Of all the questions a football coach is asked in the days preceding the first game of a season, few could be construed as original.
Players want to know their position on the depth chart.
Wives want to know when they might see their husbands again.
Reporters want to know who is starting at quarterback.
Except at Cal State Northridge, where practically everyone wants to know how the team will survive without All-American tailback Mike Kane.
Coach Bob Burt probably would pass on the lottery if he had a dollar for every time Kane's name was mentioned in connection with the outlook for this year's team.
Never mind the fact that Kane completed his eligibility last season.
Imagine the surprise, then, when Burt said--with a straight face--that he has more confidence in the team's running game this season than he did at the same stage in 1986.
Kane had missed several games the season before with injuries and he had not been especially impressive in spring workouts.
"We didn't know what to expect," Burt said. "But right now, I'd have to say running back is one of the strongest positions on our team."
Burt, who was in his first season as coach, didn't know what to expect last season, period. The Matadors were coming off a 4-7 season. Who would have guessed they'd finish 8-3 and come within a minute of a Western Football Conference championship and Division II playoff berth?
"It'll be tougher this year," Burt said. "Now it's expected by people inside and outside of the program that we're going to be successful. It's a lot tougher living up to expectations than it is to surpass expectations that don't exist."
With 14 starters back, optimism is high. Even for the tailback position.
The major reason: Albert Fann, a freshman from Cleveland High who stands 6-2 and is 210-pounds of lean, green running machine.
Burt says Fann can run inside the tackles as well as his predecessor, but has the speed to break a long run around end.
Fann has ascended to the top spot at tailback, unseating Richard Brown, Kane's understudy for two years and his heir apparent until about three weeks ago when Fann ran wild in a scrimmage.
Brown, a senior who gained 173 yards rushing and caught 12 passes last season, has bulked up to 193 pounds and is still one of the fastest players on the team. He has been slowed lately, however, by a sprained ankle. Lance Harper and Kory Stephens are also capable backs, but running back is one of the few spots were the talent runs deep.
Northridge has one backup guard and one reserve tackle on the offensive line and one backup tackle on defense.
"We're very good with our first guys out there, but after that the situation gets critical," Burt said. "Depth problems are inherent in Division II. Our situation is not unlike anyone else's. You just hope you're not hit by injuries."
Another problem spot has been place-kicker. Gary Vartanian, backup to All-American Mike Doan last season, is even with freshman Abo Velasco in a battle to make the traveling squad.
Center Brian Clark (6-1, 255), guard Tony Palamara (6-2, 260) and tackle Lou Murino (6-6, 277) are the nucleus of the offensive line along with tight end Brian Bowers (6-3, 220).
Defensively, the Matadors have seven starters back, including tackles Dester Stowers (6-3, 250) and Steve Dominic (6-5, 260), who are among the best in the WFC.
In the secondary, a pair of highly regarded transfers join returning starters Kip Dukes and Dan Coleman, who will be at the corners. Craig Hunter, a transfer from New Mexico, will be the strong safety and Sean Scott, from Minnesota, will be the free safety.
At linebacker, Tracy Anderson, Mark Dozier and Lou Green are joined by transfers Ken Lesure from Harbor College and Jim Crane, a JC All-American from Scottsdale, Ariz.
The quarterback position will be shared--at least for the first few games--by Rob Huffman and Sherdrick Bonner.
Huffman (6-3, 205), a JC All-American from Glendale College, has established himself at the top of the depth chart. He isn't spectacular to watch, but his passes somehow find their target. Bonner (6-3, 170) has the talent to be spectacular but also is inexperienced.