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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 27, 2006

Warriors rise in national rankings

 •  Oregon St. making most of trip
 •  UCLA or Arizona St. are bowl's top choices

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Saturday night's 42-35 comeback victory over Purdue helped the University of Hawai'i football team ascend from No. 25 last week to No. 23 in the current USA Today coaches poll and No. 24 in the Associated Press top-25 rankings.

It also stirred the continuing discussion as to whether Colt Brennan, who threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to increase his nation-leading total to 51 this season, will be named a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Asked if Brennan will be invited to the Dec. 9 ceremony in New York, UH coach June Jones answered with this anecdote.

Jones said Purdue coach Joe Tiller has faced Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and studied hours of videotape of Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith both regarded as the leading Heisman contenders.

After the final whistle sounded Saturday night, Jones and Tiller met at midfield.

"He said to me, 'That's the best quarterback I've ever seen. Good luck in the bowl,'" Jones recalled. "That's the only thing he said to me coming off the field. That says it all."

Asked for his personal opinion, Jones said of Brennan: "He's the best college player in America. I've said it all along."

Jones said he saw hints of that in last season's game against Boise State, when Brennan was a third-year sophomore and first-year Warrior.

Six weeks into this season, Jones said, "that's when I knew he was the best college player in America.

"He has not had one bad game this year," Jones added. "Not one."

Asked if Brennan will be regarded as a first-round pick, Jones said: "Best college player in America."

But Jones said he "would anticipate" Brennan returning for his senior season.

"He said he would come back," Jones said. "He's having a lot of fun here. I'm having a lot of fun. It's been an unreal year."

Jones said Brennan's skill was evident in the way he adjusted to Purdue's defensive scheme. In the second half, the Boilermakers switched to a four-man front, with the defensive ends stepping into the passing lanes to the flats.

"They did a great job of getting their hands up and jumping," Brennan said. "We get the ball out very quick (to the flats), and they did a great job of trying to defend it."

After three passes were knocked down, Brennan adjusted by throwing wide of the defensive ends. On the winning screen pass to Ian Sample, Brennan said, "I had to double-clutch it because (defensive end Cliff Avril) had his hands up."

Brennan said the knockdowns had little to do with his motion, which sometimes appears to be side-armed. He said, in fact, he is throwing with a three-quarter motion favored by most quarterbacks.

"There would have been way more batted balls throughout the year if there were any issues with my throwing (motion)," Brennan said.

The Warriors, meanwhile, said the victory over a Big Ten team showed they were worthy of their national ranking.

"A lot of the people didn't think we deserved to be ranked," linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. "They thought the teams we played (in the previous eight weeks) weren't good. We had to show the people we could play with the big boys. We showed our critics we deserved to be ranked."

Slotback Davone Bess said the outcome showed "our true character. People across the country pretty much doubted us and thought we were a fluke. We proved the football world wrong. We're enjoying this win, but we're definitely not satisfied."

Brennan said Saturday's victory eased the burden.

"Obviously, there's a great weight lifted off of our shoulders," Brennan said. "There's that stigma that right after you get ranked, you lose. That weight definitely has been lifted, and it helped that it was a really tough game. The mentality is to keep winning and to keep climbing in the top-25 poll."

The Warriors set several goals during the season. One of them was to win the final four regular-season games. They close the regular season against Oregon State on Saturday.

"We have one more to go," Jones said. "We set goals for the team, all kinds of deals, and we're fulfilling them. That's what makes you feel good. I'm proud of them."

Bess said the Oregon State game is important, and not just because he was supposed to play for the Beavers.

"This is still Oregon State, one of the top teams," Bess said. "They beat USC."

The Warriors are expected to learn within the week who they will face in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.

If it were up to the players, Elimimian said, the choice would be UCLA.

"That's who I want to play," said Elimimian, who was raised in Los Angeles. "That's who a lot of the guys want to play. We hope it's UCLA. Everybody knows UCLA. That's a name with prestige. I'm sure if UCLA came, it will be a full house."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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