Sonny Dykes, if you didn’t know it, is responsible for arguably the biggest turnaround in college football. In 2013, in his first year as Cal head coach, Dykes went 1-11 and winless in the Pac-12. In 2014, the Bears improved to 5-7, but they lost six of their last seven games.
And this year? This year, Cal is 5-1, ranked No. 20 in the country, and its only loss was at then-No. 5, now-No. 3 Utah, 30-24, on Oct. 10.
How has this turnaround happened? Better yet, how has it happened so quickly?
“Well, I think the biggest thing is we’ve had an opportunity to develop our program,” Dykes said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We took over in Year One and we’ve had a lot of shakeup in the roster, which unfortunately happens sometimes when you have a head-coaching change. We lost a lot of players. We were the youngest team in college football that first year. Last year, I think we were the third-youngest team in college football. So we’ve had an opportunity to grow up a little bit. We had a lot of injuries last year. Believe it or not, at the end of the season, we were starting walk-on wide receivers in our secondary. We paid the price because of that.
“But it’s been fun to watch the team develop,” Dykes continued. “We’re real fortunate to have a quarterback like Jared Goff. He’s kind of been the guy that we could build around. He’s done a great job just continuing to lead our program and get us headed in the right direction.”
Cal won its first five games against Grambling State, San Diego State, Texas, Washington and Washington State before stumbling at Utah. The Bears had gotten great play all season from Goff, but the junior struggled against the Utes, throwing five interceptions. The Bears committed six turnovers overall and were shut out in the fourth quarter.
Was the stage simply too big for them?
“That was the first time certainly that I’ve been at Cal that we’ve played at that kind of game,” Dykes said. “It was College GameDay. It was a big game for us. Two unbeaten teams playing for the lead in the Pac 12 and our guys were probably a little bit too excited to play, quite frankly. It took us about the first half to settle in and realize honestly that we belonged on that stage and all we had to do was go out and play. As you said, we’re a football team that hadn’t turned the ball over much. We were leading the nation in takeaways going into the game. We had a great turnover margin and we look up and we have six turnovers in the ball game. Our guys, I think, learned a lot from that. I think we learned that if we just play well, play within ourselves, execute on the level that we want to execute at, that’s going to help us beat good football teams.”
Cal (5-1, 2-1) plays at UCLA (4-2, 1-2) this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.
“UCLA is a very talented football team,” Sykes said. “At the start of the year I think (they were) in the top 10. They have a lot of talent across the board on offense, defense, special teams. They have a really good young quarterback, Josh Rosen, who was one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school. The thing that’s impressive about him is just his maturity. He makes great decisions, he distributes the ball like a veteran, and what you have to do against him, like you do most quarterbacks, you’ve got to try to confuse him a little bit and make him uncomfortable. He’s one of those guys that, if he gets into a rhythm, he can really do some damage.”