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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 51: Hawaii

You could take a boat to Hawaii, a cruise perhaps, but why take the slow boat when you can fly? The Warriors could run the ball, as the program has done — and done well — in the past, but why run when you can pass? Forget Texas Tech, Houston, Troy or anyone else: the finest passing team in all the land resides in Hawaii, and has for the last dozen years. The Warriors, who led the nation in passing last fall, have finished in the top three in the F.B.S. in 11 of the last 12 years — a streak that dates back, not surprisingly, to June Jones’ arrival in 1999. Is it possible to get through a Hawaii preview without mentioning Jones? His footprint is still felt throughout this program, in the way U.H. flings the ball around with abandon but most notably in the fact that Hawaii continues to put together winning seasons, something rarely seen in the years prior to his arrival.

Conference
WAC

Location
Honolulu

Nickname
Warriors

Returning starters
9 (3 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 70

2010 record
(10-4, 7-1)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 31

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Colorado
  • Sept. 10
    at Washington
  • Sept. 17
    at U.N.L.V.
  • Oct. 1
    at Louisiana Tech
  • Oct. 14
    at San Jose St.
  • Oct. 23
    New Mexico St.
  • Oct. 29
    at Idaho
  • Nov. 6
    Utah St.
  • Nov. 12
    at Nevada
  • Nov. 20
    Fresno St.
  • Nov. 26
    Tulane
  • Dec. 4
    B.Y.U.

Last year’s prediction

Hawaii will return to bowl play in 2010, though I’m not confident in this team’s ability to crack the seven-win mark. Not to say landing eight or more wins is an impossibility: the schedule is not too difficult, and if the offensive line rounds into form, this offense should be better than it was a year ago. Landing wins on the road, never an easy thing for this program, will be key. Perhaps the shakeup along the coaching staff will lead to an offensive revival; you can’t help but like to see Mouse Davis back on the sidelines. The defense will need to put forth a better effort against the run, especially with a secondary up with the best in the conference. There remains more good than bad with this team, and anything short of a bowl trip should place McMackin’s job in jeopardy heading into 2011. I’d be surprised if U.H. doesn’t get that seventh win, however.

2010 recap

In a nutshell Hawaii’s back, at least to a degree. No, these Warriors were not quite as a good as the 2007 version, the last U.H. team led by June Jones. Nevertheless, after two seasons of uncharacteristic struggles — at least when held against the previous regime — Hawaii finally found itself clicking both offensively and defensively. On offense: 10th nationally in scoring (39.6 points per game), first in passing (394.3 yards per game) and sixth in total yardage (500.6 per game). On defense: 50th overall (357.6 yards per game allowed), 58th in scoring (25.5 points per game) and second in interceptions (23). Elsewhere, those defensive numbers are simply good, perhaps average. At Hawaii, those defensive numbers spell only one thing: double-digit wins. And those numbers were far better — 37th in total defense, for example — prior to a horrible defensive showing in a Hawaii Bowl loss to Tulsa, as the Warriors gave up 62 points and 531 yards to the Golden Hurricane. Overall, this was a great year for U.H. — and a huge year for Greg McMackin, who badly needed to escape his predecessor’s shadow.

High point A 27-21 win over Nevada on Oct. 16. At the time, it was simply a very, very strong win. Now, with the year behind us, it’s one of the most impressive wins by any team in the F.B.S.

Low point Another blowout loss to Boise State: Broncos 42, Warriors 7. Hawaii’s pass-happy offense can run amok on the lesser teams in the WAC — or anywhere else, for that matter — but Boise State has the talent and the coaching, thanks to yearly games against U.H., to combat this offensive system.

