By Ferd Lewis
Remember how the University of Hawai'i football team jumped no, make that leaped at the opportunity to play Alabama?
Recall how the Warriors couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line to get a shot at measuring themselves against the storied Crimson Tide?
Well, this week, the cleats are on the other foot. The hunters have become the hunted.
Now, it is Division I-AA Florida Atlantic that sees a 24-karat opportunity in playing I-A UH. It is the Owls who, damn the 19-point Las Vegas spread, said "just tell us what time to be there for kickoff" Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.
When Sacramento State balked early last fall about going through with a scheduled game with UH, saying it didn't seem like such a good idea playing two I-A schools, UH and Nevada, on back-to-back weekends, FAU was an eager replacement.
Never mind that coming to play Hawai'i would set up back-to-back-to-back games against I-A teams all on the road and a presidential campaign-like travel schedule. Fly 4,862 miles on the longest trip in the school's history? No problem. Even if it meant turning around and flying to Dallas for North Texas the next week and Middle Tennessee State the week after.
"They (the Warriors) asked us if we wanted to play and, of course, we wanted to do it," said Howard Schnellenberger, the FAU coach.
Indeed, this is scheduled to be something of a payoff year for the emerging Owls and how big of a bang would it be if they could, somehow, some way, take down UH in the opener?
FAU's goals have been nothing if not ambitious, starting from scratch four years ago. It has played football for just three seasons now, which, when you do the math, is three games fewer than Tim Chang has started for the Warriors.
FAU has nine players who have played every game in the program's history. It returns 19 of 22 starters and 30 seniors from an 11-3 team that went to the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs.
So, FAU is spoiling to make its mark in a season that Schnellenberger calls "a step up to early manhood" for the Owls. But in the two-year transition from I-AA to I-A, they are caught in a twilight zone. They are not yet I-A members but no longer eligible for the I-AA playoffs, either.
All of which leaves the Owls intent on proving their worth against the six I-A teams on the schedule. After going 1-4 against I-A opponents in their first three years, the Owls have their sights set on better things in 2004.
"Realistically," Schnellenberger told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "I don't see how we can't match up with every one of the teams on our schedule with a legitimate chance to win."
For the Warriors the implication is clear: they have become the hunted.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.