Even as he gets peppered daily with questions about it, California coach Sonny Dykes is doing all he can to downplay Saturday’s game against Texas.
That might be a hard sell to his players. The Golden Bears have never beaten the Longhorns in five meetings between the two schools, and a win by Cal against a high-profile program would legitimatize the team’s 2-0 start.
There’s also history at play.
The Longhorns beat the Bears in the 2011 Holiday Bowl, six years after edging out Cal for a berth in the 2005 Rose Bowl.
Dykes has his own links to Texas. He was born and raised there, and attended college at Texas Tech where he was an assistant coach. Dykes’ father, Spike, was also a long-time head coach at the school.
Still, Dykes is trying his best not to get too worked up over the first regular season meeting between Cal and Texas since 1970.
“I know it’s important to our fans because of some history and some things that happened 10 or 11 years ago,” Dykes said Tuesday. “For us as a program, it’s really just the next game that’s on the schedule.
“That sounds pretty benign and pretty lame in some ways but it’s true. The other stuff. it doesn’t really mean that much other than it’s a big game for our program and it’s the next step.”
The Bears are seeking their first 3-0 start since 2011. They’ve got a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in junior quarterback Jared Goff, own the 15th-ranked scoring defense in the country and are coming off lopsided wins over Grambling State and San Diego State.
Texas, on the other hand, is in turmoil. The Longhorns (1-1) beat Rice convincingly last week after getting blown out by then No. 11 Notre Dame in the season-opener.
They changed quarterbacks, switching from Tyrone Swoopes to redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard following the loss to Notre Dame. Coach Charlie Strong also relieved assistant coach Shawn Watson of the play-calling duties, handing them over to wide receivers coach Jay Norvell.
In a move that could have rippling effects on the football program, athletic director Steve Patterson — who hired Strong — was fired early Tuesday.
None of that means much to the Bears.
Six Cal players born in Texas understand that a win over the Longhorns would be significant, no matter what the state of the program.
“I remember watching the 2005 Rose Bowl, so it’s very exciting,” said linebacker Nate Broussard, a native of Plano, Texas. “Texas is a great program, great tradition there. They may not be as good as they normally have been, but it’s still going to be a sold-out game.”
To prepare for the heat and humidity they expect to face in Texas, the Bears practiced earlier this season in nearby Contra Costa County where the temperatures have been in the 90s and low 100s.
They’ve also watched plenty of film on the Longhorns and respect the changes that have been made. Nevertheless, offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee believes a win over Texas would be a big statement national for Cal.
“Beating a team like Texas would really put us on the map and let people know that we’re for real,” said Rigsbee, who watched the 2011 Holiday Bowl from Cal’s sidelines as a redshirt freshman. “This is definitely our first big game of the season. We’ve been playing really well and it shows. We should come in and expect to win the game.”
Dykes is sticking to the low-key approach.
“For us, it’s just kind of about the next game and playing against a good team and trying to become 3-0,” Dykes said. “Since I got the job here, it’s all been about improving and getting better. We’re in a better place than we’ve been. That remains to be seen, it’s still early. But I have a lot of confidence in our players.”
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