Click photo to enlarge
Cal coach Jeff Tedford's recruiting class is ranked 14th nationally by rivals.com and No. 16 by scout.com. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

Cal is expected to sign one of the nation's top football recruiting classes Wednesday despite suffering through its first losing season in Jeff Tedford's nine years as coach.

That may show Cal's program has enough to offer to withstand a short downward trend of on-field success.

"Yes, but I don't want to test out that theory very often," Tedford said.

The misery that surrounded the end to the 2010 season, one that left the Bears out of a bowl game with a 5-7 record, has been replaced with optimism because of the class Tedford is expected to sign. Cal has received oral commitments from 21 players, a group that is ranked 14th nationally by rivals.com and No. 16 by scout.com.

"They are getting everybody," ESPN.com West Coast recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said. "Overall, at every single position just about they are getting a guy who can play."

The best players usually want to go to the winningest programs. After Tedford led Cal to a breakthrough season in 2004 that left many believing the Bears were unfairly left out of the Rose Bowl, the Bears had the nation's 10th-best recruiting class, according to rivals.com. Cal had top-25 recruiting classes after each of the next two seasons, the second of which the Bears shared the Pac-10 title.

At that point, Cal seemed to have established itself as a national power. But the Bears fell off a bit, going 7-6 in 2007 and 9-4 in 2008, each time ending the season out of the national rankings. Not surprisingly, recruiting took a hit as well. Cal's 2008 class was rated No. 34 by rivals; the 2009 class No. 42.

But it appears Tedford and his program have what it takes to overcome less success on the field. After going 8-5 in 2009, a season that had the Bears ranked No. 12 in the preseason and ended with blowout losses to Washington and Utah, Tedford still managed to secure the country's No. 11 recruiting class. A three-game losing streak, all at home, to end the 2010 season seemed to put an ominous cloud on the recruiting season, but again the Bears have managed to haul in several top prospects.

"It wasn't a concern at all for me," said Vista High's Stefan McClure, ranked as the No. 9 cornerback in the country by rivals. "I'm not looking at what happened to them in the past. I want to be part of the class that turns them back around and gets them back to the top 10 and to the Rose Bowl."

There appear to be a few things going for Cal that may allow it to overcome an on-field slump. Clearly, prospects, and probably more important, their parents, are attracted to the education the university provides. Many recruits also laud the "family atmosphere" that Tedford and his coaching staff foster. And the Bears also feature one of the up-and-coming recruiting coaches in the nation in defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi.

"Academics are always a really easy sell at Cal," Biggins said. "For the player that really does care about academics, that will push you up a couple notches. Football will always be the ultimate decision, but I think Cal's academics definitely helps them out a lot."

McClure cited academics and his relationship with new defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose as primary reasons for choosing Cal. He also mentioned the family atmosphere that many recruits have found attractive.

"You get that family feeling that they are going to take care of you up there," McClure said. "I felt it more strongly than at other schools."

Lupoi, who was named Recruiter of the Year last year by rivals.com, is a big reason the Bears are bringing in one of the top defensive line classes in the country. The unit is led by five-star recruit Viliama Moala of Sacramento, rated the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally by scout.com. Four of the six defensive linemen Cal has secured are ranked in the top 25 nationally at their position.

A handful of players at other positions during the past couple years also have cited Lupoi as a big reason they chose Cal.

"I think Tosh Lupoi is now the best assistant recruiting coach in the nation," Biggins said. "Tosh doesn't miss. Guys want to play for him."

While Tedford acknowledged the impact Lupoi has made, he said the recruiting success is a product of his entire staff. Running backs coach Ron Gould has developed an excellent reputation as a recruiter, and linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson, who is also the program's recruiting coordinator, has used his Houston roots to help Cal make an imprint in Texas.

"This is a team effort. Everyone is involved in recruiting," said Tedford, who is forbidden by the NCAA to talk about specific recruits until they've signed letters of intent. "Tosh does a great job in recruiting, as does everybody else."

Then there's the matter of the new facilities being constructed at Cal. The university is in the process of building a Student-Athlete High-Performance Center. The facility is adjacent to Memorial Stadium, which also is undergoing renovations.

"I think it's making a significant difference," Tedford said. "They've been able to walk through it. It's something that is really there. It's not on a rendering, it's not on a video. It's real."

Inside
Stanford holds line after coaching change; SJSU covers state. Page 5
Online
Join us for an East Bay prep and college recruiting wrap-up chat on Thursday at 11 a.m.