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Like the ugly, socially awkward kid in high school, Hawai'i couldn't buy a date last spring.
Off of the surprise that was BoiseState's win in the Fiesta Bowl, the announced return of quarterback Colt Brennan and the expectations of a Top 25-caliber team in 2007, teams around the country all of a sudden became shy about playing the Warriors.
It started when Michigan State bought out of its contract to play Hawai'i Nov. 24 in Aloha Stadium. Whether they didn't want to play a 13th game - their cited reason for breaking the contract - or the fact that they were afraid of losing to a WAC team, the Spartans' bail-out started a domino effect that had Hawai'i scrambling to complete its schedule.
"This was the hardest one I've ever had to deal with in my life," Hawai'i athletic director Herman Frazier said. "And you have to understand I did scheduling at Arizona State for some 20 years."
When the dust settled and the schedule was finally completed, Hawai'i had put together the easiest slate in Division I-A this year. And because of it, they could very well net themselves a BCS bowl berth in less than a month.
"Hawai'i is in a position to play themselves into the BCS and I think the burden is going to be on their shoulders to produce," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said.
Through the season's first 10 weeks, and with a spotless 8-0 record and a No. 16 ranking in the latest BCS standings, the Warriors could be poised to become the second straight WAC team to break into the BCS if they continue their winning ways. But a big reason why they are perfect on the season, and why many project the Warriors to crash the BCS party, has to do with the fact that their first eight games were played against two Division I-AA teams, a 2-7 UNLV team and five conference games against the bottom half of the WAC - the only league in the Division I-A football that does not have a win over a BCS affiliated school.
So it should come as no surprise that Hawai'i's strength of schedule, a component of the BCS's computer rankings, has the Warriors rated as the worst out of 119 Division I-A teams. And projections, according to CSTV BCS expert Jerry Palm, have the Warriors finishing as owners of the easiest schedule in D-IA. The best case scenario, according to Palm, has Hawai'i finishing with the second easiest schedule in the country. Only Memphis, currently 4-5, has a schedule considered to be as easy as Hawai'i's.
"At this point, this is the worst schedule in the 10-year history of the BCS," Palm said.
Hawai'i has not played a team ranked higher than the 93 in the BCS and that team was Louisiana Tech, which took the Warriors to overtime. All but two of their games have been played against teams in the Top 100, leaving many to question Hawai'i's BCS worthiness.
"Their schedule is what it is," Benson said.
It was a perfect storm that saw Hawai'i put together its 2007 schedule with teams dropping out of deals, reneging on commitments and balking at the prospects of playing the Warriors. At one time, Frazier had as many as four holes to fill in his schedule and had to decide whether Hawai'i was going to play 12 or 13 games. Frazier finally settled on 12 and did the best he could.
In the end, while facing some harsh criticism, the best he could do was attract Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern to Honolulu, two teams with a combined 5-14 record on the season. The UNLV game was added along with a season ending matchup with Washington, but in the end, Hawai'i put together a non-conference schedule severely lacking in BCS-boosting opponents.
"I've put it all on me," Frazier said. "I said it was my fault we were in that position. We tried drastically to try and get other teams to play us. But at the end of the day we took what we had and put together a very competitive schedule at the end of it."
Hawai'i was willing to accommodate anyone. They offered home games in Oahu or to make trips to the mainland. They tried to come to an agreement with top teams like Michigan, and had actually agreed to play the Wolverines in the season opener, but the deal was vetoed in the end. West Virginia turned them down, as did Indiana, ArizonaState and several Pac-10 schools, despite the promise of financial gain and national television guarantees.
"Us trying to get a schedule of a lot of D-IA schools just didn't fall into place," Frazier said. "There's all sorts of reasons I think we can talk about why people didn't do it, but I will tell you we put together very, very lucrative financial packages."
Benson tried to help Hawai'i as best he could, making phone calls to athletic directors and other colleagues in hopes of nailing something down. But he came up empty.
"I certainly didn't want to see them play two I-AA schools," Benson said. "That is not the model we want to see. This year's Hawai'i non-conference schedule is an anomaly. We won't see that again."
While it may be the easiest ever seen for such a highly-rated team in the BCS this late in the season, it's not unheard of for a team with a weak strength of schedule to earn a BCS bid. BoiseState's strength of schedule was 85th last year. Finishing the regular season 12-0, Boise was eighth in the final BCS standings with a schedule that featured a I-AA opponent (SacramentoState), games against Wyoming and Utah and only one game against a BCS affiliated team (OregonState). And that came at home.
"A year ago BoiseState's non-conference schedule was being questioned," Benson said. "That non-conference schedule was an example of a balanced schedule. We pointed to the BoiseState non-conference schedule as not having to play a killer non-conference schedule (to make the BCS)."
To earn an automatic bid to the BCS, a team from a non-BCS conference must finish in the Top 12 of the final rankings. Palm believes Hawai'i will likely achieve that position, considering the Warriors will play better teams to finish out the season, as Frazier emphasized - Fresno State, Nevada, BoiseState and Washington - assuming, of course, they win them all. Their computer rankings figure to rise with each win and pollsters could be moved to slot the Warriors higher on their ballots. But the best Palm projects Hawai'i to finish is in the Top 20 of the computer rankings.
"You have to play a pretty lousy schedule to be undefeated and barely in the Top 20 of the computers, but that's kind of what you're looking at," Palm said.
Frazier understands the criticism, but he also points out some other highly-ranked teams have not played the toughest schedule, either.
"There are teams, and maybe even one ranked as high as No. 1 in the country, that played some different schools as well," Frazier said. "We can't say whose schedule is soft at the end of the day. We just have to line up and play football."
The public perception would be drastically different if Hawai'i was playing Michigan State and Washington, Benson said, but he expects to see their computer rankings improve starting Sunday.
"We're confident Hawai'i's going to get there despite their non-conference schedule," Benson said. "A softer schedule does allow a greater chance of running the table and that's a more predictable way to get to the Top 12."
And that may be the only predictable thing in this unpredictable college football season.