September 29, 2015

(AP) - In Sonny Dykes' first season as coach at California, the Golden Bears weren't near the top of any polls.

They went winless in the Pac-12, got their only win against a lower-division team and set a school record for losses when they went 1-11 in 2013.

Two years later, Cal is rolling.

Fresh off winning road games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1993, the 24th-ranked Bears (4-0, 1-0) moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time in six years this week in a sign of how much progress the program has made in Dykes' three seasons.

''We didn't talk about it much when we were ranked probably last in the country and we're not going to talk about it much now that we're ranked in the Top 25,'' Dykes said Tuesday. ''It doesn't really affect us much.''

Despite the best start to a season at Cal since 2007, Dykes knows there is plenty more work to be done. The Bears had trouble closing out games the past two weeks in wins at Texas and Washington, have yet to hit on all cylinders with some trouble in the red zone and have major issues returning and covering kicks.

Those haven't led to losses yet and haven't dampened the growing excitement on campus at a school that hasn't competed in the Pac-12 for almost a decade.

The players and coaches appreciate the progress even if they are taking it all in stride.

''In our locker room, there's not much of a change,'' quarterback Jared Goff said. ''We're a very determined, level-headed team. We expected to be here.''

Now the task for Cal is to not get too satisfied or look too far ahead - a drastic change from where the program was two years ago.

While the Bears are heavy favorites this week against Washington State (2-1, 0-0), the schedule gets much tougher in the coming weeks. Next up is a brutal four-game stretch that features visits to No. 10 Utah and No. 7 UCLA, followed by a home game against No. 17 Southern California and a trip to Oregon.

That's why it's so important for the Bears to tune out all the praise coming their way this week.

''I think you always have to guard against that, especially when you don't have a lot of experience being ranked,'' Dykes said. ''It's not something we're going to talk about much. Our guys have been incredibly focused and haven't paid attention to that stuff. It literally means nothing. ... It's a number that somebody sticks on you but it doesn't mean much.''

Cal also hopes to get some key players back from injuries. Running back Daniel Lasco (hip), defensive end DeVante Wilson (foot) and defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil (knee) were set to practice Tuesday and could be back this week. Starting left tackle Brian Farley, who left the game early last week with an ankle injury, also could play Saturday.

Safety Griffin Piatt (knee) and freshman defensive end Cameron Saffle (knee) also could make their season debuts against a Cougars team that has lost nine of the last 10 in the series.

Washington State is about where many fans expected it to be after completing its nonconference schedule. It opened with a deflating loss to lower-division Portland State. The Cougars rebounded to win a thriller at Rutgers and then beat Wyoming last weekend, their first win in Pullman in over a year.

''We've got a lot of work to do, there's no question,'' coach Mike Leach said. ''I think the biggest thing is we've got to become more cohesive on all sides of the ball. Not so much on an individual level but playing together.''

From Leach's perspective, there are too many players waiting for someone else to step up.

''There's a certain amount of indecisiveness that exists as far as a guy wanting the play to come to them, sorting out whether the other guy is going to make the play or them,'' Leach said. ''We have to have a little more reckless abandon with regard to our making the plays ourselves.''

Linebacker Peyton Pelluer said the team was ''definitely going to use this bye to get into conference play 100 percent.''

One goal was to find a way to avoid playing at the level of the opponent.

''I think it's more a mindset,'' said linebacker Jeremiah Allison. ''We don't have any room to relax. I think we just ease off the gas pedal sometime.''

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