The Azusa Pacific University can finish its football season at the .500 mark when it visits UC Santa Barbara at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Goleta.
But getting past Santa Barbara does not figure to be easy, especially when you consider how impressively the Gauchos have played recently.
Santa Barbara, an NCAA Division III independent that has a 7-2 record and has won six games in a row, has outscored its last two opponents by a combined score of 110-3. The Gauchos blasted the University of San Diego, 51-3, and shut out Menlo, 59-0.
The Cougars (3-4) suffered a 24-6 loss to San Diego and a 40-28 setback to Menlo.
The Gauchos also have the incentive of last year's game when Azusa Pacific won by 31-18.
The biggest task for Azusa Pacific's defense figures to be containing Santa Barbara quarterback Steve Armstrong, who has completed 122 of 205 passes for 1,587 yards and 17 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
Armstrong, starter since the fourth game of the season, passed for a season-best 425 yards and four touchdowns against Menlo. Santa Barbara's top pass catchers are wide receiver Brian Fleming with 52 for 706 yards, tight end Khaled Shahbo with 43 for 441 yards and wide receiver John Ace with 37 for 568 yards.
Azusa Pacific slipped below the .500 mark last week with a 21-17 loss to Cal Lutheran. The Cougars have been led by the rushing of quarterback Fitz Wilson and fullback Tommy Daniel. They have a good receiver in Kevin Griffin.
The defense has been headed by linebackers Jeff Gustin and Phil Heppner, the top tacklers. Another standout is defensive back Mario Riveros.
The season will also close for several other four-year colleges from the valley Saturday. In 1:30 p.m. games, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2-6) visits Pomona-Pitzer (1-6) and La Verne (3-5) plays host to Redlands (4-4), and at 7:30 Occidental (6-2) is at home against Whittier (3-5).
Occidental will not be heading for postseason play, but the Tigers will have plenty of incentive against Whittier.
First, a win would give Occidental the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title for the third straight season. It would also help avenge a 26-16 loss to Whittier on Oct. 28.
Occidental was assured of no worse than a tie for the SCIAC title when it defeated Redlands, 21-17, last week. Whittier rolled to a 36-12 win over Pomona-Pitzer behind quarterback Mike Haney, who passed for three touchdowns and ran for another.
Rio Hondo Prep of Arcadia has received the top seed in the CIF Southern Section Eight Man Large Division football playoffs that start Friday.
The Kares, who have a 9-0 record and won the Prep League title, will face Brentwood (5-4) in their first-round game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Arcadia.
The only other San Gabriel Valley team in the playoffs is Pasadena Poly, which finished third in the Prep League and will take a 4-4 record into its opener against host Mission Prep (8-0) of San Luis Obispo at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The winners advance to the division semifinals Nov. 17. The championship game is Nov. 24.
The Azusa Pacific women's cross-country team, which struggled to third place in the championships of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics District 3 last week, leads the way on the All-Golden State Athletic Conference team with three selections.
The list is headed by Sonya Weir, who finished seventh in the district meet and qualified for the NAIA nationals Nov. 18 at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha. The other first-team selections from Azusa are Jenee Ellis and Sandy Belding.
Azusa Pacific has placed three players on the All-NAIA District 3 second team in men's soccer.
The Cougars, who finished with a 6-9-2 record, placed senior defender Dean Miller, senior forward Ab Alvarez and freshman midfielder Mark Vaught.
Alvarez was the team's leading scorer with nine goals and eight assists, and Vaught was second with eight goals and five assists. Miller scored four goals and had one assist.