On The Air, On The Radar

By Carolyn Braff - October 12, 2007


No. 16 Hawai'i is sitting pretty. The Warriors have the nation's top-ranked scoring offense, a Heisman-hopeful quarterback that is setting records left and right (when his sprained right ankle isn't keeping him on the sideline) and a nationally-televised game against a 3-3 San Jose State team that ranks 70th in the nation in scoring defense (to Hawai'i's No. 1 scoring offense). Plenty of eyes will be on the Warriors tonight, but the most important will belong to Tostitos Fiesta Bowl team scout Steve Horrell, who will be in attendance at Friday night's WAC matchup and meet with conference officials during the day. The Fiesta Bowl is looking for this year's Boise State, and they hope they have found it in Hawai'i.

The 2006 edition of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was one of the most amazing football games ever played. Blue-turf Boise State knocked off Oklahoma in an overtime contest for the history books, sending shockwaves through the college football world and increasing national awareness of the state of Idaho about a million-fold. The scouts are looking to fill some large-expectations-branded shoes for the Jan. 2, 2008 game to be held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and if the Warriors continue their unbeaten streak, the thrilling run-and-shoot offense orchestrated by head coach June Jones could be just what Tostitos wants on the Fiesta Bowl menu.

"We're definitely on their radar," Hawai'i athletic director Herman Frazier said, noting that the appearance by bowl officials at this game is "big."

Getting off to a 6-0 start is a great way to get noticed, as it puts Hawai'i alongside some elite company, but the Warriors' work is only halfway done. In order to finish in the top 12 of the BCS ratings, which would guarantee a spot in a BCS bowl, Hawai'i must win all six of its remaining games, which include matchups with the Broncos of Boise State and Washington, a Pac-10 team that gave USC a run for its money a week ago. (The Huskies also lost to a now pitiful UCLA squad, so which Washington team shows up will have a major bearing on the climate of that game.) At the very least, Hawai'i must finish in the top 16 of the BCS rankings, the first of which will be released this weekend, and finish higher than a champion of one of the BCS conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10 and SEC).

And in this topsy-turvy year of upset stories and no guarantees, that is not out of the question.

A win tonight would push Hawai'i to 7-0, one step closer to a perfect season and that Boise State spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

Except, just like the playoff system itself, it's not quite that simple.

The Fiesta Bowl gets its pick of Big 12 teams, which makes for some concern about the matchups being created. Oklahoma, the Big 12's top team in the latest polls, is probably not excited to play another team out of the WAC for its postseason Bowl opponent. Horrell speculated as much about Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops earlier this week.

Plus, the Fiesta guys do not have to choose a WAC team for their bowl. There is no denying that Hawai'i plays a schedule 300-thread-count soft. The Warriors' first six opponents have a 7-28 combined record, and the remaining teams are 17-15, so those strength-of-schedule points are few and far between.

Unless, of course, a couple of shots fall Hawai'i's way, which would make it a whole lot harder to say no to an unbeaten Warrior squad. If Washington manages to beat one of the ranked teams they play (Arizona State this weekend, or Cal on Nov.17) before politely rolling over at Hawai'i on Dec. 1, that would certainly help the Warriors' strength-of-schedule case. And if Kentucky manages to knock off LSU this weekend, that would also score one for Hawai'i, as long as they take care of business and win out, as they can, and should.

Other questions about putting Hawai'i in a big-ticket bowl game are less football-related, but equally important to the BCS boosters: how many fans could Hawai'i get to fill a mainland stadium? The bowls are supposed to generate tourism in the site at which they're played; can Hawai'i be counted on to produce tourists in Arizona? The team's saving grace is its recent crowd-generation numbers at mainland games - upwards of 10,000 at the last two games played in Las Vegas.

Quarterback Colt Brennan's eye-popping numbers also work in the Warriors' favor, except that the senior has been missing time lately with that ankle injury. If he completes his now-routine 73 percent of passes with three or four touchdowns thrown in for good measure on tonight's national broadcast, he should have the Fiesta folks still watching a couple of weeks down the road.

"We really don't think we've proven anything yet," Brennan said. "I really feel this next chapter, these next six games, will define our football team."

Good - so does everyone else.

Posted by Carolyn Braff at 05:26 PM on October 12, 2007
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