On January 1, 2008, future Mountain West Conference member and WAC Champion Hawaii had gone 12-0 and found themselves in the Sugar Bowl against the SEC's Georgia Bulldogs. This year, the football world could easily see a repeat performance with a scenario that could once again place the Warriors in a BCS Bowl game.
How so, you might ask? Because the departure of Boise State leaves the 2011 WAC championship up for grabs. Nevada, who finished #13 in the nation last year, is rebuilding a team post Colin Kaepernick and facing away games at Oregon, Texas Tech, and Boise State, so the Wolf Pack probably won't get it done this year. With that scenario the Warriors could easily find themselves alone at the top.
Before you laugh me out of the Connection, I'm not the only one who thinks so. ESPN's Andrea Adelson placed the Warriors in the top 10 non-AQ teams for 2011. She notes that team could be a powerhouse this year. I'm just going her one further by saying if they go undefeated, Hawaii could end up in a BCS game. Lest you forget, Hawaii finished 24th in the BCS standing last year and remember: the Hawaii Warriors put together a solid season in 2010 in which they tied for first place in the WAC along with Boise State and Nevada. And this year they have a chance to improve to a possible undefeated season due to a combination of factors. One is a favorable schedule that includes two PAC12 teams up first and a grand finale with newly independent BYU---all three are winnable and all three would be high profile attention getters with the pollsters. Take a look:
Hawaii's 2011 schedule:
- Sep 3 Colorado
- Sep 10 @ Washington
- Sep 17 @ UNLV
- Sep 24 UC Davis
- 1 Oct @ Louisiana Tech
- 15 Oct @ San Jose State
- 23 Oct New Mexico State
- 29 Oct @ Idaho
- 6 Nov Utah State
- 12 Nov @ Nevada
- 19 Nov Fresno State
- 26 Nov Tulane
- 3 Dec BYU
First up, the Warriors have Colorado at home on September 3, and then they play at Washington the following week. Colorado is rebuilding a depleted team with first year head coach Jon Embree at the helm. The Buffs new coach will be just getting his feet on the ground and has a lot of worries to distract him that comes with a new team structure, new staff, and facing the unknowns of a new conference. Then comes Washington the following week. The Huskies stumbled around and went 7-6 last season, and this season they don't even have Jake Locker taking the snaps. Another very winnable game for the Warriors. If they get past those two they have momentum and wind at their backs. They would then have UNLV and UC Davis to slap around while they heal any injuries before the Louisiana Tech game down in Ruston.
That could be another close one if the Warriors let their guard down, as Louisiana Tech can be a hard, tough competitor at home. Then in quick succession comes San Jose State, New Mexico State, then back home to have Idaho in Honolulu. Follow those three games up with at trip to Logan to punch the lights out of the Utah State Aggies. Not a tough mid-season schedule with what should be four solid wins. The trip to Nevada on November 12th can be a tough road to victory for the best of teams. Nevada should fold, but Reno in November can be brutally cold for a team from the tropics. And windy. And a team with five or six games under their belt with a coach like Chris Ault calling the shots? That could shake out to be the hardest and most challenging test of the season and there are no guarantees.
Then Fresno State heads over to the Islands the following week for a one-on-one in the Warrior's house. Yeah, Hawaii beat the 'Dogs 49-27 last year. And Boise State shut them out 51-0. But the 'Dog's nearly beat #13 ranked Nevada, losing by a single point, 35-34. With Fresno QB Ryan Colburn back in the kennel again this year, along with a much improved pack of Bulldogs snarling and chomping for respect, it could be a very close win for the Warriors. But once again, history favors the Warriors this year.
The following week comes Tulane of C-USA which should give the Warriors a win at home as they prepare for their final showdown of the regular season---a rivalry game with BYU.
And then there is Hawaii's head coach, Greg McMackin, who is another factor setting the stage for an outright WAC conference sweep and shot at the BCS ring. In his third year since replacing June Jones, he has a recorod of 23-18. Last year he took the team to a 10-4 record and reached the top 25 in both the Coaches and AP polls. He's no stranger to football nor is he intimidated by big college programs. He has coached extensively at both the collegiate and professional levels and was defensive coordinator for Hawaii under June Jones tenure. He was also the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, and served as linebackers and assistant head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, so he knows his way around the gridiron.
The last factor to mention is this years team. The heart of the offensive line is back with outstanding junior quarterback Bryon Moniz, 6' 0" 200 lbs. Moniz accounted for a whopping 5,040 yards last seaon as a sophmore, completed 361 passes out of 555 attempts for a 65% completion rate that averaged over 9 yards per attempt. He had 39 TD's with 15 INT's and still ended up with a 159.1 passer rating. If this guy has put those interceptions behind him---look out!
There are things McMackin needed to fix this spring. One was to replace four offensive linemen that graduated. Another was to improve the running game and right now, that problem might or might not have been answered. With RB Alex Green gone, the Warriors needed to find another runner who can put up a 1,000 yard season. Or two, if each can put up at half as many yards as did Green. Senior Chizzy Dimude, a 5' 10" RB who averaged 5.9 yards a carry could be one of those.
Another concern is that Moniz lost his two best receivers last year in Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. So far, it appears that WR's like Royce Pollard, Rodney Bradley, Billy Ray Stutzmann and Dustin Blount, all of whom had limited play last season, are working hard to try and get starting spots in those two positions. And luckily for Moniz, there are other receivers wanting to step into the limelight.
On the defensive side of the pig, it looks good for McMackin and his defensive staff. The team is in good shape in spite of losing several key players. Last year the Warriors gave up just 5.2 yards per play and held opposing rushers to 3.6 yards per carry, leading some to say that Hawaii’s defense last season was the best it has been since their Sugar Bowl season of 2007. The key this year is that the entire linebacking corps is back and will be in the fall lineup. That group is anchored with two very fine linebackers seniors in Corey Paredes and Aaron Brown.
For McMackin and the Hawaii Warriors, their entire season could come down to the aforementioned rivalry game with BYU. The season finale could be the game of the year for the Warriors. BYU returns 19 starters and finished last season well. And some have aleady predicted that BYU could being ranked in the top 25 at the end of the 2011 season. The team has to be concerned that the rivalry with BYU has been largely one-sided, with the Cougs holding a 19–8–0 all-time advantage in the series. The Warriors have one good thing going for them: they have the Cougs at home and that is huge---because the Warriors have never won a single game at Provo. In eight tries.
This season is Hawaii's last season in the Western Athletic Conference before their debut in the Mounain West next year. Hopefully they will be coming into the league as the 2011 WAC champions. Or even better----as a BCS buster backing up another one from the Mountain West Conference.