Tidbit Are you ready to watch some Hawaii football? Oh, you’ll get your chance. The Warriors are slated to play four Sunday games: New Mexico State, Utah State, Fresno State and B.Y.U. in the season finale. Now, it looks like the N.F.L. will deign us with its presence in 2011, unfortunately, so U.H. won’t be the only show in town on Oct. 23, Nov. 6, Nov. 20 and Dec. 4. But it will be the only college game in town, so here’s betting you see more Hawaii football in 2011 than in any year in recent memory. Unless you’re a Hawaii fan, in which case you’ll see the same amount as always. Update So these games will be played on Sunday back East but on Saturday in Hawaii, so ignore, if you please.

Tidbit (offense edition) Last fall, Hawaii became only the second team in F.B.S. history to have a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers. Bryant Moniz threw for 5,040 yards; Alex Green rushed for 1,199 yards; and Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares went for 1,889 and 1,306 yards, respectively. The first team to do so? Tulsa in 2007, thanks to Gus Malzahn.

Former players in the N.F.L.

18 LB Ikaika Alama-Francis (Miami), WR Davone Bess (Miami), C John Estes (Jacksonville), RB Alex Green (Green Bay), OT Wayne Hunter (New York Jets), LS Jake Ingram (Tennessee), LB Travis LaBoy (San Francisco), OG Vince Manuwai (Jacksonville), FB Reagan Maui’a (Arizona), P Mat McBriar (Dallas), CB Ryan Mouton (Tennessee), WR Kealoha Pilares (Carolina), WR Greg Salas (St. Louis), C Samson Satele (Oakland), LB Brashton Satele (New York Jets), DT Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco), LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (Chicago), LB David Veikune (Denver).

Arbitrary top five list

N.F.L. offensive linemen from Honolulu
1. C Olin Kreutz (1998-present).
2. OT Charlie Ane (1953-59).
3. C Dominic Raiola (2001-present).
4. OG Vince Manuwai (2003-present).
5. OT Jim Nicholson (1974-79).

Coaching

Greg McMackin (’69 Southern Oregon), 23-18 after three seasons with the Warriors. Perhaps the most difficult task McMackin has faced at U.H. was stepping into the large shoes left by his predecessor, Jones, who is credited with bringing Hawaii from the brink of irrelevance in 1999 to a B.C.S. bowl in his final season. His first two years didn’t go all that well, to be honest, even if he did get a Hawaii team crippled by losses to graduation into bowl play in 2008. Last year was huge for McMackin and the program. After a single season as the Hawaii defensive coordinator in 2007, when he oversaw a unit that improved from 93rd nationally in total defense to 34th, McMackin was promoted from within the staff to replace Jones. Though this is McMackin’s first head coaching job, he certainly had the resume to justify Hawaii’s faith. In addition to two separate stints at U.H. (1999 and 2007), McMackin served as defensive coordinator at Utah, Navy, Texas Tech and Miami (Fla.), and was the associate head coach for the Seattle Seahawks (1995-98) and San Francisco 49ers (2003-5), both times under his good friend Dennis Erickson. He has been involved in the two greatest seasons in Hawaii’s history: the nine-game turnaround in 1999, Jones’s first season, and U.H.’s run to the B.C.S. in 2007. Though replicating his predecessor’s success may be too tall an order for McMackin to accomplish, he needs to keep the Warriors in bowl play on almost a yearly basis. That he had Hawaii back near the top of the WAC in 2010 bodes well for the program’s future under his watch.

Tidbit (coaching edition) This is the coolest coaching story of the winter. Former Hawaii, Arizona and San Jose State coach Dick Tomey, one of the most underrated coaches of his generation, came out of a short, one-year retirement to become Hawaii’s special teams coach. How amazing is this? Tomey is a U.H. legend for the job he did leading Hawaii through its early growing pains on the F.B.S. level; he’s also a member of the school’s Sports Circle of Honor, an award bestowed upon him in 2005. Tomey coached Hawaii from 1977-86, notching 63 wins, third-most in school history. As a comparison, Tomey returning to U.H. is akin to a Joe Tiller returning to Purdue an assistant. Nearly unheard of, and very cool.

