For the moment you have all been waiting for. Part one of our reader mailbag series. In bold are your questions and below are some answers from some writers, new and old! Enjoy!
Question: Can Cal ever compete?
A mere 17 different teams out of 128 current FBS programs have won 2 or more of the 80 championships (some years had 2 or 3 champions in a split) since 1945. Add in the 13 one-time winners and you have a whopping 23% of schools that have won at least one championship out of the last 80. Coincidentally, the year over year recruiting rankings match the below list almost exactly. How’s that for a correlation? Can Cal ever break the glass ceiling?
Joshua Morgan: Two or more championships since ’45 (recognize any of these schools?):
one-timers: Georgia Tech, Washington, Colorado, Georgia, BYU, Pitt, Arkansas, Minnesota, Ol Miss, Syracuse, Iowa, UCLA, Maryland
Can they? Sure, why not? They are a Power 5 school and especially now that they have a great coaching staff, it’s not impossible.
Will they? Well, you can never really predict the ascension into a powerhouse program. Most of the schools on that list are in fact powerhouses, but they didn’t always have that status. Cal obviously faces challenges in getting to that status due to them being a public school and also such a prestigious academic program and that forcing them to be picky while recruiting, but they also are in a great recruiting state. If they can rise to the top of all California schools in terms of recruiting then sure, and Wilcox staying local is a great sign, but again it will be a bit harder for us.
All in all, there is no good answer. There is no good way to predict anything like that, and the best we can do is just hope. Let’s just go with no because as we know, being a Cal fan is a literal hell.
Nick Kranz: This question brings up something that I think about from time to time: What is the profile of a nationally competitive program? The list our dear reader compiled can roughly (roughly!) be split into two categories:
Category 1: SEC/Deep South schools
Category 2: Flagship public universities of high population states
And that makes sense, right? SEC schools (or teams that fit the cultural and geographic profile of SEC schools, like Clemson) are on the list because they are willing to spend whatever it takes to win. Flagship public universities are on the list because they have easy access to population areas rife with high end recruits. Seven of the ten most populous states are represented on that list. California, obviously, is represented . . . but by USC and not Cal.
The sad thing is that at one point Cal was . . . if not the go-to school for west coast football talent, at least one of the go-to schools. Unfortunately, that time is 60 years ago, and Cal has been completely supplanted by USC as the destination for high end west coast talent. It’s not hard to wonder if Cal could have become what USC has been since the 60s if Cal’s administration invested in football rather than (at times) openly disdaining athletics.
Alas, the past is the past, and the current order of things has calcified. Even IF Cal invested in football it would be a tall order to change Cal’s place in the pecking order, and I think we all know how likely that kind of investment is. We’re left rooting for the type of confluence of luck and talent that culminates in seasons like 1992 and 2004.
Ruey Yen: We are talking about Cal competing for a FBS national championship??? How about a Rose Bowl first. It wasn’t that long ago (okay, a little more than a decade now) that Cal was a consistently top 10 (arguably over-rated) program. Bears have consistently churn out good NFL pro, but somehow have not even managed to make the Rose Bowl.
There are some inherent flaws in the current Playoff system that will probably continue to hold Pac-12 schools back, but I am optimistic that with what appears to be the right guy at the helm in Justin Wilcox, Cal, with plenty of luck, is fully capable of being a football powerhouse (with hopefully multiple BCS bowl appearances) in the near future. I mean, if Stanford can achieve this....why not Cal?
Between this level of success and an actual national championship is a huge jump. However, most of the fan base now would be thrilled if/when Cal ever becomes bored with just Rose Bowl berths.
Rob Hwang: I’d like to believe and hope that this is a possibility, and that this is the end game of why we cheer and support this team. :)
Question: When do you expect Cal to make its next NCAA tournament appearance? Will we ever make it to the Sweet 16 again (or will that be the basketball version of the Rose Bowl?)?
TheDozen: So much is dependent on recruiting. Last season was a gut punch for fans, but if you take a step back the Bears have made the tourney nine times since 2001. That’s four times under Ben Braun in that span, four times with Monty, and once during the brief Cuonzo Martin era. For the sake of my sanity, March of 2021 will be the answer to this question.
While it’s true that a Sweet Sixteen appearance has not come to pass since 1997, I refuse to believe that such circumstances are set in stone. Cal got within one win of the Sweet Sixteen as recently as 2013. Unlike in football, just a couple of basketball players can easily change the course of a program for years, not just on the court but in terms of national profile.
Rob Hwang: I don’t know when my fire will burn out but I will continue to believe at the start of every season that this year is the year. For Football and for Basketball.
