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Football notebook: Sonny Dykes rooting for Ducks in title game but wary of Ohio State’s `team of destiny’

Cal coach Sonny Dykes is rooting for Oregon and expects the Ducks to beat Ohio State in Monday’s first College Football Playoff championship game.

But he is intrigued by underdog Buckeyes.

“It’s hard to look at Ohio State’s year and not think they’re a little bit of a team of destiny,” Dykes said. “Just because they’re on their third quarterback and they’ve kind of figured it out.”

Quarterback Cardale Jones will make just his third career start against Oregon, but has passed for 500 yards and four touchdowns in his first two and, at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, has shown himself to be a powerful run threat.

“I wish we had third-team quarterbacks like that guy,” Dykes said of Jones, who began fall camp behind two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting this season after Miller was injured.

Still, Dykes will go with Oregon and its Heisman-winning quarterback.

“I think Marcus Mariota is the best player in college football. I’ve said that since before the season started,” Dykes said. “He’s such a difference-maker.”

Dykes, whose Bears have faced both Oregon and Ohio State over the past two seasons, said his allegiance is with the Pac-12.

“I’m definitely rooting for Oregon,” he said. “I think we’re the best conference in the country. The bowl games have proved that, and I think ultimately the national championship will prove that as well.

“I have to pick Oregon, but I do think there’s some kind of magic with this Ohio State team.”

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Dykes grew up in Texas, but said he’s cheering for the Green Bay Packers and former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday’s NFL divisional playoff game.

Dykes is confident that a slightly torn calf muscle will not derail Rodgers.

“This time of year you always want everyone to be healthy,” Dykes said. “But if there’s anyone who can play a little nicked up, it’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s a tough guy, for sure.”

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Dykes said he already has identified “a strong pool of candidates” for two vacancies on his coaching staff. He is scheduling interviews to be held at the American Football Coaches Association convention, beginning Sunday in Louisville, and intends to fill both spots before letter-of-intent signing day on Feb. 4.

“Before then, ideally,” he said.

The jobs opened this week when assistant head coach/receivers coach Rob Likens and offensive line coach Zach Yenser accepted positions at Kansas.

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Offensive tackle Steven Moore and wide receiver Maurice Harris both underwent shoulder surgeries since the end of the season, Dykes confirmed. “Nothing too significant,” he said of both.

Dykes anticipates both Moore and Harris will be available at some point and at some level during spring practice, tentatively scheduled to begin the second week of March.

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Dykes said he is unaware of any other Cal underclassmen who plan to enter the NFL draft after junior wideout Chris Harper made the announcement to do so this week.

“I’m really proud of Chris because I think he’s really matured. I think his best football is ahead of him. I anticipate him doing well,” Dykes said.

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Football: Bears on way to solid recruiting class

Recruits may be waiting to see if Cal football’s improvement can be sustained before making a mad rush to Memorial Stadium.

With signing day four weeks away, the Golden Bears appear on their way to landing a solid class of newcomers capable of addressing some specific areas of need. But the 20 prospects Cal already has lined up don’t constitute a recruiting haul significantly better than a year ago, even though the Bears made a leap from 1-11 in 2013 to 5-7 in coach Sonny Dykes’ second season.

“They’re developing a good class,” said Adam Gorney, West Coast recruiting expert for Rivals. “They just have to win on the field and kids will take notice.”

Currently, Rivals rates Cal’s class No. 35 in the country and ninth in the Pac-12. Scout has elevated the Bears from 11th in the conference six weeks ago to ninth, but lists them just 49th nationally.

A year ago, Cal was rated No. 44 by Scout, No. 46 by Rivals, and eighth in the conference by both recruiting services.

Click here to read the rest of this story.

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Football: Dykes’ statement on coaching exits

Cal coach Sonny Dykes on Tuesday night issued a statement on the departure of assistant coaches Rob Likens and Zach Yenser to positions on the staff at Kansas:

“We wish Rob Likens and Zach Yenser all the best as they enter the next phase of their coaching careers. It is a compliment to your football program when other teams find the coaches on your staff to be attractive hires.

