carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

Give new Cal football coach Sonny Dykes time to win

Jeff Tedford is the winningest coach in the history of Cal football, but he couldn't win enough games in 2012 to keep his job. He was a victim of his own success and a victim of bad timing, too.

The worst season of his 11-year tenure coincided with the reopening of Memorial Stadium. With top-notch facilities, Bears backers expected to be part of the national conversation. Instead, they flashed back to the Tom Holmoe years, posting an ugly 3-9 record.

Welcome to the new era of Cal football: win and win now.

Enter Sonny Dykes.

When Dykes looks at Cal, he sees what the most fervent backers see: A world-renowned university, a breath-taking setting for college football and an opportunity to tap into the country's richest pool of high school talent. Dykes doesn't just want to get Cal back to the Rose Bowl, he's talking about competing for national championships.

But first, Cal fans need to give him what they refused to lend to Tedford: patience.

In addition to installing a new offensive system, Dykes is facing a couple big hurdles, starting with inexperience on both sides of the ball. Cal is returning the fewest number of nonspecial teams starters (11) in the Pac-12 Conference.

The offensive line was the weakest link in 2012 and it could feature up to three new pieces this year. Sophomore Freddie Tagaloa will make his debut at left tackle and the graduation of Brian Schwenke means that Cal will also be experimenting with a new center, which is significant because Dykes' offense runs through that position, not the quarterback. The line will take its lumps this year, making life even more challenging for true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, another rookie at a key position.

On defense, the Bears are loaded with talent in their front seven, but they are plugging three holes in the secondary, which could be troublesome in a conference that is notorious for airing it out. The defense will also see a lot of time on the field because of Dykes' fast-paced offense, so depth could be an issue, as well.

With a crop of fresh faces, the Bears are facing one of the nation's toughest schedules. They are playing three teams ranked among the top five in The Associated Press preseason poll, including trips to No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford.

Cal also hosts No. 22 Northwestern, No. 25 Oregon State and No. 24 USC and it travels to No. 21 UCLA — not an easy course load for a young team.

As mentioned above, Dykes is also overhauling the team's engine, implementing a high-speed offense, labeled Bear Raid by outsiders.

The offense includes roughly 13 plays and is perfected through speed, repetition and quick decision-making. While it's relatively easy to learn, it's fair to assume the offense will be sharper in a couple of years after 10,000 hours of practice and an opportunity to recruit more talent that fits the system.

With a new sheriff in town, the Bears should be fun, exciting and intriguing this season, but I wouldn't book a room in Pasadena just yet. Give Dykes a couple years to finish unpacking before you start asking for another regime change.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

Calcollege footballPaul GackleUC Berkeley

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