When Rushel Shell announced his transfer from the Pitt Panthers, the young running back expressed an interest in heading west to the Pac 12. Many speculated he would be joining the coach who recruited him to Pitt, Todd Graham with the Arizona State Sun Devils, but the Panthers put an end to that speculation by listing ASU and the Arizona Wildcats on the list of schools Shell could not transfer to. That left the Cal Bears as one of Shell’s top targets to transfer, but according to reports, Sonny Dykes and the Golden Bears aren’t interested.
Shell listed Cal as one of the four schools he was interested in transferring to along with Arizona, Arizona State and the UCLA Bruins. It appeared that Pitt was doing Cal a major favor by taking out the option to head to the desert, making Berkeley one of the top two landing spots for the physically gifted sophomore. Last season, Shell gained 641 yards on 141 carries with four touchdowns for Pitt and was in line to become the featured back for Paul Chryst and company before deciding to transfer.
And it isn’t like the Cal running back situation is teeming with options. Dykes inherits a team that loses its top two rushers from 2012 in C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele. Things appear to be in good hands for the immediate future with Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco stepping up into the top two spots next season after combining for 50 carries, 540 yards and four touchdowns last season. While they haven’t shown they can hold up as the go-to options in the running game yet, they have flashed enough ability to give Cal fans hope.
But even with two more seasons of Bigelow and three with Lasco, the running back depth is a major question mark in Berkeley. Khalfani Muhammad has been making some noise in spring practice with Bigelow and Lasco nursing injuries, but when a true freshmen is critical to your running back depth, you could stand to have a bit more depth. Shell has proven himself as a physical runner who can carry the ball with success at the FBS level.
So if it isn’t football related, why the lack of interest? Cal is an extremely prestigious academic institution that demands a great deal from its student-athletes in the classroom. There are rumblings that Shell isn’t as serious about his classwork as he is about his football, which could make him a poor fit for the university despite filling a direct need for the football program.
There are special challenges that come with building a football program at prestigious academic institutions and it can force programs to lose out on talented football prospects. If Shell isn’t willing to put in the work in the classroom then Cal will not be his new team.
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