedford pulled Ayoob in the fourth quarter of Cal's 35-10 loss to top-ranked Southern California on Saturday after the junior-college transfer turned in another tense, tentative performance. Ayoob threw three of his four interceptions in the first half, going 9-of-19 for 98 yards without a touchdown pass.
Ayoob admits his confidence is shot, and he has heard all the boos from the Memorial Stadium crowds at Cal's last three home games.
"The guys are really positive," Ayoob said Saturday. "They've got confidence in me. I've just got to get confidence in myself, and we'll be all right. It doesn't feel too good. I feel like I let my team down and the fans down."
Ever since his strong performance in a last-minute loss to UCLA, Ayoob has regressed in his first season in charge of Cal's offense. In the last four games, Ayoob is 51-of-119 with 11 interceptions and just five touchdown passes - four in a come-from-behind victory over Washington State.
"I've said all along I really admire his toughness and his will to come back," Tedford said. "At some point, it's only natural to be a bit shook up by this type of things. We've got to help him through this and bring him back, both for the team and for him as a person."
Ayoob and Tedford both expected the former City College of San Francisco quarterback to become the next great passer in a long line of future NFL quarterbacks coached by Tedford.
It hasn't worked out that way. Ayoob was beaten out for the starting job in training camp by freshman Nate Longshore - and when Longshore broke his ankle in the season opener, Tedford had to speak to Ayoob about improving his practice attitude and leadership.
Tedford, who has coached six quarterbacks who became first-round NFL picks and two more who became starters in the league, seems a bit baffled by his inability to reach Ayoob. Publicly, Tedford has remained behind his quarterbacks, though he acknowledged pulling him from the USC game because "enough was enough."
"I obviously haven't done enough of the coaching or preparation you need to do, so we're not going to give up on him as a kid or a player," said Tedford, who won all three of his first Big Games. "You can work on a lot of things in practice, but how do you simulate a game? That's where Joe is facing his biggest struggles."
Levy is a longtime backup who played fullback last season in an attempt to get on the field any way he could. The junior relieved Ayoob after an 0-for-10 performance in the season opener, but hadn't played again until going 4-for-4 for 34 yards in the final minutes against USC.
"The coaches will make a good decision," Levy said Saturday. "We're not worried about that. We just have to win the Big Game. We have to be 7-4. There's a lot riding on this, even more than a bowl bid. We'll be just fine."