THE COLLEGES : CSUF Notebook : At 6-6, Titans Surprise Yet Also Disappoint

Among the things the Cal State Fullerton Titans can be pleased with, now that their football season is finished:

--They have a record whose second number is not larger than its first.

--They proved a bundle of oddsmakers wrong.

The Titans, who won only three games last year, finished 6-6 after a season-ending victory over Montana Saturday. Titan Coach Gene Murphy adds this tidbit: In 12 games, Fullerton was the favored team only twice--against New Mexico State and the University of the Pacific.

But the Titans also ended their season in disappointment. As late as the ninth game of the season, the Titans could have finished 8-4 and tied San Jose State for the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title. Instead, they lost a close game to Fresno State and bungled badly in a loss to Pacific before beating Montana to finish at .500.

"The disappointing part is those two games," Murphy said. "We shouldn't do it, but we look back and it could have been a lot different . . . We had an opportunity for a winning season, and we didn't do it."

Fullerton, which played top 20 teams Louisiana State and Florida in road games that paid $200,000 apiece, was 2-4 at the midway-point in the season.

But Murphy said the losses to Fresno State and Pacific were harder to take than the others.

"Those conference losses hurt a lot more than those games at Hawaii, LSU and Florida," Murphy said. "We had a chance to win (the conference games)."

Fullerton finished in a three-way tie for second in the PCAA.

It was a season in which the Titan defense was expected to struggle--and did, during early games. But by the middle of the season, the defense was playing consistently well, largely because of the play of several newcomers. Among those were linebacker Chris Wright, a sophomore who sat out last year after failing to meet NCAA Proposition 48 requirements; end A.J. Jenkins, a community-college transfer who Murphy said may be the Titans' best defensive player, and junior walk-on defensive back Sean Fernandes, who finished with five interceptions.

Bill Bryan, a veteran junior linebacker, led the team in tackles with 73, and is on a pace to challenge the Fullerton career tackle record. Two fifth-year players who were projected as as backups in the preseason--tackle Kelly Gogerty and linebacker Jeff Taylor--earned starting jobs during the season and responded with strong performances. Another fifth-year player, linebacker Bryan Riggs, came back with a strong season after undergoing major knee surgery last year.

The Titans lose 21 seniors from this team, with the most serious losses on offense. Ed Gillies, Phil Benson and Greg Hammond, the middle three of Fullerton's offensive line, are all fifth-year seniors.

Also leaving: quarterback Ronnie Barber, who passed for a career-high 305 yards and set a school record with 338 yards total offense in his final game; Todd White, the jack-of-all-trades wide receiver who set six school-records this season; running back Eric Franklin, who rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his last five games, and tight end Jim Thornton, who missed the last three games after being injured in the New Mexico State game.

Fullerton has capable quarterbacks returning, as well as a good receiver in John Gibbs. Recruiting efforts, Murphy said, will center on junior-college offensive linemen.

Susan Herman, who earlier this season set a school-record for kills in a season, extended it to 431 in the Titans' season-ending volleyball match against UC Irvine last week. The previous record, set by Joan McGhee in 1985, was 301. Herman, a sophomore, has 627 career kills and should threaten the career record of 683 next season.

The Titans finished 9-23, 1-17 in the PCAA.

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