Nick Kranz: While it is absolutely true that a few recruits can, for one example, take a team from 8th place in the Pac-12 one season to a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament the next, those sort of recruiting-inspired turnarounds are not exactly common for our Bears. Still, the small size of basketball rosters means that one good coaching hire and a couple of recruiting hits can see a moribund program rebound to respectability in a couple of seasons. When about half of the power 5 makes the tournament each year, that means ANY power 5 program is never more than a couple of years away from a potential NCAA spot. The Sweet 16 is more about correctly calling heads twice in a row once you actually get there.
Ruey Yen: I thought the Golden Bears had a Golden opportunity two years ago with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, but they blew it with that first round loss to Hawaii. On the bright side, in college basketball, it does not take that much (one fantastic recruiting class with some existing help) to be a top 16 team in the country. This goal can easily happen sometimes in the next decade. One thing to consider also is the potential changing rule for the NBA where they may once again allow guys to jump directly from high school to the Association (even though teams are now using their G-League affiliate more as a farm system). For a program like Cal that was not consistently getting one-and-done guys, this new rules may bring them closer to the talent level of an Arizona Wildcats program.
Question: Where does Cal football moneyball? In our recruiting, what does Cal do differently compared to other Pac-12 schools to identify and evaluate targets?
Ruey Yen: I wouldn’t necessarily call it “moneyball”, but recruiting locally much better does solve multiple problems concerning building a replenishing pipeline to tap into local talent (who also does not need as much scholarship money because they are in-state...from what I understand of how scholarships work - correct me if I am wrong, please) and to build up that local pride thing that may (knock on wood) one day allow Ca Football to fulfill its potential being the flagship school of a major state. These Bay Area kids, particularly the ones with strong ties to the area who will be back when they are done like a certain Marshawn Lynch, have more value to Cal than other schools. Of course, focussing on the local recruits has been one clear direction of the current coaching staff. The long term goal here is to have more kids who have had spent time on campus for football camps, etc. to be ambassadors in their recruiting class (like their year’s Zach Kline) to help recruiting other standouts. These kids will also have head-starts on the playbook and the system used at Cal. Basically, getting back to what we had 10 years ago in Tedford’s heyday is the dream.
Question: Football Recruiting Protocol. Most, if not all, D1 schools offer scholarships to many more kids than they can accept, for obvious reasons. How do these schools adjust their offers when they get commitments? If, for example, they get enough OL for one class, do they retract their offers to other OL? Do they tell them verbally that they should look elsewhere?
Nick Kranz: I can only answer this question generally because I am not familiar with Cal’s specific recruiting practices, as different teams handle these challenges differently.
To start with, what type of offer was given? Offers can be conditional in a number of ways. A player might only get an offer on the condition of certain grades, or the offer might only be actionable in certain circumstances. Some coaches might be totally up front and tell a player that he’s not a top choice right now, but that could change depending on where other players go, or based upon future growth or performance in camps or high school.
In the example given, coaches might absolutely tell a player that if they don’t accept an offer, that their spot can be taken by another player who accepts an offer. This is perhaps why you’ll often see a player accept an offer from a school that might not be their top choice, only to later accept an offer when their dream school finally extends that offer later on in the process. A bird in the hand, etc. etc.
And of course, on the darker side of things, players can have their scholarship offers revoked. Sometimes that process is handled delicately, with a mutual understanding that a player would be better off going somewhere else anyway, because why would you want to go to a program when your chance of playing time is slim to none? Sometimes that process is handled less delicately, which can lead to the type of drama that some recruiting aficionados find so entertaining.
All of the above and more is why roster management is one of the more difficult and more important aspects of a coach’s job. And why certain coaches (ahem) are getting quite a bit of questions from the Cal community over their own roster management abilities.
Rob Hwang: There are two types of programs. Ones that can get by offering everyone and anyone or ones that have to be selective. If you’re the former then yes, you have to tell certain recruits that they don’t have the space to take them. If you’re the latter every offer matters and shows that you want that recruit into your program. But being either doesn’t mean that you are either a powerhouse program or a bottom feeder program. There are plenty of schools that fit both profiles and have to operate within the restrictions of said school and athletic department. To be more specific, the Cal program will always have to be more consciencious of their offers due to the academic dilligence of the University. It’s not just about the grades, its about finding out the work ethic and classroom attitude the student-athlete has to be able to succeed in the classroom to allow them to participate on the field. This staff does its due dilligence on every recruit and every coaching staff member does their part to get to know the person off the field as much as the player on it. It’s probably why this staff is best setup for long term success at a University such as this. Its another thing coaches have to worry about but at the same time is a huge recruiting advantage when talking to parents about the Cal degree. I could go on for hours about this but I’ll leave it at this. Most fans see this as a hassle, but to see a coaching staff turn a speed bump into a launch pad is amazing to witness.