“Throughout the past two seasons Rob and Zach have made many important contributions to our football program, helping it grow both on and off the field, and their efforts helped build a strong foundation for success.

“As always, we will look to continue to hire quality people that are both effective coaches and recruiters. We will fill the positions as quickly as our university process allows with coaches that are the right fit for our program, and share in our philosophy of recruiting and developing the entire student-athlete to ensure success on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”

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Football: Cal’s staff salaries near bottom of Power 5

Former Cal assistant coaches Rob Likens and Zach Yenser got promotions in their new assignments at Kansas.

They also, no doubt, got pay raises.

Likely hefty ones.

At Cal, Likens and Yenser were part of an assistants staff whose combined salaries in 2014 ranked last among the Pac-12 Conference’s 10 public universities and second-to-last among all schools in the Power 5 leagues whose figures are public, according to the USA Today’s annual coaching salary survey.

Stanford and USC, as private schools, are not required to reveal their salary figures.

But it’s safe to say the assistant coaches at both schools are compensated better than those on coach Sonny Dykes’ staff. Cal’s combined staff salary was $2,081,600 – about $1.7 million less than UCLA’s aides are paid — and lower than both Oregon State and Washington State.

Likens, who went from assistant head coach/passing game coordinator at Cal to offensive coordinator at KU, earned $135,500 in 2014. Yenser, promoted from offensive line coach in Berkeley to O-line/run game coordinator at KU, made $111,500 last season.

In Lawrence, Kan., where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in the Bay Area, whatever paychecks Likens and Yenser collect will go a lot further.

If Cal wants to retain assistant coaches — thus establishing stability on Saturdays in the fall and in recruiting — it will have to find a way to compensate them in a way they keeps them from leaving town.

Here’s how Pac-12 schools rank among assistant coaches salaries (with their national ranking in parenthesis):

  1. UCLA (7)  $3,762,500
  2. Oregon  (15)  $3,277,584
  3. Washington  (17)  $3,250,032
  4. Arizona St. (23)  $3,111,620
  5. Colorado (36)  $2,595,500
  6. Arizona (38)  $2,498,650
  7. Utah (40)  $2,420,000
  8. Oregon St. (42)  $2,347,200
  9. Washington St. (44)  $2,309,124
  10. Cal (52) $2,081,600

It’s hardly surprising that LSU ($5,499,269) and Alabama ($5,213,400) of the Southeastern Conference top the national list.

But here’s a shocker: Only North Carolina (54th at $2,051,667) resides lower in the national rankings than Cal, among schools from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC).

And get this: The Bears’ assistants are paid less than those at Army, which is No. 43 at $2,326,450.

Note: The USA Today survey does not include information for 13 schools from the Power 5 leagues — Baylor, Boston College, Duke, Miami, Northwestern, Penn State, Pitt, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas Christian, USC, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.

 

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Football: WR Chris Harper to enter NFL draft; O-line coach Zech Yenser follows Rob Likens to Kansas

Cal junior wide receiver Chris Harper announced Tuesday he will forgo his final season of college football to enter the NFL draft as a second assistant on coach Sonny Dykes’ staff was hired away by Kansas.

Offensive line coach Zach Yenser, whose unit made significant strides last fall, will become offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for the Jayhawks, according to multiple reports.

Yenser follows assistant head coach Rob Likens, who was named offensive coordinator for Kansas.

A Cal spokesman said Dykes had no immediate comment on the departure of the two assistant coaches.

KU has not officially announced the hiring of Yenser, but new Jayhawks coach David Beaty had praise for Likens.

“Rob has been a major player in some of the best offenses in the history of college football,” he said. “I have always been a fan of Rob’s ability to develop players who produce at a high level. Rob has learned from some of the best in the country and is as fine of an offensive mind as I have been around. Rob is a man of integrity and character and I cannot wait for our team to be able to benefit from his wisdom.”

