We're 96 hours from college football signing day. But for at least one Bay Area team, those four days will feel like four years.

Cal's desperate attempt to preserve a fabulous recruiting class stands as the biggest story entering the final days of what could be an exhilarating recruiting season for the local teams.

Even if the Bears lose one or two of their prized recruits, they should emerge from signing day with, at worst, a top-20 class.

Stanford isn't far behind Cal at the moment and could overtake its rival once the letters of intent begin arriving Wednesday morning.

Even San Jose State is positioned for a breakthrough recruiting year, relative to past performance.

Here's what to watch on the local and regional fronts as we hurtle toward signing day.

Cal

Everything changed Jan. 16, when assistant coach and recruiter extraordinaire Tosh Lupoi was lured away by Washington.

Until then, Cal was on the verge of signing a top-10 class -- thanks partly to Lupoi's relationship with a bevy of elite prospects.

When he skipped town, the fallout was immediate. Ellis McCarthy, a top-rated defensive tackle, switched his commitment from Cal to UCLA, and several other coveted recruits decided to re-evaluate their options (while keeping Cal in the mix).


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The Bears also will cross their fingers and toes hoping that Shaquille Thompson, the nation's No. 1 safety prospect -- and the brother of former Bears cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson -- will stick to his commitment.

And if that weren't enough drama, the Bears are a finalist for Elk Grove's Arik Armstead, the nation's top offensive tackle.

Stanford

The situation isn't as chaotic on the other side of the Bay, where Stanford is poised to sign yet another sterling group of recruits.

And if a few undecided prospects select the Cardinal down the stretch, then coach David Shaw's first full recruiting class could be one of the best in school history.

(Credit for last year's haul belongs not only to Shaw but also Jim Harbaugh, who left Stanford after many recruits had committed.)

The names to watch include five-star offensive tackle Kyle Murphy and three-star receiver Kodi Whitfield, the son of former Stanford great Bob Whitfield. He's expected to sign with the Cardinal but is also considering UCLA.

San Jose State

With approximately 20 prospects expected to sign Wednesday, coach Mike MacIntyre is taking full advantage of the momentum built in 2011, when SJSU was the most improved team in the Western Athletic Conference.

The Spartans' class is No. 1 in the WAC and 89th nationally, according to Scout. It includes numerous players recruited by Mountain West Conference schools.

Even if a few prospects develop a wandering eye before signing day, SJSU has already locked up one of its most important recruits:

Quarterback David Fales, a transfer from Monterey Peninsula College who is expected to compete for the starting job in the wake of Tate Forcier's departure, enrolled in school this month.

The West Coast scene

Which team has the top-ranked class in the Pac-12? That depends on the recruiting service you follow (Scout, Rivals, ESPN, etc.) and the criteria used to formulate the rankings.

But in general, the top-rated classes belong to UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Cal and USC.

Yes, USC.

The Trojans are making up in quality what they lack in quantity (because of scholarship restrictions imposed by the NCAA): Half of their commitments thus far are four- or five-star prospects.

USC's class includes Morgan Breslin, a defensive end from Diablo Valley College.

Homegrown talent

Approximately 25 Bay Area high school players are expected to sign letters of intent Wednesday, several of them with Cal.

The Bears hit their home region hard and, in the process, scooped up coveted prospects such as Danville quarterback Zach Kline and Concord linebacker Michael Barton.

The top South Bay recruit, Valley Christian tailback Byron Marshall, has committed to Oregon.

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.