Players to watch

It’s not about Salas, Pilares or Green, though those are the three names you’ll hear as critics question Hawaii’s 2011 offense due to its losses. Those three names weren’t the engine behind Hawaii’s offensive success last fall: the engine is the system itself, not the players who run it, so expecting U.H. to plummet down the national rankings just because of a few lost starters is simply ridiculous. Now, expecting this offense to scuffle a bit as the new starters find their way over the first game or two in September? That’s logical, and not ridiculous in the least.

It’s pretty clear that quarterback Bryant Moniz can run this offense in his sleep, perhaps still in his pajamas, free of pads, and Hawaii can feel secure making the senior the focal point of the offense. No kidding, right? Not many teams return a 5,000-yard passer — only one team had a 5,000-yard passer a year ago, and even with some losses at receiver there is absolutely no reason to predict any decline whatsoever from Moniz and this passing attack. Part of this can be tied back to Moniz’s continued development as the starter: don’t forget that he’s still relatively new to the starting role, so Moniz will only grow more comfortable with each game.

Can he be much better than he was a year ago? Yes. Moniz needs to cut down on his turnovers, though the 15 picks in 555 attempts is still a very strong touchdown-to-interception ratio. But all Moniz did last fall was throw for 5,049 yards and 39 touchdowns, cracking the 300-yard mark 11 times and the 500-yard mark twice. Only Boise State can really stop Moniz and U.H., so it’s a good thing the Warriors avoid the Broncos, at least for one season. Another good thing? Now that Kellen Moore and Boise are in the Mountain West, Moniz can be the WAC’s first-team quarterback.

Hawaii can always throw the ball, but the offense takes on a new dimension when the Warriors combine a passing attack with a healthy dose of the running game. Check out Alex Green a year ago: 1,199 yards, 18 scores, 8.2 yards per carry. But Green is gone, and the job is open to competition. There is a favorite, it seems, in former JUCO transfer Sterling Jackson. He was a part of last year’s recruiting class but took a redshirt in 2010, as a portion of Hawaii’s JUCO recruits do. Then there’s the requisite big back, a role to be played in 2011 by redshirt freshman Joey Iosefa. Maybe one of a pair of incoming freshmen crack the rotation, but I don’t see anyone unseating this pair atop the depth chart.

Zero or one? Will Hawaii have zero returning starters up front or one? It depends on what the N.C.A.A. rules on the eligibility of would-be senior left tackle Austin Hansen, who has been out of action since the end of the regular season a year ago. If Hansen can’t go — or misses a few early games — the Warriors could either move senior Clayton Laurel over from right tackle or promote redshirt freshman Jordan Loeffler; neither sounds all that good, to be honest, as Loeffler’s raw and there’s little depth behind Laurel on the strong side. There’s little debate as to how the interior will play out: former JUCO transfer Brett Leonard will be at left guard, senior Matagisila Lefiti at center and sophomore Chauncy Winchester-Makainai on the right side. Even if I say the starting five will be fine — which I can’t say — there’s precious little depth. The situation will be worse if Hansen isn’t available. The line should get better with each week, but it’ll be a work in progress.

Could the Hawaii defense take another step forward in 2011? That’s a clear possibility, thanks to the return of six starters and several of last season’s key reserves, not to mention a healthy dose of incoming talent. The key for this defense will be to avoid the bouts with inconsistency that dotted last season’s results: Tulsa, for starters, but also Boise State, U.S.C. and Colorado— the defense was strong more often than not, but how it played in those four games sent the defense tumbling down the national rankings.

And the defense doesn’t need to dominate, simply keep opponents in the 25-point range and come up with a big play or two; you can say this for most defenses in the F.B.S., but it’s particularly true for the Warriors. If U.H. does come up with a big play — a sack, interception, big tackle — it’s likely thanks to senior linebacker Corey Parades (151 tackles, 4 interceptions), a front-runner for WAC Defensive Player of the Year. Parades followed up a nice 2009 season with a huge year last fall, and should be an all-American candidate in his final season. Aaron Brown (83 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 picks) is back in the middle, with JUCO transfer Brenden Daley, who’s built like an end, the leading favorite to take over on the strong side. It’s a big step up from the JUCO ranks to the F.B.S., but Daley did a nice job getting to the quarterback on the lower level.