Harper, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Northridge, caught 52 passes for 634 yards and six touchdowns last fall. He had 70 receptions as a sophomore and leaves Cal with career totals of 163 catches for 2,030 yards and 13 TDs.

Harper released the following statement.

“Dear Cal Fans,

After having many talks with my family, mentors and coaches I have decided that declaring for the NFL Draft was best for me at this time. Millions of different thoughts and prayers have been put into this educated decision which is why I have decided to enter the draft. These past three years have definitely been some of the best and most memorable years of my life with regards to football, my education, and the endless relationships that I’ve built with my teammates, coaches, ex-coaches and classmates.

“I want to personally take the time out to give a huge thank you to coach Tedford who gave me the opportunity to be a Bear when my offers were very slim and at a time when other collegiate coaches didn’t believe in me. I also want to say thank you to Sonny Dykes and the current coaching staff who gave me the opportunities that were given on the field, and especially to coach Likens who I formed a close bond with in my last season as a Bear. I love everything that Cal had to offer pertaining to football, education and the great culture of the city of Berkeley. I love all of the die-hard Bear fans that made my experience at Cal unforgettable because of their persistent support towards all of us not only when we won but also when we were at our lowest.

“I appreciate everything Cal has done for me and the unbreakable bonds that I’ve formed with so many of my teammates and want to give a last thank you to everyone involved in my success.”

Dykes thanked Harper for his contributions and wished him well in the NFL.

“We look forward to watching his continued success at the next level as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL and joins a long list of Cal players who have been successful in the league,” Dykes said in a statement.

Harper was part of a deep corps of Cal wide receivers that also includes expected returnees Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Trevor Davis and Darius Powe. The Bears also redshirted highly rated freshman wideout Erik Brown last fall.

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Football: Likens to leave for Kansas OC post

Cal assistant head coach and passing game coordinator Rob Likens will be hired as the new offensive coordinator at Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reported Monday night.

Likens, 48, also coached outside receivers for the Bears.

The Journal-World cited a source with knowledge of the Kansas coaching staff.

Likens is joining the staff of new KU head coach David Beaty, hired last month from Texas A&M, where he spent three seasons as wide receivers coach.

Likens contributed to a Cal offense that set a variety of school records last fall, including total passing yards (3,977).

Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin coaches Cal’s quarterbacks and calls plays for head coach Sonny Dykes’ fast-tempo, no-huddle “Bear Raid” offense.

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Football: How C.J. Anderson beat the odds

The 2013 NFL draft had just ended, and the names of 23 running backs had been called. None of them was Cal’s C.J. Anderson.

But a few hours later, the Denver Broncos reached out, offering Anderson a free-agent contract, which he accepted.

The decision, however, made no sense to Anderson’s junior college coach.

“Why would you sign with Denver?” Laney’s John Beam recalled thinking. “You’re never going to get the ball. They’ve got Peyton Manning (at quarterback), and they’re going to throw the ball every time.”

Twenty months later, the Broncos and Anderson couldn’t be happier. Of those 23 running backs drafted in 2013, Anderson has rushed for more yards than all but Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers.

Click here to rest the rest of this story.

Click here to read about the philosophy teacher who helped alter Anderson’s academic path.

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Ex-Bears in Beast Mode

It’s been quite an NFL season for four ex-Cal running backs, who have combined for 4,862 yards rushing and receiving and 36 touchdowns:

• C.J. ANDERSON, Broncos: A surprise during the second half of the season after carrying the ball just 17 times in Denver’s first eight games, Anderson is 18th in the NFL with 762 rushing yards and five touchdowns and has caught 32 passes for 304 yards and two more TDs.

• JUSTIN FORSETT, Ravens: In his first year with Baltimore, Forsett is enjoying his best NFL season. The 29-year-old is sixth in the league with 1,147 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and has caught 42 passes for 246 yards more.

• MARSHAWN LYNCH, Seahawks: In his ninth NFL season, Lynch has topped 1,000 yards for the sixth time, including the past four seasons with the reigning Super Bowl champions. His 2014 numbers: Third in the NFL with 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 34 receptions for 334 yards and four TDs.

