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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. 70: Hawaii

Somewhere in this picture is the Moana Surfrider, an ABC store and Neal Myerberg.

Where have you gone, June Jones? An island nation turns its eyes to you. Life post-Jones, now the coach at S.M.U., has not gone swimmingly for Hawaii. Nor have the Warriors dropped completely off the map in the WAC, reaching bowl play in 2008 before falling only one win short of bowl eligibility a year ago. Yet it’s hard to ignore one troubling trend: 564 points scored in 2007, 345 points in 2008, 296 points in 2009.

Conference
WAC

Location
Honolulu, Hawaii

Nickname
Warriors

Returning starters
12 (5 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 71

2009 record
(6-7, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 73

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 2
    U.S.C.
  • Sept. 11
    at Army
  • Sept. 18
    at Colorado
  • Sept. 25
    Charleston Southern
  • Oct. 2
    Louisiana Tech
  • Oct. 9
    at Fresno St.
  • Oct. 16
    Nevada
  • Oct. 23
    at Utah St.
  • Oct. 30
    Idaho
  • Nov. 6
    at Boise St.
  • Nov. 20
    San Jose St.
  • Nov. 27
    at New Mexico St.
  • Dec. 4
    U.N.L.V.

Last year’s prediction

I like the offense, which returns seven starters, and think it can make great strides over its mediocre performance of a season ago. Obviously, my often-repeated concerns over the defense limit my faith in Hawaii’s conference title hopes, but I believe the unit will do enough to allow U.H. to make another trip to the Hawaii Bowl. I think the Warriors will match last fall’s 7-6 regular season; if, somehow, the defense remains strong, eight wins is well within the range of possibility.

2009 recap

In a nutshell A tale of two seasons, perhaps even three seasons. A 2-0 start, which included a rare road win over a B.C.S. conference opponents. A six-game losing streak, with five of those setbacks coming in WAC play. A 4-1 stretch to end the year, with only a season-ending loss to Wisconsin preventing Hawaii from a fourth consecutive bowl bid. The year turned, in my opinion, when U.H. suffered a 34-33 loss to U.N.L.V. in the year’s third game; the first of those six straight defeats, the loss had a very negative effect on this team’s confidence. Perhaps that confidence was restored in Hawaii’s late-season run towards bowl eligibility.

High point Hawaii nearly propelled itself back into bowl play with a four-game winning streak in November. The most impressive win was a 24-17 home victory over Navy. The Warriors also beat a Pac-10 team for the second consecutive season, which looks good in the media guide. Who was the team? Oh, it’s not important. What? You really want to know? Fine. It was Washington State. Both times. You happy now?

Low point When you finish a single win short of bowl eligibility, every loss becomes magnified. In that case, it is hard not to look at that one-point loss at U.N.L.V. as a lost opportunity, even if the loss came all the way back in mid-September. The Rebels scored a touchdown with less than a minute to go for the win.

Tidbit After dropping to 28th nationally in 2008, Hawaii’s passing attack again ranked in the top five in the country a season ago. The Warriors have finished no worse than fourth nationally in passing in every year but 2008 since June Jones arrived in 1999. U.H. led the country in passing in 2002 (387.9 yards per game) and 2006 (432.2 yards per game).

Tidbit (intimidating state motto edition) Hawaii’s state motto is “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono,” or, “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.” If that is not written on the walls of the U.H. locker room, it should be.

Former players in the N.F.L.

21 DE Ikaika Alama-Francis (Miami), WR Davone Bess (Miami), QB Colt Brennan (Washington), C John Estes (Jacksonville), OG Kynan Forney (Jacksonville), WR Ryan Grice-Mullen (Miami), OG Ray Hisatake (Carolina), OT Wayne Hunter (New York Jets), LS Jake Ingram (New England), OT Aaron Kia (New York Jets), LB Travis LaBoy (San Francisco), OG Vince Manuwai (Jacksonville), FB Reagan Maui’a (Arizona), P Mat McBriar (Dallas), CB Ryan Mouton (Tennessee), C Samson Satele (Oakland), LB Brashton Satele (New York Jets), DT Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco), LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (Chicago), LB David Veikune (Cleveland).

Arbitrary top five list

Hawaiian-born musicians
1. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
2. Don Ho.
3. The Cazimero Brothers.
4. Peter Moon.
5. Keali’i Reichel.

