The preliminaries will end tonight for UCLA, which closes out its nonconference schedule in a game at the Rose Bowl against Cal State Long Beach, another hefty underdog, in the Bruins' last warm-up before the Pacific 10 main event begins next weekend against Arizona State.
So is anybody really thinking about Long Beach?
The Bruins swear on a stack of Pac-10 schedules that they are not looking past the 49ers, and no one is more outspoken on the subject, naturally, than Coach Terry Donahue. He has been talking until the Bruins are blue in the face, cautioning everyone to remain focused. But no matter how much Donahue protests, UCLA remains the overwhelming favorite.
"The most difficult thing with playing a team like San Diego State or Long Beach is that a lot of people in the media don't really realize how talented some of these teams are," Donahue said. "No matter who you play, the games are hard. At least, that's the way I feel."
Other teams respectfully disagree. Not all games are hard. Oklahoma surely didn't find its game with UCLA particularly difficult or even very challenging. But certainly the Pac-10 games coming up for the Bruins are likely to be a lot harder than this one.
After tonight, there aren't any more opportunities for the Bruins to answer a few pressing questions before the conference games that determine who plays in the Rose Bowl game:
--The passing attack: Is it still up in the air? It has been three weeks since Oklahoma, so is that long enough for the Bruins' air game to go from "doormat" to Air Matt?
--"Is this where they cast 'St. Elsewhere?' " Or, will everybody, especially the backfield, ever actually be in one piece at the same time?
--It's a small world after all : Is the defense actually too little to make big plays, as some suspect?
Donahue believes that all these problems, and probably more than a few others, will be solved in due time, and so does quarterback Matt Stevens, who said the most important thing the Bruins have to do is prove to themselves that they aren't as bad as they looked in Oklahoma.
"Come Saturday evening, we'll know if we've established ourselves as a good football team," Stevens said. "We can't go in there thinking it's going to be a romp. And we can't go in there thinking about Arizona State and Arizona, either.
"We know the first two conference games will be very important. We can win them, but if we lose one it'll be real tough because you really can't lose another one. But we're used to it. We're ready for that, too."
Long Beach presents its own particular challenge to UCLA. The 49ers of Coach Mike Sheppard are 1-1 and have an all-out passing attack that should hold up as long as quarterback Jeff Graham's arm doesn't become unhinged. So far, Graham is averaging 46.5 passes a game.
Sheppard is trying hard to turn the 49er football program around in his third season. Last year, Long Beach finished 6-6 after a 4-7 record in Sheppard's first season.
Bruin Notes Fullback Marcus Greenwood has been officially ruled out of tonight's game. Greenwood has two sprained ankles. Right guard Mark Schmidt is also out. Schmidt, who had arthroscopic knee surgery before the season, reinjured his knee slightly in practice this week. Right cornerback Marcus Turner is listed as doubtful because of a foot injury, and backup quarterback Brendan McCracken is questionable with a pulled leg muscle. Coach Terry Donahue said that flanker Karl Dorrell, who injured his knee at Oklahoma, might be ready for next Saturday's Pac-10 opener against Arizona State. . . . Darryl Henley ranks No. 3 in the Pac-10 with a 9.5-yard average on four punt returns. First-year punter Harold Barkate's 42.3-yard punting average is also third in the Pac-10. . . . When junior tailback Gaston Green, the Pac-10's third-leading rusher with 85.5 yards, ran for 131 at San Diego State, it marked the sixth game in which he has gained at least 100 yards and his fifth of more than 130. Only once have the Bruins lost when Green rushed for at least 100 yards, and that was last season when USC won, 17-13. Green gained 134 yards in 18 carries. . . . Shuttle buses to the Rose Bowl will be operating this season from the Parsons Engineering parking lot in Pasadena, at the corner of Walnut and Fair Oaks. Buses leave every five minutes, beginning two hours before the 7 p.m. kickoff, and return to the lot up to an hour after the end of the game. Round-trip bus fare is $2. . . . UCLA will give away 25,000 schedule posters after the game. . . Prime Ticket will televise tonight's game, and KMPC (710) will broadcast the game. . . . The Bruins may have a shot at an NCAA record next season. UCLA has not been shut out in 171 consecutive games, 15 games short of USC's record of 186 consecutive games. No one has stopped the Bruins from scoring since Michigan blanked them in 1971, 38-0.