There comes a point in most football seasons at which a team's focus changes, clearly and suddenly, or almost imperceptibly.
For Cal State Fullerton, that change came this week, after an emotional 21-17 loss to Fresno State in a crucial Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game that ended the Titans' hopes of tying San Jose State for the conference title.
So with two games remaining, talk began to turn this week to recruiting and "next year."
After the conference finale against the University of the Pacific today, Fullerton has only a nonconference game against Montana remaining, a game that even Titan Coach Gene Murphy calls "senseless."
"This means consolation," Murphy said.
Fullerton, which began the season 0-2 and lost by margins of 44 points or more to Hawaii, Louisiana State and Florida, had a three-game winning streak before it lost to Fresno State.
There is something left to play for, but it no longer involves a share of the conference title or a possible 8-4 season.
A victory against Pacific would guarantee the Titans (5-5, 4-2) at least a tie for second place in the PCAA and a .500 record.
A loss would end the possibility of a winning season.
And then, as they say, there is next year.
"If you don't win the conference championship, then you want to win toward the end of the year to build for next year," Murphy said.
In Pacific, the Titans face a troublesome wishbone team that has taken them to the final play in three of the schools' past seven meetings.
Last year, in their final game of the season, the Titans needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion with a minute to play--and a missed field-goal attempt by Pacific on the last play--to escape with a 39-38 victory. That win prevented the Titans from becoming the first team in the school's football history to lose 10 games in a season. Instead, it finished 3-9.
Despite Pacific's losing record, Fullerton probably will find it difficult to take the Tigers lightly. Among Pacific's three victories this season: a 23-22 triumph over Fresno State.
Jim Thornton, the senior tight end who was injured on an extra-point attempt against New Mexico State and missed last week's game, is not expected to play today. Thornton's knee was injured when he received a direct blow that has been called a "cheap shot" by a number of Titans. New Mexico State Coach Mike Knoll subsequently suspended the Aggie player involved, starting cornerback Michael Hall, for one game. . . . Two Titan defensive starters are out with injuries sustained against Fresno State--linebacker Chris Wright (knee) and cornerback James Howard. . . . With 110 penalties in 10 games, the error-prone Titans are on a pace to be flagged 132 times, which would surpass the school record of 119 set in 1984, the year they went 11-1. . . . Quarterback Ronnie Barber is six touchdown passes short of Mike Ernst's Fullerton career record of 31. . . . Todd White probably will break the Fullerton career record for punt-return yardage today. With 374 yards, he trails Joe Baca by 17 yards. White is seven touchdown receptions behind Stan Chapman's career record of 16. . . . Eric Franklin has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past three games and on four occasions this season.