NCAA

Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

dykes_sonny_cal.jpg

Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

BERKELEY -- Sonny Dykes vows to light up the scoreboard as the new head coach of the California Golden Bears. As long as those offensive assaults are accompanied by the occasional New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena, the fans will oblige him.

“Everybody’s goal in the program is to reach the Rose Bowl,” he said after Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced him at Memorial Stadium Thursday afternoon. “That means you’ve won a conference championship. That’s why you coach. That’s why you play.”

With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the Bears’ last victory in the game, Dykes, who called the Cal opening as the job he’s wanted “since day one,” has his work cut out for him.  His predecessor, Jeff Tedford, was shown the door after 11 seasons for falling short of the objective, but the 43-year-old Texan and 2011 WAC Coach of the Year is confident he is the right man for the job.

“Building a winning program is going to be a process,” Dykes said as his wife Kate and two young daughters looked on. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year?  I don’t know…but I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and we come to work, our goal’s going to be [to] get to a Rose Bowl, and not only get there, but to win it.”

After a national coaching search that lasted a little over two weeks and enlisted the services of executive search firm DHR International and Cal rugby coach Jack Clark among others, Barbour selected Dykes, who rose to prominence for his prowess as head coach at Louisiana Tech. The details of his contract were not divulged, as they are still subject to final approval from the University of California regents.

“You’ve read all the statistics. You know the won-loss record. You know he’s led prolific offenses everywhere he’s been,” Barbour said. “You know that he’s been Coach of the Year, Recruiter of the Year, Assistant Coach of the Year.

“[But] you don’t know what an incredible fit he is to lead the young men in this program—today’s young men and those who will join us tomorrow and in the future. His ‘win everywhere’ mentality really encompasses his vision for Cal football.”

In three years, Dykes reversed the Bulldogs’ fortunes as they improved from 5-7 in 2010 to 9-3 this season and a WAC conference championship sandwiched in between. In 2012, Louisiana Tech in the top 25 and led the nation in scoring offense at a clip of 51.5 points per game, utilizing an unconventional offense where the center, and not the quarterback, calls the plays.    

“What we do offensively is that we figure out who the best players are, so what we’ll do every day is rank our players by position every day,” said Dykes, who said he hopes his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will join him in the Bay Area.

“If that means playing with seven [offensive linemen], we’re going to play with seven [offensive linemen], be creative in that way. You saw us this year at times line up with three running backs. There were times when we lined up with five receivers and no running backs. We played with two offensive tackles as tight ends. We’re figuring out who the best guys are and put them in those situations.”

Aside from one good junior year from Nate Longshore in 2006 and the days of Aaron Rodgers (2003-04), quarterback play has been a sore spot in recent years for Cal. Dykes delved into the type of player he would prefer under center.

“In a perfect world, we would have a [quarterback] who’s mobile and can carry the ball eight-10 times a game, if this was a perfect world,” Dykes said. “We haven’t had that at Louisiana Tech. Our guys have been more pocket guys, so that’s the type of play we’ve adjusted to.

“But we’re not a true spread option team. It’s not going to be [an] Oregon spread, and it’s not going to be a Texas Tech spread. We run the football a lot. I think we ended up in the top 15 in the country in rushing, and we were in the top 10 in passing, so it’s a diverse offense.”

One quarterback on the depth chart is promising freshman Zach Kline. The Danville native redshirted his first season at Cal, and Dykes knows all about him.

“Obviously, I’ve watched him, and I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s got great ability and you know, we’ll have to see how that all plays out,” Dykes said of Kline.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisiana Tech struggled. Ironically enough, the unit finished last in the country from a statistical standpoint. Regarding the completion of his coaching staff, Dykes has set a timetable of 10-14 days to interview the remaining holdovers from the previous regime as well as prospective candidates outside the program.

“I have a list of four or five candidates I would like to talk to for defensive coordinator,” Dykes said. “In the Pac-12, you gotta have a strong defense to go with your offense. This will be my most important hire.”

New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former assistant at Cal, has been rumored to be the frontrunner for the position and was asked about his status in Dykes’s plans.  “It’s a possibility,” he said.

Dykes, the son of longtime Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has an extensive résumé as an offensive assistant, with stops at Kentucky, Texas Tech (under current Washington State coach Mike Leach), and Pac-12 rival Arizona before earning his first opportunity as a head coach with Louisiana Tech in 2010.

Despite his recent success, with only a 22-15 overall record in a smaller conference like the WAC, questions were raised about his ability to connect with his new fanbase.

“I hope it won’t take too long,” Dykes said. “I think the key to getting people to buy in is have success, and being visible, and we intend to do both. [We will] get out there in the community, and see coaches and recruit hard, and be visible as much as we can. People like to follow a winner, so if we can have success on the field and have an exciting style of play, people will follow us.”

