The punches have kept coming for Hawaii football for a month now. In the midst of a three game losing streak, it was clear on Saturday that the Warriors were running out of gas. Hawaii gave up 28 points to Utah State in each of the first and third quarters. For a team that’s played a football game every single weekend since the newly-invented Week 0 of late August, the Aggies vaunted hurry-up offensive system was the non-Alabama worst case scenario for matchups. Losing 17-56 at Aloha Stadium, moving the losing streak to four games, and seeing star quarterback Cole McDonald take beating after beating, the Warriors have finally reached a desperately needed bye.
Optimism was running rampant throughout the Hawaii fan base when the Warriors shockingly started the 2018 campaign 6-1. Considering most Vegas outlets had Hawaii’s over/under projection at 3.5, 6-1 had fans wondering if this season was akin to the 1992 or 1999 season turnarounds. After defeating a Wyoming team that features a dominant defense, Hawaii took its confidence to Provo, Utah. Could this be the year Hawaii finally beats Brigham Young at LaVell Edwards Stadium?
The answer was a resounding no, and it began a brutal losing streak. The next week, Nevada pulled away from the Warriors in the second half. Hawaii could not lose that game with Fresno State and Utah State on the horizon. The Bulldogs and Aggies are the clear class of the conference, both in the midst of special seasons that don’t come around often. The chances of Hawaii shocking them were remote, and that’s how both games played out.
So here we are at the bye week. 6-5, almost no chance of qualifying for the Mountain West championship game. Optimism has been replaced with frustration and negativity. Understandable, nobody enjoys four game-losing streaks. However, it’s time to take a step back and look at the situation objectively.
According to Phil Steele’s 2018 preseason magazine, Hawaii entered the season ranking 127th out of 130 FBS programs in returning experience, and that’s probably with Steele not taking into account that Hawaii would start two true freshman on the offensive line. Generally, that’s a big no-no in college football. Win or lose, there is no changing the immediate reality of the roster: graduation and off-season attrition meant Hawaii would be one of the youngest teams in college football. Unless a college football program is hauling 4-star and 5-star recruits on the regular, mitigating that rampant level of roster inexperience is difficult. Hawaii was and still has one of the youngest rosters in college football. Even star quarterback Cole McDonald is only a sophomore.
Here is the barebones truth: Hawaii has a bye week to prep for a poor UNLV football team. Hawaii will play them at Aloha Stadium. If the Warriors win this game, they will be invited to the Hawaii Bowl right after the final whistle. It’s the truth. The program that has only one bowl berth since 2011 will have qualified for a bowl in 2018 despite every metric imaginable suggesting this team would stink up the joint. The naysayers will say the schedule was poor. Sure, but even with that taken into account, very few thought Hawaii would beat Colorado State, Navy, and Wyoming. Make no mistake about it: this team was projected to be 2-11 or 3-10 this season, and probably should have been. But they bucked the odds.
I’ll grant some things need to change. Hawaii probably needs to hammer the junior college ranks for defensive lineman and defensive backs, but especially the D-Line. Teams have run directly at Hawaii’s defense with little fear of resistance. Changes are required, but not much can be done about that prior to signing day. The truth remains: Hawaii closes the season with a much-needed bye, followed by a poor UNLV team and a San Diego State team that’s seemingly playing everyone close this season. A 7-6/8-5 conclusion to the regular season is not guarantee, but it’s within grasp for this team nobody expected anything positive from.
Have the Warriors joined the upper echelon of the Mountain West? Oh definitely not, but again: if a rested Warriors team beats a UNLV squad on the tail-end of back-to-back road games, you will see something at midfield of Aloha Stadium that only homer fans projected in the preseason: head coach Nick Rolovich accepting a Sheraton Hawaii Bowl berth. It’s not the Sugar Bowl, but it’s a sign of progress for a program that appeared on the brink of oblivion at the end of the Chow era.
So take heart, Hawaii fans. These are not the dark days of Hawaii football.