GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All week, it has seemed an unnecessary exertion on the part of the folks who answer the phones at the University of Florida athletic department.
"Go Gators," was how they greeted callers. "Beat Fullerton."
The staff, like the 18th-ranked Florida football team and its coaches, has done its best to approach today's game as it would any other on a schedule considered to be one of the nation's most difficult.
The players say the proper things, lauding Fullerton's personnel and warning of the dangers of dwelling too much on last week's 13-10 loss to Louisiana State. Gator Coach Galen Hall goes so far as to point out that Fullerton scored more points (12) in a loss to LSU last month than Florida did last week, omitting the detail of the number of points LSU scored against Fullerton (56).
"We can't get a feel for them," Hall said after watching films of the Titans in different games. "What they'll do here remains to be seen."
When it comes right down to it, it most likely won't matter much what Fullerton does. This is a game Florida is not too concerned about, and rightfully so.
It shows in the queries of some Florida players as to whether Fullerton is a Division III team, and in defensive coordinator Zaven Yaralian's repeated references to Fullerton as "Cal."
Others, similarly unconcerned with just who this team is, simply call the Titans "Cal State," apparently unaware that further distinction is necessary.
Interestingly, the Titans are not too concerned about this game, either. The word upset has not exactly been on the tips of tongues.
For Fullerton, this, like the LSU game, is a money game, one that will earn a $200,000 guarantee check that will significantly aid the financially struggling Titan program.
"It's just something we have to do," Titan Coach Gene Murphy has said repeatedly.
The Titans, who twice have been beaten by 44 points, and whose closest games were 19-point victories over Cal State Long Beach and Utah State, probably are looking forward to playing a close game. This one, however, doesn't figure to be the first.
Florida's only losses came against Miami and LSU, both top-10 ranked teams.
Fullerton will have more to deal with today than it had reason to expect before the season.
All the talk then was of quarterback Kerwin Bell, frequently mentioned in preseason Heisman Trophy conversations.
After he threw seven interceptions in the first five games and passed for 755 yards (Fullerton's Ronnie Barber has passed for 718), Bell has taken a back seat to a freshman running back, Emmitt Smith.
Smith, 18, got his first start in the third game of the season, against Alabama. He rushed for a school-record 224 yards, scored two touchdowns and helped lead the Gators to a 23-14 upset.
With an average of 141 yards a game, Smith ranks as the nation's third leading rusher. Already, he is being compared to a couple of other Southeast Conference running backs who got off to good starts as freshmen--Herschel Walker of Georgia and Bo Jackson of Auburn.
So the Titans, who say they would just as soon not interrupt their Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. schedule with a game such as this, are up against something.
"Our No. 1 hope is that we come out of this healthy," Murphy said. "Our other is to keep becoming fiscally responsible."