Maybe Daley moves down to end on occasion, which would push sophomore Art Laurel into a starting role. If that does occur, Daley would join junior Paipai Falemalu (36 tackles, 5 sacks) and senior Liko Satele — yes, another Satele — at the position. Satele is a stout presence against the run, thanks to his size and strength, while Falemalu might earn all-WAC honors now that he’s the full-time starter. The interior of the line is great: former Arizona transfer Kaniela Tuipulotu (34 tackles) was an immediate hit last fall, earning an all-conference nod, while Vaughn Meatoga (32 tackles) was very steady as a 14-game starter. Most years, tackles like Zach Masch and Haku Correa would start; with the two starters entrenched, they’re the best backup tackle pair in the WAC.

Can the secondary continue to force turnovers? Hawaii finished second in the nation with 23 interceptions last fall, as mentioned above, and this ball-hawking mentality helped stem the bleeding against the pass-happy offenses on the schedule. Interceptions are one thing you can’t say will carry over from year to year, unfortunately. Hawaii can feel secure in the play of senior strong safety Richard Torres (57 tackles, 2 interceptions), who, along with Paredes, is one of the leaders of this defense. There’s some competition at free safety, where U.H. needs to replace super-productive Mana Silva, he of the eight-interception senior season. JUCO addition Brandon Leslie, who began his career at Georgia Tech, won’t match those numbers; he’s a huge get for this program, however, and could help keep this secondary ranked among the best in the WAC.

One thing Hawaii doesn’t lack at cornerback is speed. Or numbers, for that matter, even if there isn’t a ton of starting experience. Most of the career starts come in sophomore John Hardy-Tuliau, last year’s nickel back. The Warriors also added Mike Edwards, formerly of Tennessee, off the JUCO ranks. Edwards is one potential starter opposite Hardy-Tuliau, as is senior Tank Hopkins. The latter has the edge for now, but Edwards might be too good to keep out the starting lineup.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receivers No more Greg Salas? Kealoha Pilares? Rodney Bradley? What is Hawaii to do? Just insert a few new and not-so-new faces into more substantial roles — and watch the numbers add up. What did you expect? Hawaii’s passing offense is about the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back; players come and go, but the offense continues to hum along. So don’t fret over the loss of three terrific contributors, most notably Salas, but rather be excited over how this receiver depth chart will shake out come September. You can pencil one name in for the lead role: senior Royce Pollard (64 receptions for 901 yards and 7 touchdowns) already has developed a rapport with Moniz, so look for Pollard to lead the WAC in receptions, receiving yards and scores. So you know what you’ll get from Pollard; what we don’t know is how the rest of the depth chart will shake out, as it’s clear that several roughly unproven receivers are due to take major snaps. One is sophomore Billy Ray Stutzmann, whose 13 receptions a year ago trailed only Pollard among returning receivers. Another is junior Jeremiah Ostrowski, an outstanding athlete with the sort of quickness Hawaii loves inside at the slot position. The development of that pair will be key, but it’s former JUCO transfer Darius Bright who might be Hawaii’s breakout star at receiver. His size, all 6’3, 220 pounds of him, isn’t duplicated at the position. There are others, like JUCO addition Chris Gant and sophomore Allen Sampson. Here’s one last name to watch, and remember that there’s always at least U.H. skill player who comes out of nowhere to make a huge impact: senior Terence Bell has bounced around, from Nevada to the JUCO ranks to Hawaii, and has yet to do anything of consequence. But the coaching staff talked him up during the spring, so perhaps Bell will be a one-year wonder. Someone has to be, as Hawaii’s depth chart needs to be reshuffled.

