They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and that’s certainly going to be a long-lasting truth for the California Golden Bears football program.

Head coach Jeff Tedford is expected to sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour as early as Sunday, when many suspect he will be handed his walking papers in the form of a hefty $6.9M buyout. A costly decision to be sure, but the team doesn’t have another option at this point. Its future depends on it.

Future, in this respect, doesn’t mean the 2013 season. It may not mean the 2014 season for that matter; the positive effects of letting Tedford walk probably won’t be felt until long after he is gone.

Collegiate sports are a unique breed in that one year’s recruiting class may have little impact immediately, but it can make or break a team’s outlook for nearly a half of a decade. Sure, NFL draft picks can take some time to develop into a talented core, but more and more we are seeing very little drop off in athleticism and gamespeed from NCAA football to the pros. Players like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III can improve an offense. Talents like Aldon Smith or Von Miller turn a defense from porous to scary. Rookies can step in and immediately change the complexion of a franchise.

It’s not like that in Division-I football. High school players simply take longer to develop. A fresh class of recruits can’t be expected to outperform college juniors and seniors right away, especially in a conference as competitive as the PAC-12. Cal’s future draft classes will take time to form into a squad of solid players, and that’s why the program should waste no time making this change.

The cabinet is basically empty for the Bears. They can’t compete with the Ducks, Cardinal or Trojans to begin with; take away talent like Keenan Allen, who will surely go pro this year, and the idea of playing those teams next year is daunting. The trainwreck was well on its way for the Bears even before the stadium renovations, but the belief among the most optimistic Cal fans was new facilities would be enough to lure the nation’s top talent to come to Berkeley. Tedford would successfully rebuild the team and all would be well.

This year went worse than anyone expected. Much worse. It wasn’t all on Tedford — injuries and tough luck followed the Bears at nearly every turn. However, poor execution and inconsistent effort were also evident throughout the 2012 season. As unavoidable as the aforementioned circumstances may have been, the latter can be just as easily be solved by new leadership — provided Cal chooses the correct leader.

There is an undeniable truth about this team now, perhaps the only positive to draw from this season. It’s that change is imminent, and the choice to remove Tedford isn’t even a choice anymore — it’s a mandate. The writing was on the wall when Tosh Lupoi left Cal and took several 2012 recruits to Seattle with him. Recruits who knew full well that new facilities were coming but didn’t care because they knew that success was not. They knew their best shot to play football in college and beyond was going to be somewhere other than Cal.

If those recruits are any indication, none of the 2013 recruits will be swayed by Tedford either, even if the creativity of the facilities’ designs or the program’s recruiting tactics belie the onfield plan for success. This is why Tedford must go: there are too many options in the Pac-12 — from Eugene to Corvallis to Palo Alto or Los Angeles — for any high school blue-chipper to want to play for Tedford’s Bears.

The team’s season finale at Oregon State is Saturday, and their chances look bleak without quarterback Zach Maynard, wide receiver Keenan Allen and tackle Matt Summers-Gavin. But then, their chances looked bleak with them. By all appearances, the Bears stopped playing after their loss to Stanford. Can you blame them? The only things left to play for were pride and Tedford’s job.

The aftermath of his downfall will stretch beyond next season, which means that more losing is probably on its way. But the rebuilding process starts when the program looks for a whole new beginning, and that search should begin on Sunday.