Aztecs Playing as If There's a Title at Stake : College football: Despite inconsistencies, San Diego State is still in position to win the WAC.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Players come and go. Into the lineup one week and out again the next.

Their offense has come and gone. Consistent one week and not the next.

But seven weeks into the season, the San Diego State Aztecs still have not disappeared.

After a 28-21 victory Saturday at Texas El Paso, the Aztecs (5-2, 3-1) are in third place in the Western Athletic Conference this morning. They are off to their best start since the 1979 SDSU team won eight of its first 10. And tonight, the Aztecs will begin preparing for their latest big game. It is Saturday at Utah, and with three consecutive victories--two on the road--the Aztecs are quietly trying to put their dreams back together.

They have not won three road games in a season since 1986--their last WAC championship year. Their current streak has captured the attention of the Freedom and Copper Bowls along with ABC television. The school was notified Sunday that the network will pick up Saturday's Utah game on a regional basis. Kickoff has been moved back to 12:35 p.m. (PDT).

Yes, the Aztecs have a chance to make good things happen in 1991. But there is no margin for error.

No team ever has won the WAC with two conference losses. Thanks to a loss Sept. 21 at Air Force, SDSU is spending each weekend of its 1991 season in this predicament: Win, or forget the Holiday Bowl.

As Coach Al Luginbill has been saying for weeks, their backs are against the wall.

"Obviously, they still are," Luginbill said after reviewing films Sunday. "That doesn't change. I think for us to have any opportunity at the conference co-championship, or whatever you want to call it, this is a crucial game.

"We had to get to this point to get back home."

Four of their first five conference games are on the road, but SDSU gets Wyoming, Colorado State and Brigham Young at home on consecutive weekends in November.

Lose Saturday and suddenly that home stretch loses importance. And even if the Aztecs win all of their remaining WAC games--including the Utah game--they still will not go to the Holiday Bowl unless someone knocks off Air Force. The Falcons have one conference loss, to Brigham Young, and if they end up that way, they would win the WAC because of their 21-20 victory over SDSU.

But in their master plan, the Aztecs think the schedule favors them. And somehow, they have continued to accomplish what they've needed to. In the victory over UTEP, seven members of SDSU's two-deep roster were out with injuries.

"There's a lot of football yet to be played, and we're not on the road," Luginbill said. "That's a crucial advantage for us.

"But the crucial game for us is this one."

Luginbill is impressed with Utah (5-2, 2-1), particularly with junior quarterback Frank Dolce.

"The Dolce kid has taken them to the next level quicker than I think anybody would have thought," Luginbill said.

Dolce has completed 57% of his passes--128 of 224 for 1,655 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"I like his ability to keep the play alive," Luginbill said. "I compare him to (SDSU quarterback) David Lowery. He's got a good awareness about him, he gets the ball to his receivers. . ."

Luginbill said freshman Wayne Pittman will start at running back Saturday unless senior T.C. Wright (thigh bruise, ankle sprain) is 100% healthy.

Pittman, in his first college start, gained 149 yards against UTEP. And, he played on SDSU's kickoff coverage teams.

Pittman has played on special teams all season, and Luginbill said the Aztecs were simply running out of players.

"When you lose as many players as we have, it affects your special teams," Luginbill said. "We can only take 60 people (on the road). And we don't want to un-redshirt freshmen, and certain guys just can't play those spots."

Aztec Notes

Running back Marshall Faulk (fractured ribs) is out Saturday, but defensive lineman Ramondo Stallings (cervical strain) has been cleared to practice this week and offensive lineman Carlson Leomiti (sprained ankle), cornerback Gary Taylor (sprained ankle) and cornerback Zac Stokes (sprained ankle) are all listed as probable.

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