The lamentable part about BYU's season-opening 44-28 loss to Florida State last night in Anaheim Stadium - a loss that effectively dashed Ty Detmer's chances of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner and dumped BYU from the top 20 probably for the season - is this: The Cougars didn't have to do it.

They could have given Detmer a better chance to regain the confidence he lost with two season-ending losses in 1990. They could have given his repaired right shoulder an easier debut. They could have given almost entirely brand new lines - on both offense and defense - the chance to ease a little more anonymously into the season. They could have avoided opening the season on national television. They could have avoided playing America's No. 1 rated team and its 18 returning starters.As a rule, college football non-conference schedules are a crap shoot. Contracts are signed years in advance. If you sign to play a top program in, say, five years, you hope that by that time you're up and they're down - or, at the least, things will even out by alternating home field advantages.

In that regard, BYU had no choice but to open this season at UCLA and at Penn State - the two games the Cougars will play next that were contracted several seasons ago and include return visits by UCLA and Penn State to Provo.

But the Cougars didn't have to play Florida State. They could have just said no.

This past January they were invited to play the Seminoles in the second annual Disneyland Pigskin Classic game. Ironically, the Disneyland Classic people called just after Detmer had his shoulder surgery.

BYU was attractive as an FSU opponent chiefly because of Detmer, the Heisman Trophy winner. A matchup between the defending Heisman winner and the No. 1 team had entertainment appeal. If anybody knew that, the Disney people knew that.

Even in January, before a single preseason 1991 football poll was printed, it was no secret that Florida State would be regarded as the team to beat this fall.

Not only did the Seminoles have almost everyone returning, including a quarterback who had never lost a game as a starter (Casey Weldon), the most promising sophomore linebacker in America (Marvin Jones), an All-America cornerback with 4.3 speed (Terrell Buckley), and the fastest backfield this side of the NFL (Edgar Bennett and Amp Lee), but this was a program coming off four near-misses as national champion. In 1987 the Seminoles were 11-1 and finished ranked 2nd. In 1988 they were 11-1 and third. In 1989 they were 10-2 and third. And last year they were 10-2 and finished with a No. 4 ranking.

In four seasons they'd gone 42-6 against some of the best programs in America, and never finished a season ranked lower than fourth - and a number of players returning for '91 had experienced most of that history.

Florida State was happy to accept the Disneyland Classic's invitation - especially when it included the BYU Cougars, a program returning only three starters on offense and seven on defense, and a program that ended 1990 on a sour note, losing its last two games in avalanche fashion.

Both BYU and FSU got in the neighborhood of $550,000 for playing in the game. For the Seminoles, it was easy money. For the Cougars, it will have to compensate for a few losses, not the least of which is Detmer's drastically reduced stock in the 1991 Heisman race.

Operating behind an offensive line that was so unstable they used the game for starting position auditions, Detmer didn't look at all like his old self. For the first time in 25 games he failed to pass for 300 yards (he had 229 yards on 19 completions in 32 attempts). He did extend his touchdown-pass string of games to 25, but the two he threw came late in the fourth quarter when Florida State was playing the studentbody - and most of the country's TV sets were turned off.

He was outplayed and out-numbered by Weldon, who was 21-of-28 for 268 yards and two touchdowns, and who threw no interceptions to Detmer's one.

"I feel for him," said Weldon after the game, "I wouldn't want to have to play our defense."

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden was both gracious during the game - backing off his starting units early in the second half - and in his postgame comments. "We really had experience on them," he said. "That's probably why we won."

"They taught us a lot," said Detmer. "They're as quick as anybody we've ever played. We had a lot of inexperience. We kinda thought that was the case, although we hoped it wasn't."

"You take away the players we lost," said BYU Coach LaVell Edwards, "and it makes a difference. We're just young and it's going to take some time."

Nonetheless, the Cougars chose to take on the bully. All they had to lose was much of what they'd gained. They fought the odds and the odds won. At least if Florida State goes on to finally win a national championship, the Cougars can point to the cleat marks on their backs and say that way back in August they got them started in the right direction.