BERKELEY -- The Cal football program is desperate to earn on the recruiting trail what eluded the Golden Bears during coach Sonny Dykes' debut season: A few big victories.
Cal's 1-11 record this fall stole much of the momentum generated when Dykes was hired a year ago, and it threatens to torpedo the Bears' recruiting efforts.
Signing day is Feb. 5, and the early returns aren't encouraging. Cal already has lost two top committed high school players, several more are wavering, and the Bay Area's No. 1 prospect hasn't decided where he'll go.
Brandon Huffman, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, says the Bears' belly-flop season is the culprit.
"It had the potential to be so much better," Huffman said. "There was a lot of traction when Sonny Dykes was hired, with NorCal kids especially. Now those kids aren't even thinking twice about Cal."
Scout rates Cal's current list of 11 oral commitments as the No. 59 recruiting class in the nation. Over the past five years, the Bears have finished no worse than No. 39 nationally.
Dykes, just as surprised by the Bears' winless Pac-12 record as anyone, understands there has been some recruiting fallout as a result.
"It makes it a little more difficult. Everything's easy when you win," he said, adding that the message to recruits remains the same. "Come to Cal, get the best education in the world, play winning football, live in the Bay Area, be part of a family atmosphere.
"The winning football part ... they have to have a little bit of faith in us."
Dykes was hired to replace Jeff Tedford after a 3-9 season in 2012 and generated initial buzz because of his high-scoring teams at Louisiana Tech. So far, it hasn't translated. The Bears not only lost their final 10 games but also rarely were competitive.
Most first-year coaches who inherit rebuilding jobs show some early progress, providing validation to recruits. Since 2009, new regimes at Washington, Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State made first-year improvements ranging from two to five victories.
Cal went the opposite way, and recruits noticed.
"Guys want to play for winning programs," said Adam Gorney, a recruiting expert from Rivals.com. They look at Cal, he said, and "the supporting cast isn't around them."
Jaleel Wadood, a four-star (out of five) cornerback from Bellflower, decommitted from Cal last month and announced this week he will sign with UCLA. Three other top Cal targets are listed by Scout as "soft commits."
Among those, running back Tre Watson, who has rushed for more than 3,400 yards and 48 touchdowns this fall for Centennial-Corona, told this newspaper he remains firm with Cal.
"They did have a rough season, but I can have a big impact and can come in and help them turn it around," Watson said. "I don't plan on changing my mind. But I'm still going to weigh my choices."
Cal fans know better than most that an oral commitment isn't binding. Two years ago, the Bears were on the cusp of a top-10 national recruiting class when assistant coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi left for Washington. The Bears' class took a noticeable hit.
Neither Huffman nor Gorney is convinced the Bears will hold on to Watson.
Complicating things is Dykes' mandate to recruit a higher-level student as the athletic department works to improve the football program's academic profile. "It can be done," Dykes said.
But it means being selective, particularly when combing the junior college ranks, where the Bears hope to secure talent that can provide immediate help in areas such as the defensive line and secondary.
This weekend, Cal is hosting seven JC recruits, according to Scout, including four-star safety Tee Shepard, who originally signed with Notre Dame. He wound up playing at a JC in Mississippi but went to high school at Central East-Fresno.
Also visiting is three-star defensive tackle Trevor Kelly from the College of San Mateo. In addition to Cal, he has offers from Colorado, Illinois and Florida, according to Scout.
Dykes and his staff must persuade recruits that 2013 was an aberration and that they can be a big part of the solution, according to Huffman.
"You tell Joe Five-Star, you have an opportunity to play right now," Huffman said.
The Joe Five-Star on Cal's recruiting radar is Joe Mixon, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound running back from Freedom-Oakley. Three months ago, Huffman thought Cal was the leader. Now, no one seems to know, including Mixon.
Mixon confirmed this week Cal remains among his finalists and said the Bears' gruesome 2013 season isn't a deal-breaker. "I really don't care too much about it. ... It would be good if they had a winning record," he said.
Contrary to popular wisdom, Mixon said proximity to home won't provide Cal a decisive edge, either.
So what matters? "Basically, life after football," said Mixon, who plans to make his announcement Jan. 4 at an all-star game in San Antonio. "I've got to do what's best for me."