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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tide rising and it's only May

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

It is 97 days until the University of Hawai'i football team opens its season at Alabama Sept. 2, but who's counting?

Well, a lot of people, apparently.

Indeed, there seems to be a surprising number of fans who have actually begun counting them down at this early stage, including one at a gas station the other day who said it by way of an, "only 101 days till Alabama" greeting.

Then, there are the chat room and radio call-in types already deep in rumination about what the sixth-year return of UH free safety Leonard Peters and the possible disciplinary loss of Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson could portend (and this was before UH's Nate Ilaoa got an extra season, too). Friday's Bobby Curran radio show even called in an Alabama writer for further divination. This for a game to be played three months hence.

All of which makes for a stronger, early buzz than any other UH season opener, which is saying something after kicking off with two-time defending national champion USC last year.

You even hear people talking about trying to make their way to the game, remarkable for Hawai'i fans since there aren't any direct flights between Las Vegas and Tuscaloosa.

But then part of what differentiates the Alabama opener from USC is that only the seriously deluded had any reason to hope UH might win in 2005. That the Trojans would eventually be 32-point favorites was understood early on since they had a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and UH had a question mark.

With Alabama there is already percolating excitement over playing one of the most storied programs in expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium, a temple of the sport. For UH, this is college football's version of opening on Broadway compared with previous starts against Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State.

And, there is the hope of rising to the considerable challenge. UH has taken its road show to Nebraska and USC, of course, but never coming off a victory over one of them to do it. Never with the offensive firepower the Warriors believe they possess now.

Never mind that the 37-29 win in 2003 was played out over a Crimson Tide team battered by NCAA sanctions, it was a win proudly tucked away in the UH trophy case.

Make no mistake, the Warriors will be a decided underdog in Tuscaloosa, but probably only half as much as they were against the Trojans. And therein lies much of the hope. Now, if UH could only pick up some more proven starters and Alabama lose a few, it could really get buzzing.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.