Game(s) to watch

Nevada and Fresno State. Perhaps the Wolf Pack a bit more, as Nevada seems better put-together than the Bulldogs. The Nevada game comes on the road, which is a bit of a concern, and how U.H. fares will decide the WAC. The schedule begins and ends with some interesting games: Colorado and B.Y.U. at home, Washington away. It’s always interesting to see how well Hawaii moves the ball against good teams.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell You know why Hawaii is the WAC favorite despite getting Nevada on the road? Because as we enter 2011, the offense has bigger questions to address than the defense. And the offense, as we all know, is going to be strong regardless of the question marks up front and the unsettled depth chart at receiver. That, above all else, is why U.H. must be considered the favorite to take home the WAC in the program’s final season in the conference before heading to the Mountain West in 2012. Not that this team is going to match last year’s 10-4 finish, however. While the offense will be fine, the personnel changes will force the Warriors to undergo a pretty steep learning curve in the early going — so it won’t be all that easy to get wins against Washington and Colorado, even if neither team will be great. U.H. will need to rely on its defense in September, it seems, as the offensive line gels and Moniz develops a rapport with his new receiver corps. But those issues should be cleared up by the heart of WAC play; that’s when Hawaii will make it move, and going 6-1 in conference play seems like a safe bet. But those B.C.S. conference games, and a game with B.Y.U., will knock Hawaii’s won-loss mark down a peg. Still, landing a WAC title — even a Boise State-free WAC — would be a nice way for the Warriors to leave the building.

Dream season The Warriors tear through this weaker WAC, topping all comers until a loss to B.Y.U. in the regular season finale.

Nightmare season Hawaii disappoints, losing three games in WAC play and finishing 6-6 overall.

In case you were wondering

Where do Hawaii fans congregate? The chatter at Warrior Sports Network is pretty good, especially for a non-B.C.S. conference team. You can find additional U.H. football talk at SportsHawaii.com. For an in-depth look at the program, take a look at Stephen Tsai’s blog for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Tsai might have the most dedicated readership of any local beat reporter in the country.

Word Count

Through 70 (70!) teams 206,409.

Up Next

Who is No. 50? You could refer to tomorrow’s university by its location, but that might confuse those who associate that word with a for-profit institution in the New York area or a British car manufacturer.

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Comments

  1. Eksynyt says:

    The University of California at Berkeley is tomorrow. A bit high for them in my opinion.

  2. Adam Nettina says:

    Hawaii’s passing offense is about the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back; players come and go, but the offense continues to hum along.

    I don’t know, Paul. True, players come and go and the offense will keep humming, but there is something to be said for having experience as a college athlete at Hawaii. I say athlete and not skill position player because of the unique circumstances of UH. It takes a disciplined, adjusted individual to be able to jet around the country for 3 months and not lose a step. Having some like a Greg Salas is having a veteran who not only has established what he needs to do to help other weather the journey of a UH football season, but also having a guy who can help others.

    I didn’t have time to run the numbers, but obviously, UH hasn’t been great off the island in the W and L column in the last ten years – even when they had successful seasons by and large (an 0-4 record during an 8-5 2004 comes to mind). I’d be interested in seeing what the away offensive numbers looked like (in comparison with the home offensive numbers) in years when the starters were down. Plug and chug they will, but I think the average fan might take that ability for granted. If anything though, I guess it helps to have a guy like McMackin at the helm though. He’s been around the islands long enough to have established a system (and by system, I mean the preparations of logistics off the field) that works for his young men.

  3. Wayne says:

    The BYU game is actually scheduled for December 3rd (the school has a policy against playing on Sundays).

  4. JC says:

    BYU does not play on Sundays. It is against school policy due to its affiliation with the LDS Church.

  5. manicblue says:

    The games you mentioned are showing as Sunday games because they’re listed with Eastern Daylight/Standard times. There is a -6/5 hr time difference for Hawaii. All of those games mentioned are played on Saturday at 6:00 pm Hawaii time except for the BYU game which has been moved to 2:30 pm Hawaii time.

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