From his first "y'all," new Cal football coach Sonny Dykes' southern roots were obvious, but he said all the right things at the annual Bay Area college football media day in San Francisco on Monday.
"Southerners think they invented football and they're the only ones playing it," Dykes said at one point. "But when I look at the NFL rosters, I see a lot of names from this conference."
Later he named the reasons for coming to Cal: Great area, beautiful campus, great school and a commitment to football as shown by the dramatic remodel of historic Memorial Stadium. Southern schools are not known for educating athletes, but Dykes also professed to see an advantage in Cal's high-academic standing.
"I've found that players who are strongly motivated academically carry that motivation over to football," he said.
The one note of negativity he uttered was when he noted that his team was very young and the schedule is generally rated the third toughest in the country.
"That's not usually a recipe for success," he said.
As a longtime observer of Cal football, I know how difficult it is to sustain success in football because other conference schools don't have the commitment to academics that Cal generally has, though there's been a decline recently. USC, a consistent football power, is a notorious "two-track" school, and athletes often choose the lower track. Oregon, which has had some great teams lately, is a mediocre academic school.
My guess is that Dykes won't be expected to have great success immediately, but is expected to have more exciting teams because of his offensive scheme, which led the nation in both scoring and total offense last season.
His offensive success will depend on the quarterback and Dykes said the spring workouts did nothing to separate Austin Hinder, the only one with collegiate game experience, redshirt freshman Zach Kline and true freshman Jared Goff. Dykes said he thought Hinder had strengthened himself, Kline had improved his accuracy and Goff had picked up the offense well, considering his lack of collegiate experience.
As the old saying goes, if you have three quarterbacks, you don't really have one. Dykes hopes to name a starter quickly, no later than two weeks into practice and hopefully sooner. Goff seems the most physically talented of the group, but it may be asking too much of a true freshman to be the team leader, especially with so much youth around him.
Dykes also hopes to get much more out of running back Brendan Bigelow, who had a spectacular game against Ohio State last season but saw only sporadic action after that. Though coach Jeff Tedford never said this publicly, many close to the team thought Bigelow didn't know much of Tedford's complex offense.
Dykes said he'd heard the same thing.
"That's why we try to keep our offense relatively simple," he said. "After we've practiced for awhile, players should know how to respond to different situations."
There's no question the pressure is on Dykes to produce an exciting team to bring fans into the stadium, but he shows no sign of worrying about that. Which is probably a sign that he's the right man for the job.
Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 vs. Portland St. 2 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Ohio St. 4 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Oregon TBA
Oct. 5 vs. Washington St. TBA
Oct. 12 at UCLA TBA
Oct. 19 vs. Oregon St. TBA
Oct. 26 at Washington TBA
Nov. 2 vs. Arizona TBA
Nov. 9 vs. USC TBA
Nov. 16 at Colorado TBA
Nov. 23 at Stanford TBA