Saturday night's game against Oregon State is probably the most important of Sonny Dykes' career at Cal.
A win would make the Bears bowl eligible and probably buys the Cal coach at least one more year on the job. But, a loss to the Beavers, winless in the Pac 12 and an 18½ point underdog, might mean that his future in Berkeley is tenuous.
Influential Cal alums and major contributors to the program are getting restless. Even those who were skeptical when Dykes was hired after the 2012 season were willing to cut him some slack the first two years and were mollified if not delighted with the 5-0 start this season. But the four-game losing streak, culminating with Saturday's sorry showing at Oregon, has caused the discontent to surface again. You can bet athletic director Mike Williams is hearing about it.
A loss to Oregon State would still leave the Bears two games to attain bowl eligibility. However, that might not save Sonny. Cal is certain to be a heavy underdog against Stanford. They do have a legitimate shot to beat Arizona State in the finale, but should Cal go into that Thanksgiving weekend game with a 5-6 record, Dykes fate might already have been sealed. The pressure on AD Williams will have become very heavy. He has to win this one.
Dykes was asked during a Sunday night conference call with the local media if he felt any added pressure, given the way the season has gone and what lies ahead. "Not really," he said. "I've had a sense of urgency the last four weeks. We've had opportunities to get over the hump and we haven't taken advantage of them. And we need to do it on Saturday."
They do, indeed.
Whatever his teams have done on the field, Dykes is likeable, honest and in the process of correcting the football team's appalling academic performance. He stresses the importance of classroom success and, with his blessing, the athletic department is taking steps to help all athletes on that front. All the numbers – graduation rates, grade point average, etc. – are headed in the right direction.
If the Bears have to let him go, wins and losses will be the only reason. He carries none of the excess baggage that led to Jeff Tedford's firing. His contract runs through 2017, and it would cost Cal $2.75 million to buy it out.
One also wonders what will happen if the Bears do get that sixth win and wind up uninvited. The Pac-12 has arrangements with seven bowls and could have as many as ten bowl eligible teams, although given what would have to happen, nine is more likely. If Cal is one of those that should be able to squeeze into a bowl
Stanford could make the national playoff, leaving the conference runner-up, probably Utah, as the Rose Bowl representative. UCLA, USC and Oregon are certain to be invited, which would leave Cal competing with the bowl qualifiers from the Washington and Arizona schools.
If that's the choice left to the Foster Farms bowl in Levi's Stadium, that game almost certainly would prefer Cal. The Bears would sell more tickets and if Jared Goff's season hasn't totally imploded have a marquee name to attract television viewers.
They Were In No Rush:
Much as Cal views OSU as the last-best chance to save a season, the Beavers have to look at the Bears game as a candidate for that first conference win. The Oregon State offensive coaches have to be feeling confident after watching what their intrastate rivals did to the Bears last Saturday.
Oregon piled up the obscene total of 777 yards of total offense. Four hundred yards was once the indicator of a very good day on offense. Oregon had 441 in the FIRST HALF.
One reason was the Bears' pass rush was non-existent. They sacked Oregon's Vernon Adams just once, and seldom put him under any stress. Although he accounted for just 45 of Oregon's 485 rushing yards, Adams ability to run helped him negate the Bears pass rush. He didn't scramble much because he didn't have to. No one was ever near him.
Dykes' explanation was that the Bears stuck to their game plan, probably too closely.
"Part of it was we tried to stay in our rush lanes," Dykes said. "If you open a rush lane that creates a lane for him to run in. We rushed the quarterback, we stayed in our lanes. Sometimes it's easier to block guys when they're staying in their lanes. . …He had not thrown the ball that well in the pocket. The way you keep him in the pocket is to have strong rush lanes, which means guys aren't going to get there as fast."
As Dykes indicated, the Bear defenders in their predictable paths were easy pickin's for the Ducks blockers. No defensive coverage can work if the quarterback's time is virtually unlimited.
Whether the Oregon State quarterback is freshman Nick Mitchell, or veteran Seth Collins, the Bears must make him more uncomfortable than they did Adams.
No Big Game Time Yet:
In yet another example of the arrogance of the Pac 12 and its television partners, kickoff time for the Big Game will probably not be announced until Sunday, November 15. The networks are obviously waiting for the outcomes of this weekend's games to assign time slots. This is where it goes too far.
The Big Game is not just the 11th game of the college season for both schools, it is like a bowl game, a homecoming and a family reunion rolled into one. No matter how well either school is doing on the field, thousands come from out of town to attend the event and its associated activities. To determine the starting time 12 days in advance is bad enough; to wait until the Sunday prior for the sake of few ratings points is unconscionable. At least some consideration should be given to those who actually attend the games ... or one day they will just stop coming.