SAN DIEGO — When it comes to football, San Diego State is no Michigan or Notre Dame or Alabama or Miami. In fact, it was reminded of that last November . . . by Miami, 63-17.
However, as Week 1 of the 1993 season approaches, the Aztecs are being depicted as monsters beyond the dimensions of Michael Crichton's imagination. It's as if the Cal State Northridge Matadors are visiting Jurassic Park rather than San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium on Saturday night.
A San Diego columnist wrote that the game should come with a disclaimer: "So frightening, so terrifying, you won't want to see it alone."
Ponder what they would be saying in South Bend if Notre Dame were opening against Valparaiso and you get a sense of San Diego's attitude toward the Aztecs' opener.
Running back Marshall Faulk was addressing this issue and a bigger one . . . the Heisman thing. He had been asked what it might take to win the Heisman Trophy and how little whatever he did against Northridge would affect his chances.
"I don't know what they're going to base their voting on this year," he said. "I guess it depends on whose side Lee Corso is on."
That, of course, was a little snipe at the ESPN commentator who drove the bandwagon for Gino Torretta last year.
But about Northridge. . . .
"I suppose if I don't get 500 yards, they're going to say I didn't have a good game," Faulk said, laughing. "If 500 yards is what it'll take, I'm not planning on having a good game."
How about 400 yards?
"I'll settle for a win," he said.
How about another 386-yard game like he had two years ago to set a since-broken NCAA record?
"A win," he said.
Faulk, like everyone associated with San Diego State football, is downplaying the potential for a blowout.
"I could sit here and, no matter what I say, you guys will say I'm being outrageous," he said. "Everyone's saying, 'Matadors? Who the hell are they?' I know they've given teams trouble and, hopefully, they won't give us trouble. They're practicing to play us and we're practicing to play them. It's still a matter of having to execute."
Later, a reporter from one of those eight-page shopping sheets twisted Faulk's lighthearted comments out of context and advised Al Luginbill, SDSU's coach, that Faulk had said he needed to rush for 500 yards.
"He said \o7 what?\f7 " Luginbill blurted. "I guess we've just moved into the realm of bizarreness. I have no response to that."
He knew Faulk would not have said such a thing, but he had been caught off guard. It has been that kind of a week. And he knew it would not be that type of game, where Faulk would be carrying the ball deep into the second half, though he would not admit it.
Given a comfortable lead, he was asked, how long would he keep Faulk and his other top guns in the game?
"That's a tough question to answer," Luginbill said. "I'd like to get to that situation and have to make that decision. I'm just planning on going with our best football players and worrying about things like that if we're lucky enough that they come up."
Seriously, now. . . .
"Obviously, the public and the media are looking at this game differently," Luginbill said. "If our football team falls into that trap, we probably won't play well."
The problem, from the San Diego program's point of view, is that playing poorly or playing well won't make much difference in terms of how the Aztecs are perceived nationally . . . and even locally.
As a point of reference, understand that they were criticized hereabouts for lackluster play last year against New Mexico and UTEP and they won those games, 49-21, and, 49-27. When it comes to degree of difficulty, and resultant expectations, Northridge figures to be a few notches below New Mexico and UTEP.
Fred Miller, San Diego State's athletic director, scheduled the game. He understands the situation.
"It's a no-win situation for sure," he said. "I know people \o7 expect \f7 us to win."
The problem, as Miller explained it, was that he could not fill the last opening on the Aztecs' 1993 schedule until an organization called the Greater San Diego Sports Assn. saw how the opener against USC was accepted last year. The GSDSA was contemplating sponsorship of an annual Holiday Classic between SDSU and assorted opponents for Labor Day weekend. Pleased with the 52,168 who watched the 31-31 tie with USC, it told Miller to go ahead with the plans.
Easier said than done.
"There was nobody left in Division I-A football for us to schedule this year," Miller said. "I started looking for a Division I-AA team."
His search ended in Northridge, where Athletic Director Bob Hiegert was struggling with a) a shoestring budget and b) the step-up from Division II to Division I-AA. Given those circumstances, the $65,000 guarantee was attractive to Northridge.
Ironically, on the week this game is to be played, the GSDSA announced the Holiday Classic will heretofore be a fixture and that SDSU's future opening opponents include Navy, California, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Arizona and Houston.