Coaching

Greg McMackin (’69 Southern Oregon), 13-14 after two 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, June Jones, who is credited with bringing Hawaii from the brink of irrelevance in 1999 to a B.C.S. bowl in his final season. McMackin’s mission in 2008, his debut campaign, was to replace Colt Brennan and most of the Hawaii offense; that task pales in comparison to replacing Jones. However, McMackin deserves some credit for Hawaii’s solid on-field performance in 2008 while rallying a U.H. fan base disillusioned by the circumstances of Jones’s departure. 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 résumé 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 has been 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. Hawaii’s slide from 2008 to today has been steep. It’s up to McMackin to bring the Warriors back into the third of the WAC.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Plenty of moves on this Hawaii coaching staff. The first is the ascension of assistants Nick Rolovich and Dave Aranda to the offensive and defensive coordinator spots, respectively. Rolovich will retain his duties coaching the U.H. quarterbacks, while Aranda will turn over his defensive line duties to Tony Tuioti and take over as the team’s linebackers coach. Cal Lee, formerly the defensive coordinator, will aid Tuioti along the defensive line and serve as the assistant head coach. His brother Ron, formerly the offensive coordinator, retired in late May; his replacement on the U.H. staff might sound familiar: Mouse Davis, a former U.H. assistant and architect of the run-and-shoot offense. Davis will coach the receivers, but look for him to have an important voice in Hawaii’s game-planning and play-calling.

Players to watch

Hawaii is stacked at receiver, as is typically the case. The Warriors return all-American candidate Greg Salas, he of the 106-grab, 1,590-yard 2009 season; his yardage output was good for third in the country. Salas was an all-WAC pick, obviously, topping 90 yards receiving in 10 of his 13 games and twice notching at least 180 yards in successive weeks. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by fellow seniors Kealoha Pilares (66 catches for 690 yards) and Rodney Bradley, the latter making steady recovery from a broken leg that cost him the final six games of 2009. If he’s healthy, Bradley has the potential to supplant Salas as Hawaii’s top pass-catcher: he had 31 receptions for 575 yards — a team-best 18.5 yards per grab average — and 5 scores in only seven games. Bradley was limited during the spring, allowing players like Joe Avery, Mike Tinoco and Royce Pollard the opportunity to earn snaps with the first team offense. Avery, due to his size — at 6’5, he’s the tallest receiver on the roster — is an intriguing prospect.

The lucky beneficiary of this wealth at receiver will be former walk-on Bryant Moniz, who rose from fourth on the U.H. depth chart to a starting role after injuries decimated the quarterback position a year ago. He had some big shoes to fill: departed starter Greg Alexander was having a superb senior season, throwing for 358.2 yards per game, before an A.C.L. tear ended his U.H. career four games into the year. Moniz was not as effective as Alexander, completing 57.1 percent of his passes — somewhat low in this system — with 10 interceptions against 14 touchdowns. He’ll be better in 2010: it would be hard not to be successful with the options Moniz has at receiver. It was somewhat concerning to see Moniz temporarily leave the team during the spring, citing personal issues. He has since returned, and enters the heart of summer workouts aiming to regain the trust of his teammates.

Leon Wright-Jackson, a transfer from Nebraska, finally lived up to his immense abilities as a senior: he rushed for 554 yards and 7 scores with a 7.5 yard per carry average. He’ll be replaced by Alex Green, a senior, who was the team’s leading reserve at running back in 2009. The former JUCO transfer rushed for 453 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first action on the F.B.S. level. Green is a physical specimen: roughly 230 pounds with great speed and an aggressive running style, and with additional carries could flirt with a 700-yard season. For those unfamiliar with U.H. football, a 700-yard season with the Warriors is easily the equivalent of a 1,000-yard campaign on the mainland.

The U.H. defense is led by a very good secondary. Surprisingly stout last fall — its numbers were aided by the fact teams ran at will on the Warriors — the defensive backfield should be even better in 2010, thanks to the return of the entire two-deep. Senior Mana Silva, a former Oregon State transfer, was terrific in his first year of starting action with the Warriors: 74 tackles, fourth on the team, and a team-leading six interceptions. His backup, Richard Torres (44 tackles, 1 interception), started seven games for U.H. last fall, both in Silva’s stead and as an extra defensive back when Hawaii opened in a nickel package. Spencer Smith’s 13 starts, all at safety, leads all returning Hawaii defenders. The senior made 77 stops — third on the team — and a pick last fall, giving U.H. a strong pair to patrol the back end of the defense. Another pair of seniors, Lametrius Davis and Jeramy Bryant, return at cornerback.