• SHANE VEREEN, Patriots: The 25-year-old is having his most productive season with New England. Vereen has rushed for 390 yards and two TDs and caught a career-best 49 passes for 433 yards and three scores.

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Football: C.J. Anderson ready for Raiders

Courtesy of Jerry McDonald, our Raiders beat writer, here is a transcript of a teleconference call today involving Broncos coach John Fox and former Cal running back C.J. Anderson in advance of Sunday’s NFL regular-season finale against the Raiders:

Broncos Coach John Fox

Q: What has C.J. Anderson brought to you guys since he has come in? Has he been a surprise to you at all?
Coach Fox: “When these guys sit in those seats in the first team meeting, they don’t get one of those seats without having some talent, and C.J. was no different. I think the fact that he came in as a college free agent, he has had to fight and earn everything he’s got. It says a lot about his football character, his personal character. He got the opportunity. He flashed a year ago and then this year, due to injuries, he got a better look and he’s taking full advantage of it.”

Broncos RB C.J. Anderson

Q: Were you a Raiders fan as a kid?
Anderson: “Yes, I was.”

Q: Who was your favorite player?
Anderson: “Tim Brown.”

Q: Did you want to be a receiver or were you always a running back growing up?
Anderson: “Tim Brown was who I really liked and if I had to choose a running back in their time that I got to see play, it would be Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner. I thought that combination was really fun to watch when I was young.”

Q: With the Cal connection with Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch, do you guys talk a lot or compare notes at all?
Anderson: “No, not really. We talk. We give each other congratulations over the years and things of that nature. We just sit and chat, but we don’t share notes or exchange notes. We all are our style when it comes to our running style and we just all try to do the best we can when we’re out there.”

Q: How would you describe your style and their styles of running?
Anderson: “I think Marshawn is himself, ‘Beast Mode.’ He’s just hard to tackle and accelerates into contact and that’s what makes him break a lot of tackles. I thin Justin is very patient and is very quick. He is very fast. He is kind of small, so it’s kind of hard to see him behind them. He breaks a lot of tackles with his speed. I just think that I’m more in the slow, quick game. I’m not the fastest guy on the field, but I have some shiftiness to me and I just try to run nasty and just try to, I guess you can say, put two styles into one. Marshawn is super quick and he can get moving and he breaks a lot of tackles. Justin is fast and quick and that’s what helps him out and I think I have a combination of both.”

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Football: Versatile commit perhaps headed to safety

The website Scout.com lists DePriest Turner as a wide receiver prospect. Rivals.com notes he is a dual-threat quarterback.

Cal got the Mobile, Alabama native to flip from Duke and give an oral commitment, and Turner may be earmarked to play safety for the Bears, according to Rivals.

A 6-foot-1, 184-pounder from Murphy High in Mobile, Turner is rated as a three-star prospect by both recruiting websites. Scout lists him as the No. 2 prep wideout in Alabama.

He would be the fifth defensive back commitment for the Bears, who also have four wideout commits. Cal has 20 players committed to its 2015 recruiting class.

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Football: Cal makes it official by signing JC corner

Cal formalized the news from a day earlier that cornerback Antoine Albert had joining the Bears’ program by announcing his signing to a letter of intent.

Albert, from Diablo Valley College, becomes the fourth signed member of the Bears’ 2015 recruiting class and the second defensive back.

“It was important to address our needs at cornerback and we added a player today in Antoine Albert that gives us both size and length at that position,” coach Sonny Dykes said in a statement. “The thing that stands out most with him is that he’s a physical player.”

Although listed as bigger on a recruiting website, Cal identifies Albert as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds — still very good size for a corner.

He joins another JC transfer arriving to help in the secondary — junior Derron Williams-Brown of Mesa Community College in Arizona — who signed Wednesday.

Albert, who prepped at Oakland Tech HS, was a two-time all-conference player for DVC, which posted a 7-4 record this season.