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Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox emerges as Cal coaching contender

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Blast from the past.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Cal at USC Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports (who broke the Sonny Dykes firing) and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports are both indicating that one of the primary candidates to be the new Cal head coach is current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Wilcox may be most familiar to Cal fans for his work as our linebackers coach during the heyday of the Jeff Tedford era. From 2003 to 2005, Wilcox worked with Cal linebackers under Bob Gregory as the Bears built up one of the more fearsome defensive units in the nation.

Wilcox began his career as a defensive coordinator soon after that, moving from Boise State with Chris Petersen (2006 to 2009), Tennessee with Derek Dooley (2010 to 2011), and Washington and USC with Steve Sarkisian (2012-2013, 2014-2015). Wilcox’s first year in Wisconsin has gone well, according to Badger SB Nation site Bucky’s 5th Quarter.

Despite the loss of previous coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU at the beginning of 2016, Wilcox’s defense ranked among the best in the nation. UW ranked third in rush defense (98.8 yards per game), fourth in both scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and third down conversion defense (27.9 percent), while finishing seventh in total defense (301.4 yards per contest).

Wisconsin also tied for second in the nation in interceptions with 22.

Hiring Wilcox would also solve Cal’s biggest immediate football problem: Defense.

It should be noted that USC’s defenses weren’t quite as strong with Wilcox as they were under his predecessor (and now successor) Clancy Pendergast, but at almost every other stop, Wilcox has sported a top 25 defense by metrics conventional and advanced. Wilcox has appeared most recently at a Cotton Bowl with Wisconsin, and two Fiesta Bowls with Boise State. Cal, obviously, has not had a good defense in half a decade. It’d be a rebuilding project, but any improvement on the defensive side could land immediate results.

In terms of finding the new bodies, Wilcox is one of the best recruiters on the West Coast. You might remember him being instrumental in flipping Shaq Thompson to Washington (he helped recruit Syd’Quan Thompson to Cal when he was at Cal), and he still primarily recruits from the West in Wisconsin.