Warriors: WAC's mystery team
By Ferd Lewis
You know all about the University of Hawai'i football team's returnees, the players who have graduated and the perceived strengths and weaknesses, but having trouble picturing just where that puts the Warriors in the WAC this season?
Well, join the club.
A sampling of the early run of annual preseason football magazines, which shows UH picked from fifth to eighth, underlines the conflicted appraisal. Especially as some who are down on the Warriors are, nevertheless, not ruling UH out as a team that could be the WAC's season surprise.
Talk about incongruent: The Sporting News picks UH to finish eighth in the nine-team conference but also notes, "... the WAC usually has a surprise in store. Last year it was Idaho. This season it could be Utah State, with 18 returning starters, or Hawai'i, which could light up scoreboards."
Fact is, the Warriors might be the biggest mystery entering what should be a very fluid WAC this season.
That the Warriors' WAC opener is their latest in 32 years of conference membership, an Oct. 2 game against Louisiana Tech at Aloha Stadium five games into the season, deepens the suspense. That it follows four consecutive non-conference games — Southern California, Army, Colorado and Charleston Southern — means the Warriors have ample time to find their leaders and an identity by the time the WAC rolls around.
Part of the unknown is the uncertainty of a Warrior team with pukas in prime places. Especially the looming question marks of a team that rebuilds its offensive line and restocks at linebacker. Phil Steele's College Football Preview, which has remarkably nailed some of UH's finishes — recall the 1999 turnaround — notes, "My biggest concern is their O-line ... but this is an improved Hawai'i squad and one capable of getting to the plus side of the ledger."
The volatility of the WAC is a major component, too. Outside of Boise State, which is the overwhelming favorite to win its eighth conference championship in nine years, and the two that figure to battle to avoid the cellar, New Mexico State and San Jose State, you could throw darts to pick the WAC this year.
Most teams have multiple issues to deal with to the point that perhaps more than at any time in the Broncos' reign this figures to be a race for second place.
Nevada is the consensus pick for runner-up but the Wolf Park that got passed just short of silly in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl has to rewire its defense and overcome some off-the-field issues.
Louisiana Tech has a promising returning squad, but a new coaching staff and schemes. Fresno State has to replace the conference's most dominating player, running back Ryan Matthews, and much of its secondary. Last year's emerging team, Idaho, has to recast its once formidable offensive line.
Meanwhile, if playing the Warriors turns out to be half as tough as figuring them out, it should be an interesting WAC season.