SAN DIEGO — With Todd Santos on the verge of becoming the most prolific passer in major-college history, the twist of the San Diego State schedule has the Aztecs playing at Brigham Young Saturday.
BYU is a cradle of college quarterbacks. Scattered in its record book are the names of Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen and Virgil Carter.
Santos, a Mormon, wanted to attend BYU above all other colleges. The Cougars said they wanted Santos, but didn't want him enough to offer him a scholarship.
And it was BYU's normally affable coach, LaVell Edwards, who dismissed Santos' chase of the career passing record in a preseason media day by saying that his quarterbacks had accomplished almost as much in two seasons as Santos would do in four.
Sounds like the perfect opportunity to make BYU coaches remember Santos.
"Not really," he said this week, sounding as if he meant it. "I'm just happy I have the opportunity to get the record. It's quite an accomplishment. It was great to have the opportunity to start for four years and throw the ball like we did. You do that and you'll get close to the record. So here I am."
Santos is only 211 yards away from history. He needs that many yards to break the NCAA Division I-A career passing record of 10,623 yards set by Kevin Sweeney of Fresno State. With three games remaining, Santos has 10,413 yards.
Given his recent pace, Santos will pass Sweeney and become the first player to pass for more than 11,000 career yards. In his past three games, Santos has thrown for 1,343 yards, an average of 447.7 yards per game. But as is his low-key manner, Santos downplayed any thoughts of passing for 11,000 yards.
"I don't set goals like that for myself," he said. "This is a team a sport. Everything is for the team. I've got to play that way."
He leaves the speculation and the calculation to others.
"I haven't even kept track," he said. "All my friends do that. I've got one friend who always has a pen out figuring out how many yards I need to average."
Then does he know he needs 211 yards to pass Sweeney?
"Somebody told me," he said.
Santos just smiled. There is no way he is going to do anything but soft sell the record chase. Yet there were times when he wondered if he would get the record.
At the beginning of the season, the Aztecs were in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and Santos was struggling, too. He needed to average 261 yards per game to break the record, but he was barely throwing for that much. But he said his problem went deeper than the pursuit of the record.
"I really wasn't worried about the record," he said. "The only pressure came from me at the beginning of the season, trying to do all the little things to help the team. Four or five games into the season, I told myself I can't put that kind of pressure on myself."
Santos took his new attitude into the game against Stanford three weeks ago. The Aztecs still lost, 44-40, but Santos passed for a career-high 536 yards and almost rallied his team to victory.
"That was the turning point," Santos said. "I told myself not to worry about things and just do the best that I can do. That's all I can do."
Since then, the Aztecs have ended their losing streak by defeating Cal State Long Beach, 52-42, and Hawaii, 29-21, to raise their record to 3-6. The winning has given the record chase more meaning. Santos realizes it would have been a hollow personal triumph to break Sweeney's mark without some accompanying team success.
"Definitely, the team comes first," Santos said. "Hopefully, we can win at BYU, come back, win the last two home games (against Colorado State and New Mexico) and finish with a 6-6 record. Hopefully, that will carry over to next year's team."
Santos, a fifth-year senior, will not be around then. He hopes to play professional football. His performance in the past few weeks might have helped his cause. Although he still has had some crucial interceptions--twice in the first half against Hawaii with Aztecs in scoring position--he has shown improvement in his ability to throw deep and avoid the rush. But, just as last season, his three leading receivers are tight end, Kerry Reed-Martin, and two running backs, Ron Slack and Paul Hewitt.
"He has worked on throwing a lot of deep balls and strengthening his arm," SDSU Coach Denny Stolz said. "He scrambles just enough. He can get away from the rush, and does get away from the rush. But he doesn't go back there thinking about the rush. He is very cool. He is a tough kid. He could play linebacker. You don't just touch him and he goes down. He fights. He knocks (tacklers) off."