After a nightmarish debut season, it appears Sonny Dykes has improved leaps and bounds in year two at California. The Golden Bears are a solid 2-1, a fourth-quarter collapse and a disastrous final play away from being 3-0, and are favored by top experts to end their 15 game Pac-12 losing streak on Saturday.
Beyond the record, Cal has taken a couple steps in the right direction toward playing competitive football again. They've jumped from 108th to 71st in yards per carry, from 97th to fourth in yards per pass attempt, from 99th to 48th in yards per carry allowed, and from 121st to 25th in yards per pass attempt allowed.
But with two steps forward comes one potentially large step back.
Part of the reason Dykes was hired away from Louisiana Tech was Cal's - and the football team in particular - awful, embarrassing APR scores. The Bears were last in the Pac-12 academically. That's not going to sit well on any college campus, but especially not at campus that claims to be the best public university in America.
So, in addition to a regime change, Cal formed a task committee to find the root of the problem. The 20-person group has turned in its report, and it has apparently come to the conclusion that many student-athletes under scholarship simply were not cut to maintain the grades to keep that scholarship, and that the school needs to raise its standards to match the rest of campus, according to a report released Friday by Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury-News.
"As a result, it appears admissions standards for athletes might be adjusted," Faraudo wrote. "The university's Academic Senate, which sets admissions policies, accepted suggestions from the task force and wrote that 'the admission of student-athletes, regardless of sport, shall be governed by the same general policies and procedures used in the evaluation and selection of applicants from the general admissions pool.'"
For what it's worth, the previous regime rejected this claim, instead theorizing that the low graduation rates were a result of senior football players leaving school early to prepare for the NFL Draft and never returning to school to finish their degrees. "It was not a matter of football players flunking out," former athletics director Sandy Barbour told the Mercury-News a year and a half ago.
"The task force recommended that a comprehensive recruiting and admissions program be developed in collaboration with the admissions department, to be led by a new full-time recruitment coordinator, who would oversee all sports," Faraudo writes.
The task force did leave open the possibility of allowing special exemptions for certain athletes, but wrote those exceptions should be just that, exceptions, and that they be "very limited and highly regulated." The group also wrote that the university should make extra effort to acclimate student-athletes to campus life, as many athletes come from opposing back grounds from the rest of the, let's be nice and call it eclectic, student body.
These are changes Dykes was likely (or at least he should have been) expecting, but they're still a new hurdle to clear.
The good news, if you choose to see it that way, is that Cal won't be alone.