Sitting down to write a column after a Cal football loss has become an all-too-common occurrence in the past few years. Since Sonny Dykes took the helm for the 2013 season, the Bears have recorded a single winning season.
Saturday’s 56-21 loss against Washington State was no different than the past 28 under Dykes. The defense alternated between getting torched on the ground and through the air, while the passing game managed to look pedestrian as it produced big numbers — 425 passing yards and three touchdowns. Oh, and of course, who could forget the evident lack of depth for the Bears, who enter every season touting their newly loaded roster?
Sure, it can be argued that it’s only natural for such an injured team to look depleted all over the field, but at the end of the day, you can always find an excuse if you try hard enough. It’s not time for excuses anymore.
Cal has lost three games in a row and needs to win its last two to go bowling.
The Bears just lost by 35 points to Washington State, one of the few teams they had actually dominated in recent years. And now, Cal needs to beat two teams — UCLA and Stanford — that Dykes has failed to beat even once with the Bears. Don’t do that, and it will make three times in Dykes’ four years at Cal that his team failed to reach a bowl game.
That’s just unacceptable given not only the program’s recent rich tradition but the hefty investment the athletics department funnels into the football team. Hundreds of millions of dollars were recently poured into Memorial Stadium to seismically retrofit it and to add a performance center.
These investments seemed likely to become a boon for recruiting. Yet, the Bears have consistently brought in middle-of-the-pack recruiting classes under Dykes, save for a few gems. A much greater focus on academics can be partially attributed to this, but the Bears’ talent level is dropping compared to the rest of the Pac-12, with other programs consistently bringing in four- and five-star prospects.
While they managed to bring in Demetris Robertson — one of the highest-rated recruits in his class — the Bears compare unfavorably to Stanford, which would also theoretically be bogged down by having to hold lofty academic standards.
So something about this program just isn’t resonating with top recruits. And on-the-field performances like the one in Saturday’s game and this season sure won’t help.
One could claim that a down year should have been expected given the mass exodus of Cal’s offensive stars to the NFL. But well-coached, top college football programs don’t have down years like this. And they sure don’t have them three times in four years. To make matters worse, it’s not as if the Bears were all that great last season. With Jared Goff and a talented crop of receivers, Cal still only won seven games in the regular season before beating a decent Air Force squad in the Armed Forces Bowl.
That’s not much of a peak.
Dykes’ record with the Bears is 18-29, including only nine wins in 34 Pac-12 games. Lose again to the Bruins and Cardinal, and that record falls to 18-31.
It’s easy to get complacent with the on-field product because of Dykes’ work to improve the team’s academic standing, but at some point a decision is going to have to be made. By the end of these next two weeks, a key question will need to be answered: How long will the administration keep supporting Dykes if his team continues to lose, especially to all of its main rivals?