Imagine you're Coach Gene Murphy of Cal State Fullerton. Your football team lacks experience, but you figure you have enough good athletes to compensate. You want to break them in gently, maybe open with a patsy . . . a lower-division team. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Now, let's say you're opening your season at 1 p.m. today in Nevada Reno's Mackay Stadium, against one of two teams that practically made you look helpless last season. And let's say it has a busload of players returning from a team that finished 1985 with an 11-2 record, including a quarterback who is threatening to turn the school record book into an autobiography.
For the Titans, that's reality. Welcome to the 1986 football season, ready or not.
"We were beaten badly--I mean just physically manhandled--twice last year," Murphy said. "Once was at Fresno (in a 42-7 loss). The other was at home against Reno."
The final score was Nevada Reno 30, Fullerton 3. And this was one case in which the game wasn't closer than the final score would indicate. The Titans needed a 52-yard field goal by Len Strandley to avoid a shutout.
Eric Beavers, the Wolf Pack's record-setting quarterback, completed 16 of 27 passes for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns in the victory. He went on to pass for 2,617 yards, and help Reno reach the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
Murphy doesn't remember Beavers as being the kind of quarterback who makes National Football League scouts salivate. He just remembers him as being effective.
"You look at him, and he's not that big (5-10 and 175), he's not that fast and he doesn't have that strong of an arm," Murphy said. "But he's productive. He hits hands. He's one of the best quarterbacks we faced last year, and we faced some good ones."
Beavers isn't Murphy's only concern. Fullback Charvez Foger, who averaged more than 124 yards a game rushing in '85, will rejoin Beavers in the Reno backfield. Wide receiver Bryan Calder also is back. Injuries kept him out of five games last season but he still caught 41 passes for 647 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Placekicker Marty Zendejas, who made 19 of 24 field-goal attempts in '85, also returns. "Another dang Zendejas," Murphy said.
All of this makes it a little hard for Reno Coach Chris Ault to downplay his team, a solid favorite to win the Big Sky Conference title. But like any coach worth his weight in whistles, Ault will try.
"Our backs and skill people are very good," he said. "But we've lost most of our linemen. We're taking some inexperience and putting it in the trenches, and that's our biggest area of concern right now."
For Fullerton, this game represents a chance for retribution, and an opportunity for some untested players to get game experience. The secondary will be targeted early by Fullerton opponents. On the offensive side, the wide receiver spot that has been a strength the last two seasons is now a question mark.