NSD ANALYSIS: Sensibility Over Style

California head coach Sonny Dykes' initial goals shine through in how his first recruiting class is assembled.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Think about your dream first car.

It would be flashy and powerful, fast and expensive. Maybe a Ferrari or a Mustang? Whatever it is, it would be impractical, but definitely fun.

Think about your dream first car for your son or daughter.

It would be safe, steady, and reliable.

Much as new California head coach Sonny Dykes would have liked his first recruiting class to make a splash, he erred on the side of practicality with the Class of 2013, a silver sedan when everybody is looking for a red sports car.

He had to.

Dykes could have loaded up on players at the skill positions, but focused on the offensive and defensive lines. 10 of the 17 recruits he and his staff secured commitments from solidified those areas of desperate need, especially with the defense moving to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Andy Buh.

Dykes could have loaded up on players that weren't quite up to the level of the Pac-12, but decided to hold off. At running back, where Cal is so thin Dykes joked he is "going to be playing running back most of spring" practice, only one recruit was signed in spite of the need.

Dykes could have loaded up on players with questionable academics, simply with the aim of moving up the recruiting rankings. But that was not feasible with the dismal APR left behind by the previous staff.

Academics hung over this recruiting season, the topic dominating Dykes' opening statement and continuing through his question-and-answer session. Grades and graduation rates were the main ammunition in negative recruiting, not the team's 3-9 record, he said.

Dykes was left a mess by Jeff Tedford in that regard, and fixing those issues is very much an equal priority with improving the on-field performance. It is telling that two of the last three players Tedford brought to Cal washed out before the season opener because of classroom issues, while a handful of commitments that Dykes inherited had to go elsewhere because of similar concerns.

"We could not bring in student athletes that could not be successful here, not just in the short term, but in the long term. We had to make difficult decisions, and that's a hard thing to do," Dykes said when asked about the vetting process for those recruits he inherited.

"We tried to make them as quickly as we could. We tried to give the young men the opportunities to move on to other schools. But any decision that we made in terms of not keeping a commitment was not athletic related. They were all based on academics. We didn't look at anybody's film and say this guy doesn't fit."

That sort of emphasis on practicality and reality defines this group. Outside of quarterback Jared Goff, the class is populated almost exclusively with three-star recruits. Outside of perhaps Goff, there are no big names that the casual observer of recruiting would know. But they fill the need, addressing every position group except safety and giving Dykes the necessary numbers to hold a practice or run a practice in fall camp or get through a game.

That was the priority, to build a foundation at Cal to make his schemes and philosophy succeed. And that ultimately is why Dykes had to pass up style for substance. He needs to reinstitute the discipline and competition that vanished at the end of the Tedford era, and bringing in the wrong kind of recruits could destabilize Dykes' attempts before it even began.

If a five-star prospect is the hardest-working guy in the locker room, he can be the guy that sets the tenor and attitude going forward. If he has to be catered to and treated differently than everyone else, that double standard will poison the team.

With only two months to develop relationships and really understand the mentality of a recruit, Dykes simply couldn't take that risk.

And that's what this class ultimately comes down to, one that looks to be low risk with the potential for high reward. The defensive linemen are going to have a chance to play early. Same goes for the wide receivers and corners. Goff will get to compete for the starting job.

There are going to be starters that emerge from this class. If Dykes gets stars to emerge, it will supercede the absence of four and five-star recruits and restore Cal as a winning team.

But Dykes is already looking ahead to next year.

"I think that next year's class will probably have a little more star power. There will be more probably skill position players in that class than there is in this one," Dykes said. "But to me, we addressed exactly what we needed to address in this class again, which was depth on both the offensive and defensive lines."

Dykes knows the sedan is nice, but is looking to trade it in for that red convertible sooner than later.

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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