BERKELEY -- The question is about the rousing success of Stanford, and the new Cal coach spins in his chair. Sonny Dykes reclines, exhales, ponders the ceiling. Eight months on the job and yet to coach a game, he realizes he must answer carefully.

Stanford is both enemy and aspiration, having rapidly evolved into the college football program most others wish to be. A seemingly splendid blend of scholastic achievement and football excellence, Stanford undoubtedly is what Cal longs to be.

Can a Cal football coach, no matter how new to Berkeley, allow himself to gush about the exploits of that school? Well, Dykes does exactly that.

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes watches his players during practice at the Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. Dykes named freshman
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes watches his players during practice at the Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. Dykes named freshman Jared Goff, from Marin County, as his starting quarterback. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

"You have to respect what they've done," he said in his office this week, preparing for the season opener Saturday against Northwestern. "They've done it the right way, recruiting kids that graduate. They've invested in them and they're getting results.

"I don't have any problem giving somebody credit when they deserve it, especially when they've done it the right way."

Dykes actually admires Stanford. Moreover, though, he insists he will match or exceed the Cardinal's rise to prominence. For the sake of his long-term job security, he has to.

At Cal, where only 21 of the last 54 seasons have ended with a winning record, sustained success will be exceedingly difficult. It has thus far been impossible.

Dykes, however, is brimming with the optimism of a new relationship. The coach born in Big Springs, Texas is thinking idealistically big. He figures anything that can be done on The Farm can also be done in Strawberry Canyon.

"What Stanford did well, in my opinion, is recognize what their strengths were and what that would allow them to do in terms of recruiting," Dykes said. "It all came together. They decided they were going to be able to get a certain kind of player and build the team around that. It makes a lot of sense. In a lot of ways it's a blueprint.

"We're going to do it a little bit differently here, aesthetically, but we're going to have the same idea."

This was a skillful verbal dance, striking the right tone, a delicate balance of reverence and diplomacy and just enough distance to pacify the strident anti-Stanford wing of the Cal fan base.

Stanford, after all, has raised the Bay Area college football bar higher than it has been in the modern era. Jim Harbaugh began lifting the thing upon arrival in 2007 and David Shaw, now entering his third season, has kept the program thriving.

Coming off three successive Top-10 rankings, the Cardinal is one national championship away from cementing its status as a perennial power. In a mere six years, Stanford has gone from deplorable to elite.

During that same time, Cal tumbled from formidable to puzzlingly mediocre to the merciful dismissal of coach Jeff Tedford after 11 seasons. Athletics director Sandy Barbour hired Dykes to redirect that trajectory.

Put another way, Barbour hired Dykes to do for Cal for Harbaugh did for Stanford.

The Cardinal's formula was to use size and strength, to build a massive offensive line that can impose its will. Recent Stanford offenses, even those with Andrew Luck at quarterback, have relied on power. Defenses were defined by smarts and aggression.

The Golden Bears will be quite the opposite on offense. They will operate in the spread, filling the air with passes. There will be four and sometimes five receivers lining up with freshman quarterback Jared Goff.

"We're going to rely in speed a little more," Dykes said. "It's two different ways to get to the same result."

There will be excitement, plenty of offense. And, yes, the new coach vows results. Isn't that what all new coaches do? They come full of energy and ideas and, well, some actually do impressive work.

Tedford was initially fabulous before tailing off. And, still, he was the best coach Cal had in three or four generations.

Dykes' quest is to be better, for longer, without the steep decline. He is acutely aware that Harbaugh had a bit of a recruiting advantage when coming to Stanford insofar as he was a well-known former NFL quarterback.

Dykes, well, he played some baseball at Texas Tech.

And if that doesn't seem fair, that a former college baseball player is asked to duplicate the coaching success of a former NFL star, just know that Dykes accepts it.

His rival and, gulp, role model is right across the bay, a shining example in his line of sight. He'll see it every year, and darned if it doesn't seem like his idea of a good time.

Or, at the very least, the proper way to determine which local program sets the national standard.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.