Can you provide an update regarding offensive line and defensive back recruiting? That's a key aspect to improving the team.
Cal is over the moon with the current offensive line commits, Michael Trani and Kamryn Bennett. Originally, this class was only going to include two - maybe three - offensive linemen, but given the youth of that unit, and the extra spots the Bears have now, that may go as high as four, with Bobby Keenan (who's down to Cal and Oregon State) and Kolton Miller. Zach Yenser absolutely adores those two, and for good reason. They both fit the mold of the prototypical tackles in this offensive system - long and lean with large wingspans and quick feet. Gun to my head, I really think both wind up as Bears.
Defensive back recruiting could be very interesting, and it may hinge on what happens during the JuCo early signing period, which starts Wednesday. Just to reset the numbers: Cal has 20 or so spots, and from the beginning (even when there were closer to 15 spots available), the Bears wanted to take up to five defensive backs. With Quentin Tartabull and Koa Farmer already solidly in the boat (apart from Luke Rubenzer, probably the two firmest high school commits), that meant three spots left before this weekend. Sam Atoe (who's three-year journey to Cal I detailed here for free) will be a free safety/nickel when he arrives in spring. That's three. At this point, the Bears are waiting to hear from Tee Shepard, who had a top-notch visit this weekend. Because Shepard will graduate in May, he can't join a four-year college program until the fall, so he won't be signing in the early period. If he winds up committing, that takes the fourth spot. Cal was in the running for Tion Wright out of Moorpark College, but he wound up choosing Baylor on Tuesday. With him out of the till, it's very possible that Atoe and fellow commit could see another College of San Mateo Bulldog - DeShane Hines, who visited this weekend - join them in Berkeley. Hines doesn't have an offer yet, and is graduating this month, so this week will be big for him.
What teams are providing the toughest competition on the recruiting trail? Which teams seem to be generating the most buzz in the Pac-12, and where would you rank Cal overall?
The buzz isn't strong for the Bears, as you'd expect. But, the staff does have a lot to sell. Obviously, early playing time on defense is a huge point of emphasis, as are the degree, the school, the academic support and the Bay Area in general. When it comes to Mixon, the focus is on emphasizing the fact that they can - and will - get him the ball any way possible. The academic aspect has already sold David Davis, Trevor Kelly and opened the door with Tee Shepard. With Atoe, Hines and Aisea Tongilava, the selling point is easy: Cal has been their dream school. The Bears aren't over-selling or over-promising. They're staying in their lane, selling what they know they can provide, which has worked. Since the remaining spots are almost exclusively on defense, playing time has taken the lead, particularly with junior college recruits.
After a 1-11 season, the shine is off the apple, and I don't think I'm too far out of place saying that, but the yards generated in the offense have kept at least some buzz going among offensive players, which is why the likes of Luke Rubenzer, Erik Brown, Vic Enwere andremain committed.
That brings me to the next part of the question: Who's the toughest competition?
For Watson, it's undoubtedly UCLA. USC is in the mix a bit, but every source I've talked to has said it's a two-horse race. Ingram, again, has to be credited with really providing a personal touch to recruitment. As with Mixon, he treats Watson as a human being, and has a very strong emotional connection with him, strengthened by how he comforted Watson after the 70-49 loss to St. John Bosco in the state semifinals.
USC has also been sniffing around Koa Farmer, but the Trojans have yet to offer, and, as he told our Greg Biggins, it will take quite a bit to shake his commitment to the Bears.
Washington State has a ton of momentum because of the turnaround from last season to this, and that's why the Cougars are going to be in play for commit Devante Downs (though Wazzu may have fallen back very recently) and their one-time defensive tackle commit Marcus Griffin, who could very well be the last piece to the interior defensive line class.
As for who has the most juice in the conference? It's hard to say it's not Washington. Chris Petersen finally left Boise, and although the Broncos haven't had as good a year as they've had recently, he still has a lot of cache on the West Coast. That hire was an absolute upgrade over Steve Sarkisian, who plateaued before moving on to USC. Speaking of the Trojans, it's tough to say where they stand, given the uncertain future of Tosh Lupoi. If Lupoi does indeed jump with Sarkisian, that's on one hand a scary notion, given that he's a very charismatic recruiter and would now have the resources of USC behind him, but on the other hand, coaching for three schools in less than five years, combined with reports once again surfacing that he may be recruiting for his future team while still technically employed by his former team, should really give recruits pause. Will it? I can't say for sure, but there are plenty of savvy recruits out there that I've spoken with that saw through his act when it was reported that he started recruiting for the Huskies while still employed by the Bears.
With Jim Mora, Jr., eschewing a shot to coach his alma mater, combined with the Bruins' second straight win over USC, UCLA is probably as strong as it's been in well over a decade.
I think Arizona State is right up there near the top, as well. While The Drive on the Pac-12 Networks provided a glimpse behind the scenes of a team in turmoil when it came to the Bears, it showcased a thriving culture in the Sun Devils locker room. While it's only a matter of time before young offensive coordinator Mike Norvell lands a head coaching gig, right now, he's one of the most dynamic young recruiters in the conference, with the resume to back it up.
Colorado is on the way up, but I think the Buffaloes are probably on the same level as Cal in terms of buzz. On the surface, they obviously improved on their win total, but only two of Colorado's four wins came against FBS teams. The Buffs are still very much a work in progress, but the culture around the program has changed markedly.
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