Hawaii returns two linebackers with starting experience: both Corey Paredes and Mana Lolotai made four starts a year ago. Paredes, who was very productive despite his limited starting assignments (54 tackles, team-leading 4 sacks), holds down one outside linebacker spot. Lolotai should see plenty of time in the middle, though he’ll be challenged for snaps by senior Jake Heun. Aaron Brown, a former JUCO transfer coming off a redshirt season, currently stands atop the depth chart at the second outside linebacker spot. This group will sorely miss Blaze Soares, last year’s leading tackler, and R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, who flexibility earned him time at all three linebacker positions. Unfortunately, Brandon Satele, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, was not granted a sixth year of eligibility by the N.C.A.A.

The defensive line must put forth an improved effort against the run; Hawaii allowed more than 200 yards per game and 33 touchdowns on the ground last fall. It helps that this group, despite losing four contributors, is a relatively experienced group. The Warriors are deep at end, where returning starter Elliott Purcell, a senior, will be joined by Liko Satele — part of the never-ending chain of Satele’s to play at Hawaii —  and Paipai Falemalu. The interior of the line will receive a sizable boost from Arizona transfer Kaniel Tuipolotu, who started for the Wildcats before opting to return home to play for the Warriors. He’ll eventually team with junior Vaughn Meatoga, with Haku Correa and Geordon Hanohano serving in secondary roles.

Position battles to watch

Offensive line This offensive front is in full rebuilding mode, hoping to overcome the loss of four starters — two of whom landed all-WAC accolades in 2009. Here’s a number to ponder when considering the health of the U.H. line: 10. That’s the total number of career starts the Warriors return up front, more than four times fewer starts departed starting center John Estes made in his sterling U.H. career. Eight of those starts come from Austin Hansen, who will move from right tackle to the blind side in his junior season. Senior Adrian Thomas, with two career starts, will earn the nod at right guard. If he can remain healthy — he missed the final 10 games of last fall — sixth-year senior Laupepa Letuli will start at right tackle. Staying on the field has been an issue for Letuli, however, so locating depth on the strong side should be a priority: former JUCO transfer Kainoa LaCount, little-used last fall, needs to show improvement. Hawaii has option at left guard and center, beginning with junior Brett Leonard, who could start at either position. Leonard will likely end up at guard, however, with youngsters Jordan Loeffler and David Lefotu two names to watch at center. The U.H. staff is also high on another young lineman, Chauncey Makanai, though he might be another year away from making an impact.

Game(s) to watch

U.S.C., Idaho and the bottom of the WAC. The Trojans will want to make an impact in their first game on probation; Idaho and Hawaii are nearly neck-and-neck atop the second grouping in the WAC; and the Warriors must get wins against New Mexico State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, my bottom three teams in the conference.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell 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. Hawaii is not going to beat Boise State on the road, of course, but could — should, perhaps — take at least three of its remaining five games on the mainland (Army, Colorado, Fresno State, Utah State and New Mexico State). For the Warriors to challenge for the second spot in the WAC, however, they must take a significant step forward on each side of the ball. The offense needs to score points, rarely an issue during the Jones era. 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.

Dream season The Warriors lose only three games: U.S.C., Fresno State and Boise State. That’s good enough for a second-place finish in the WAC.

Nightmare season The slide continues. Hawaii drops to 3-10, 2-6 in conference play, and McMackin enters the 2011 season with his job firmly on the line.

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.

Up Next

Who is No. 69? There’s more to our next university’s home city than meets the eye, if the idiom holds true.

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Comments

  1. Lane says:

    University of Cybertron!

  2. N. Kawanakakoa says:

    Now I’m happy. My Bows will do fine this year. Might surprise some – even Paul. It’s the only real game on the islands.

  3. 6hearts says:

    How about Northwestern?

  4. toledo mike says:

    Nevada? Reno, known as “The Biggest Little City in the World”

    Paul: That hint would have worked for Nevada, but the Wolfpack are not next. Good thinking though.

  5. Bryan says:

    This is a really good write up. Very in-depth accurate info that I would have thought only a true Hawaii fan would know. I’m impressed.

  6. madeinhawaii says:

    Nice write up… Did you take that picture? It’s nice pic of the Waikiki – Honolulu Coastline from the top of Diamond Head…

  7. Justin says:

    Go Haw. Want to make the season as hard as possible on USC, despite the sanctions.

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