Recruits Demonstrate Team's Pull

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Jeff Tedford was concerned after the Poinsettia Bowl. He admitted as much on Wednesday afternoon, able to do so because of the 20-name list sitting next to the microphone in front of him.

He had a great reason to be. The nationally televised bowl-which almost certainly received more attention than those midseason wins over Arizona, Arizona State or even Stanford-had ended badly. Which meant the already disappointing 8-5 season had ended badly.

For the first time in five seasons, the Cal football team had lost its bowl game. And come Feb. 3, recruits would be deciding whether or not to sign their futures over to a team that their young, impressionable selves last witnessed walking out of Qualcomm Stadium in somber defeat.

And then National Signing Day does roll around, and Tedford gives his press conference looking at a list of 20 names, 10 of which belong to high school All-Americans, one of which belongs to the No. 5 recruit in the nation, as determined by the recruiting Web site, Rivals.com. The No. 11 class in the country, according to that site.

"It was a little odd for us because we hadn't lost a bowl game in five years or whatever it was," Tedford said. "But it didn't have too big of an effect, really. ... (The recruits) were really focused on what their opportunity was here at Cal."

Six weeks after one of the most disappointing seasons in his tenure here ends, Tedford turns around and inks a geographically diverse, situationally relevant, talent-heavy recruiting class.

If not by the record and national ranking, then how?

Well, look at Keenan Allen, the 11th-hour decommit from defending national champion Alabama, who ends up the top player in Cal's class.

Allen is almost a lock to go to the Crimson Tide. Then he begins to waver, in large part because he wants to play with his half-brother, Zach Maynard, who is a quarterback transferring away from Buffalo due to the Bulls' head coaching change. Maynard remembers with apparent fondness his experience at a Cal camp a few years back and contacts the Bears' coaching staff to ask about their quarterback situation.

Maynard and Allen visit Berkeley the week before Signing Day, then call Tedford two days before and say that they've made their decision. Both are coming to Cal. Maynard can't play in 2010 due to NCAA rules on transferring between Division I schools, but Allen almost definitely will. Allen's high school teammate, 6-foot-6 linebacker Chris McCain, commits too.

Do you chalk it up as lucky? Maybe. There's no question that Allen was a huge steal for the Bears, one that they acquired in roundabout fashion.

But in light of that signing, you also have to acknowledge that Cal has an identity on the national stage. That the program is recognizable to the big recruits on the other side of the country. That it appears to have some staying power.

Rivals.com ranks the Bears' class No. 11 in the country. They're behind usual Top 25 suspects that are currently succeeding (Florida, Texas, Alabama), those that are in a funk (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn), and one upstart, rising program that has been rejuvenated by a charismatic coach in a hotbed for talent (UCLA).

So which of these is Cal? An 8-5 record rules out the first, and the fact that the Bears hit a peak in 2004 and a valley in 2007 doesn't really put them on par with the current Bruins.

Consider that in 2008 and 2009, Cal goes without a nationally ranked recruiting class. At that point, it hasn't pulled a five-star since DeSean Jackson. And then it goes 8-5, which won't get very much attention-much less from a national crowd-and signs two five-star recruits and a top-15 class.

Credit Tosh Lupoi and the rest of the coaching staff for its work on the recruiting trail. Credit the fact that the Student-Athlete High Performance Center has finally broken ground. Credit ex-Buffalo coach Turner Gill for leaving.

But don't leave out the fact that, in the 2000s, the Bears' program has become an institution. Its recruiting reach has slowly branched out from California all the way to the Atlantic. And its top-tier commits apparently won't be scared away by an 8-5 season.

As Tedford said, when considering Cal, they see no reason to give up the "opportunity."

Tags: SIGNING DAY, TOSH LUPOI, JEFF TEFORD, CAL FOOTBALL


Did the Bears' recruiting class surprise you? Tell Matt at [email protected]



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