Dykes takes the reins of a Cal program that had risen as high as No. 2 in the polls in the first half of Tedford’s tenure, only to underachieve in recent years in spite of the influx of several nationally-rated recruiting classes.

The Bears will attempt to bounce back from a 3-9 season that included a subpar 2-7 mark in conference. Dykes, who briefly spoke to the team before the press conference, is aware of a lot of the personnel he will be inheriting. With National Signing Day only two months away, Dykes elaborated on his recruiting strategy.

“I think we need to get bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Dykes said. “I think that’s an area we’re going to have to address here as we move forward in recruiting.

“I think it’s imperative with the physical play that happens in this league that you’re big on both side of the line, and I think recruiting begins for us with the offensive and defensive line. I think it’s where you build your program.”

As a result, the cupboard is far from bare. Although wide receiver Keenan Allen will depart early for the NFL Draft, more than one-fifth of the scholarship players on the roster are former U.S. Army or Under Armour high school All-Americans.

Two such players, quarterback Allan Bridgford and safety Avery Sebastian, were on hand for the press conference and commented on their new head coach.

“We’ve seen the success he’s had at Arizona, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech, so I’m excited,” Bridgford said. “It’s going to be a real nice fit for us. We have a lot of talented receivers.  We have very talented running backs in [Brendan] Bigelow and [Daniel] Lasco and those guys, who are big guys but are real fast…so I think we definitely have the personnel for this offense.”

Sebastian recapped the team’s first meeting with Dykes: “He was really enthusiastic about the opportunity to be here at Cal, and the opportunities that are going to be presented to the team. We’re all looking forward to the future and seeing how everything’s going to play out.”

Another major issue plaguing Cal in 2012 was the classroom. The Bears finished last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate at a staggering 48 percent. Dykes is cognizant that this number will be unacceptable at Berkeley, a school that prides itself on his academic tradition.

“What we have to do from day one is instill expectations,” Dykes said. “We’re going to expect our players to attend every class, to attend every study hall session, to attend every tutoring session, and not only attend them, but do their best.”

Dykes shared a brief part of his conversation with his new team Thursday morning.

“It’s like I told our players today,” he added. “‘You’re here at the number one public institution in the country…in these beautiful facilities with these beautiful resources, how could you not wake up every day excited?  How could you not go out there and do your best?’ So that’s going to be our challenge to our players.”

Of course, while the sagging graduation rates did not help Tedford’s case to keep his job, the product on the field sealed his fate. With renovations to Memorial Stadium and the new Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center costing the school a combined $471 million, the pressure will be on Dykes to pack the house and deliver a winner.

“There’s no doubt that playing an exciting brand of football and winning, and having that success will draw the fans,” Barbour said. “You’re going to see those results on the football field, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.”

Ryan Maquiñana covers college sports and boxing for CSNBayArea.com. Contact him through email at rmaquinana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

 

Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT

devonta-smith-td-ap.jpg
AP

Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of it but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared this time?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation , Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

Tagovailoa was brilliant at times, though he had a few freshman moments. He threw an interception when he tried to pass on a running play and all his receivers were blocking. He also darted away from the pass rushers and made some impeccable throws, showing the poise of a veteran. Facing fourth-and-goal from 7, down seven, the left-hander moved to his left and zipped a pass through traffic that hit Calvin Ridley in the numbers for the tying score with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.

He finished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. The winning play was, basically, four receivers going deep.

"After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play," Tagovailoa said. "I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open." Freshmen were everywhere for the Alabama offense: Najee Harris at running back, Henry Ruggs III at receiver, Alex Leatherwood at left tackle after All-American Jonah Williams was hurt. It's a testament to the relentless machine Saban has built.

But this game will be remembered most for his decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This was nothing like the others.

With President Trump in attendance, the all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and the five-star recruit from Hawaii entered. The president watched the second half from Air Force One.

"I don't know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama," Tagovailoa said. "Thank God he found me and we're here right now."

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

Fromm threw for 232 yards for a while it looked as if he was going to be the freshman star for the game, the first to true freshman to lead his team to a national title season since Jamelle Holieway for Oklahoma in 1985.

"I mean, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they'll tell you because that's a really good defense he just went against," Smart said.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban - eight as his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa - quickly built `Bama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama and now Saban is 12-0 against his former assistants.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble - second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety and threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

bryce_love_heisman_usatsi_.jpg
USATSI

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

NEW YORK  — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman in one of the most lopsided votes ever.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006 and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year. He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program — Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas — or all teams — that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.