Except for a 45-point outburst against Santa Clara, the Cal State Northridge offense sputtered last season. En route to a 3-7 record--Coach Bob Burt's first losing mark in six seasons at CSUN--the Matadors averaged just 14.4 points a game.
With the addition of tailback Jamal Farmer, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound transfer from Hawaii, and an improved line, the offense is expected to flourish this season.
"We have some ability, offensively, that maybe we haven't had the last couple of years," Burt says. "We have the experienced quarterback, the offensive line, the dominant running back and the quality receivers. We haven't had those things, in total, at any one time the last few years."
CSUN also has a kinder schedule. Unlike last season when the Matadors played seven of their 10 games on the road, they will play five games at home and five on the road this fall.
They also have the advantage of playing three of their four Western Football Conference games at home.
Still, WFC coaches pick the Matadors--in their final Division II campaign--to finish last.
Given certain conditions, Burt won't buy it. "I guarantee you, if we stay healthy, I'll be really surprised if we were to be last," he said.
Farmer, a former Granada Hills High standout who gained 2,124 yards in 440 carries in 2 1/2 seasons at Hawaii, is expected to carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game. He also is expected to be among quarterback Marty Fisher's favorite targets.
"He's just going to make the play action (pass) that much better," Fisher said. "He's going to run over people and he's an excellent blocker."
Fullbacks Jim Warren and Jess Garner, a junior from Oak Park High, will be the primary backfield blockers.
Farmer will run behind a talented offensive line, a group Burt calls the team's strength. Houston transfer Charlie Williams, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior tackle, joins tackle John Chase, a 1990 All-WFC honorable-mention selection who missed the '91 season because of academic ineligibility. Center Greg Sorensen and guards Kevin Bess and Brian Hay are the other projected starters.
A year ago, the line was the team's greatest weakness. Seven different linemen were sidelined because of injuries.
With the exception of Hay, who has been slowed by a lower-back sprain, the line has been free of injuries.
Quarterbacks Fisher, Coley Kyman, Damone Scott and Rino Marconi also have avoided serious injury. Fisher missed four games because of injury and illness last season. And Kyman, the current No. 1 backup, was limited to only a few snaps in '91 because of a broken collarbone.
The quarterbacks will throw to an inexperienced group of wide receivers. Newcomers Troy Strange, Scott Hamilton, Lamont Shedrick and David Romines, a freshman from Simi Valley High, are among the candidates.
"Our receivers have great hearts and great attitudes," Fisher said. "No one runs a 4.3 (seconds) 40 (yard dash) but I don't care if they run a 5.0 40 if they run good routes and catch the ball."
Texas El Paso transfer Marlon McBride and Chris Fregeau, a junior from St. Genevieve High and Pierce College, are the leading contenders at tight end.
While Burt is optimistic about the offense, he is trying to rebuild a defense that allowed an average of 38.8 points during the last six games of '91.
The defensive line boasted three senior starters last season, including two-time All-WFC selection Alo Sila, but is particularly thin this year.
Burt signed two key defensive linemen over the summer (Victor Myles and Alex De Hayward, a 6-6, 315-pound junior from Montclair Prep and Ventura College), but the team lost '91 sack leader Ron McKinney and nose guard Eric Banducci. McKinney is academically ineligible, and Banducci, a transfer from UCLA, did not enroll this fall because he is getting married.
Steve Ruedaflores, a junior from Cal State Long Beach, which dropped its football program in November, is the top candidate to replace Banducci.
At linebacker, O.J. Ojomoh, the team's second-leading tackler in '91, is the only returning starter. Since Ojomoh has been sidelined because of a calf injury, Timothy Leonard and Danny Abraham will take his place in the opener Saturday at Cal State Fullerton. Senior Tyrone Dorsey, a backup last year, is expected to be the other starting inside linebacker.
Ivy Calvin and Angel Chavez are the top candidates at outside linebacker. Calvin, a 6-2, 220-pound junior transfer from Bakersfield City College, has been impressive in drills. "He's got good quickness, he's strong, and he can play the ball," Dorsey said. "He can help us."
The linebacker corps will be hurt by the absence of Patrick Johnson, who suffered a season-ending spiral fracture of his right ring finger Aug. 21.
In the secondary, the Matadors must replace interception leader Tremelle Barnes at cornerback.
"If there is anybody that is going to be more difficult to replace than Alo Sila, it is Tremelle Barnes," Burt said. "These two are guys who don't come along every day."
Sophomore cornerback Vincent Johnson will be the only returning starter in the opener because fourth-year safety Eric Treibatch remains sidelined because of a back injury. Kevin Carmichael, a senior from Granada Hills High, has replaced Treibatch. Gerald Ponder is the other starting safety.
Ralph Henderson, a Rancho Santiago College transfer, is the top cornerback opposite Johnson. Eastern New Mexico transfer Cedric Hackett, who recently underwent knee surgery, and James Woods, a freshman from San Fernando High, are also among the defensive backs.
Farmer, Calvin, and Garner will return kicks and Romines will return punts.
Junior Albert Razo, who averaged 37.9 yards a punt in '91, returns. Senior Joe Jezulin will handle kicking duties.