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San Ramon Valley High School quarterback Zach Kline is expected to sign with Cal on Wednesday. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

It was one of the greatest nongame days in Cal football history.

Less than a month ago at the U.S. Army Bowl high school all-star game in Texas, three elite football prospects stood in front of television cameras and announced oral commitments to Cal. The Bears seemed on the cusp of a top-10 recruiting class.

It turned out to be a mirage.

When reality arrives with Wednesday's official national letter-of-intent signings, coach Jeff Tedford will likely unveil a class that pales in comparison with what the Bears thought was coming.

Because oral commitments aren't binding, all three of those prospects are expected to sign elsewhere. Wideout Jordan Payton of Westlake Village announced Tuesday that he was going to Washington, top-rated safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento flipped to UW on Monday night, and defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy of Monrovia switched to UCLA two weeks ago.

The Bears also missed out on two-sport star Arik Armstead of Elk Grove, who picked Oregon on Sunday. Armstead, rated the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation by Scout.com, had been considered a Cal lean for much of the fall.

Tedford got one piece of good news Tuesday when wide receiver Cedric Dozier of Lakewood, Wash., spurned late advances from Washington State and reiterated his commitment to play for the Bears.

All of the musical chairs took place after Washington hired away Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and receivers coach Eric Kiesau two weeks ago. The departure of Lupoi, the star recruiter, seemed to signal the exodus of top prospects, though not all of them wound up at UW.

Lupoi "put together the class of the ages for his alma mater before destroying the class," said Brandon Huffman of Scout.com, whose website has dropped Cal's class from its peak of No. 8 nationally to No. 41 as of Tuesday evening. Huffman called the situation "catastrophic" to the Bears football program. Rivals.com had Cal ranked No. 26 on Tuesday night.

Recruiting expert Allen Wallace of SuperPrep magazine labeled the defections "devastating" to Cal. He said fiscal limits put the school in a difficult position when UW courted Lupoi and Kiesau.

"Cal will unfortunately be judged as a school not willing to compete with the best," he said, referring to the athletic department's unwillingness or inability to match the salaries Lupoi and Kiesau got from Washington. "It looks like Cal put a ceiling on itself ... but that's the real world.

"It's incumbent upon Cal to do what's best for their athletic department," Wallace said. "But it's sad."

The Bears aren't exactly going into signing day empty-handed.

Danville's Zach Kline, rated by ESPN as the No. 2 quarterback in the nation, and offensive tackle Christian Okafor of Houston already are enrolled in classes and will participate in spring practice. Cal also expects to welcome offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond and wideout Bryce Treggs, the son of one-time Cal star receiver Brian Treggs, although Treggs isn't planning to make a formal announcement until Wednesday afternoon.

Huffman said linebacker Michael Barton of De La Salle is "a phenomenal player," noted that Matt Cochran of Atwater is the top-rated center in the West, and that Steven Moore of Elk Grove "has more upside than any offensive lineman in California."

Even as Tedford and his staff scrambled to keep a grip on their high-profile recruits, the Bears seemed to have a monopoly on the best East Bay talent. But ESPN reported that the father of Cal commit and Kennedy-Richmond wideout Kenneth Walker said his son will sign with UCLA.

Safety Zach Hoffpauir of Peoria, Ariz., who originally committed to Cal then reopened his recruitment, said he will announce Wednesday among Cal, Stanford and Arizona State.