The size of the sprawling campus might indicate otherwise, but the University of California, Davis isn’t a college playground for everyone.
The largest campus in the University of California system — UC Davis covers 7,156 acres of the Golden State — is home to more than 32,000 students. Yet the school admitted just 43 percent of its applicants last fall.
Bob Biggs faces the challenges of recruiting qualified student-athletes to play football for the Aggies each school year. While the high academic standards of the one the stop schools in the country — UCD is considered a Public Ivy school and was ranked as the eighth-best public institution of higher learning by U.S. News and World Report earlier this year — Biggs wouldn’t want any leniency when it comes to his Davis football team.
“The biggest challenge is the academic standards and they don’t bend,” said Biggs, UCD’s 20th-year head coach. “The admission standards are what they are and it’s something we are very proud of. The truth is, if you were to get students in here that didn’t quite meet the minimum qualifications, they wouldn’t survive.”
A generation ago, Biggs said, a college degree was an important stepping-stone to a successful future. Nowadays, however, with more than 30 million Americans currently enrolled in college, the veteran coach sees the importance of a prestigious diploma and tries to emphasize it to young people.
“I tell kids this all the time: If you have a chance to go to the best school you can go to this day in age, you have to go because it’s tough out there,” Biggs, who is 142-81 at UCD, said. “If you just think you can go just anywhere and walk away with a degree and it’s going to open up all these doors for you, it’s just not the reality these days. We get kids that have had the opportunity to go to different places, but they may not have had the opportunity to go to Stanford or Cal or UCLA so Davis is a great choice for them because academics is important to them.”
Davis holds a different distinction from many of the large schools in the California system: the school is located Davis, California, the 122nd-largest city in the state, rather than a metropolitan area like San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego. About 20 minutes from the state capital of Sacramento, UCD has a distinct feel of a college town rather than a campus among skyscrapers.
“We have a group of scholar-athletes who get to go to school in a great place and play the game we love,” said UCD junior quarterback Randy Wright. “I’m sure it’s similar to Montana State. We have great facilities, although our stadium isn’t as big as Montana State’s. We get to play football, we have a nice campus in NorCal, it’s a fun place to be.”
“It’s a college town with a small-town feel. We have a great downtown seen, the campus really is beautiful with all the landscaping and trees,” said senior linebacker Jordan Glass. “It’s a tremendous place to go to school. The atmosphere here Saturday with the No. 2 team in the country coming to town should make it even better.”
The showdown Glass alludes to is one against Montana State. The Bobcats head to California for the first time in two seasons for the biggest Big Sky Conference game in UCD history. The Aggies, who celebrate homecoming on Saturday, joined the league before this season.
“The great thing about playing a great team on homecoming is you don’t have to say too much as a coach,” Biggs said. “We are well-aware of what the rankings are. We don’t really talk about those things. Our goal, as cliché as it sounds, is to go out and play better football every week. That being said, will it be a great environment? Absolutely. It will be a great environment for both teams.”
UC Davis played Montana State in September of 2011 in Bozeman. The game doubled as MSU’s Gold Rush and was the afternoon the Bobcats revealed the newly renovated Bobcat Stadium. More than 17,500 ‘Cat fans draped in gold watched MSU drub the Aggies 38-14. Since then, MSU head coach Rob Ash has seen this week’s opposition make strides.
“They are a smart football team, they really are,” Ash said. “They get lined up every play, offense, defense, special teams, they are in the right spots. And they play really hard. I really like their intensity and their emotion and just how hard they play every time they hit the field.”
“I think they’ve improved a lot and they look awesome on film. I think they are looking strong and playing well, and of course, they are at home, so it will be a tough game.”
Biggs knows his team is an underdog on Saturday, but he said the Aggies are relishing in the opportunity to play in one of the FCS’ premier conferences this season, which will be Biggs’ last. In two decades leading the football program, the UCD alum has learned to package the academic challenges of the school with the allure of the beautiful campus to create an experience students and visitors alike don’t easily forget.
“We have our challenges, but we have our advantages too,” Biggs said. “People know about UC Davis. It’s a college town much like Bozeman. It’s unique in the state of California in that most of your colleges are in urban areas. We are a great college town and when people get a chance to visit campus and our town, they absolutely fall in love.”