If Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy had it his way, the Titans' football season would begin officially tonight.
Those very lopsided losses to Hawaii and sixth-ranked Louisiana State? Murphy would just as soon call them exhibition games.
They weren't, of course, which is why the Titans are 0-2 going into tonight's game against Cal State Long Beach, the Titans' home and Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. opener.
It is a game that Murphy and the players have called the most important of the season since practice began. That approach likely was taken in deference to the slim chances the Titans had against Hawaii and LSU--teams that combined to defeat them, 100-12.
In Long Beach (2-0), the Titans finally face a team they figure should be in their league.
"Not to demean Long Beach State, but the size and speed factor this week will be relatively closer to us, which helps," Murphy said.
The Titans face a team that has taken quite a different path from their own in the first two weeks of the season.
While Fullerton took on two teams it was not likely to beat, Long Beach played two teams from the Big Sky Conference, Montana State and Weber State.
The 49ers have outscored their opponents, 81-22, and are off to their best start in 10 years.
Fullerton, on the other hand, has yet to score a touchdown.
"They're on a roll. We're not on a roll," Murphy said. "We just have to try to change the momentum."
Fullerton will attempt to change the momentum--and Long Beach will attempt to sustain it--at 7 p.m. tonight in Santa Ana Stadium. The game, originally scheduled for 1 p.m., was moved after a swap meet operator who contracts with the City of Santa Ana for use of the stadium got a court order upholding its right to hold the afternoon meet.
"Fullerton is a better team than the scores indicate," said Larry Reisbig, the first-year Long Beach coach. "We anticipate playing a very tough football team. I think they move the ball very well."
Long Beach has few aspirations of extending Fullerton's stretch without a touchdown, Reisbig said.
"They're going to score touchdowns," he said. "They're going to score a touchdown against us. It has just been one of those things."
Reisbig entered the season promising a more balanced Long Beach offensive attack, and thus far the 49ers have used their running game more frequently than they did last year, when quarterback Jeff Graham threw 426 passes, completing 245 for 2,924 yards.
"All the balance means is you have twice as much to prepare for," said Murphy, whose team is led offensively by quarterback Ronnie Barber and kicker Stan Lambert, whose school-record four field goals against LSU account for all of Fullerton's scoring.
Even with Long Beach's new balance, Graham--who has completed 33 of 42 passes for 467 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions in two games--remains the 49ers' biggest threat.
Fullerton's biggest question seems to be which unit is more in need of improvement, an offense that has yet to cross the goal line or a defense that was unable to force LSU to punt even once and has given up more than 550 yards a game.
In any case, Murphy has not made changes in the lineup.
"We're just sticking to the basic things," he said.
A victory bell that is supposed to be kept yearly by the winner of the Fullerton-Long Beach game had been missing since just before the 1986 game, which Long Beach won. It reappeared on the porch of Cal State Fullerton's Football House Monday morning. The bell had disappeared from the basement of that building last year, said Mel Franks, Fullerton's sports information director. Said Long Beach Coach Larry Reisbig: "It disappears when it's our turn, and then it reappears. That's interesting.". . . Backup outside linebacker John Smith has undergone arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out for at least one to two weeks. . . . Backup inside linebacker Jeff Hipp, who sustained a dislocated elbow at Hawaii and did not play against LSU, will not play tonight.