Hawai'i is by default this year's Boise State, but is that where the Warriors belong?
Dec. 11, 2007
By Carolyn Braff
Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for CSTV.com. E-mail here!
As an undefeated WAC team on its way to a BCS bowl, Hawai'i just laced up the underdog cleats.
The shoes that made BoiseState a household name a year ago have been unpacked in the Pacific, and they certainly seem to fit. Both teams to tie them up finished their respective unblemished seasons as WAC champions; scored an awful lot of points to do so (Boise averaged 39.7 last season; the Warriors averaged 46.2 this year); play in small media markets and are notorious for a quirk about their program - Boise plays on a blue field while Hawai'i performs a Maori war dance before each kickoff.
And of course, the Warriors play in Hawai'i. To most football fans, that's pretty quirky in itself.
But putting aside feel-good stories of cheerleader fiancés and successful character makeovers, just how similar are these two teams?
While Boise was praised as perhaps the true national champion of 2006, football fans have spent the 2007 season waiting for Hawai'i to lose. Except they never did, which makes the parallel all the more convincing.
At least to this point.
Last season, BoiseState turned on the national spotlight under which non-BCS programs now shine (and burn), so the Broncos were spared the soft-schedule criticism the Warriors have been pelted with since September. But a look at their respective schedules shows Boise got off easy.
The talent level across the WAC has changed little in the last 12 months, so the eight conference games both teams played are a wash. Both also beat a Mountain West school (Boise State 17, Wyoming 10; Hawai'i 49, UNLV 14) and a Pac-10 team (Boise State 42, Oregon State 14; Hawai'i 35, Washington 28).
While both opened their seasons with a FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent (Boise State 45, Sacramento State 0; Hawai'i 63, Northern Colorado 6), much hubbub has been made about the fact that Hawai'i played its final non-conference game (Boise State 36, Utah 3) against a second FCS opponent (Hawai'i 66, Charleston Southern 10).
Whether or not Michigan State and USC refused to play the Warriors is no longer relevant. The bottom line is that Hawai'i's 2007 schedule was only slightly easier than Boise's 2006 schedule, and both defeated their opponents handily. The knock on Hawai'i has been its defense, or lack thereof, but Boise allowed only 7 points per game fewer than Hawai'i (17.6 to 24.2) and the teams' identical margin of victory keeps the comparison intact (Boise's margin of victory in 2006 was 22.1; Hawai'i's was 22.0 in 2007).
The difference between these two teams lies mostly in how everyone else fared.
"It was a crazy college football year," Hawai'i' quarterback Colt Brennan said. "I think it kind of helped us out, watching some of the teams get upset. It made us think, why not? Why not Hawai'i go to a BCS bowl game? And when we realized we could win every game this year, we just worked hard for it."
A pair of overtime victories, two big fourth-quarter comebacks and a lot of nail biting later, Hawai'i finished out the season alone at 12-0. A year ago, there were two undefeated teams heading into bowl season - Boise State and No. 1 Ohio State, which went on to lose in the national championship game.
As of today, Hawai'i's resume is nowhere near deep enough to put the Warriors into that conversation. But if Hawai'i beats Georgia, a team that perhaps deserves some title talk of its own, the Warriors' stock should split.
"I know we have a national championship game, but do we really know who the best two teams in the nation are?" Brennan asked. "Right now, we're playing a team that was up for the national championship game and we're an undefeated team. I understand the conference we came from -"
(As a reminder, Hawai'i comes from a conference that finished 2007 0-3 against the SEC, 1-7 against the Pac-10 and 1-4 against the Big 12. The WAC did compile a winning record against Conference USA, which generally rivals the MAC and the Sun Belt for the title of Mr. Irrelevant of the conference world.)
"- I understand the schedule we had this year," Brennan continued. "We really don't have a win that warrants us going to a big game like that. But definitely beating Georgia would do that. I just know if we beat Georgia, we'll make the statement we've tried to make the last two years."
Making that statement will be no easy task. The Warriors do boast the top scoring offense in the nation, averaging more than 46 points per game, but compared to what Hawai'i has seen so far this season, Georgia's defense is an iron curtain. The Bulldogs allow an average of just 21 points per game, have the nation's No. 19 overall defense and held their last three opponents to fewer than 320 yards of total offense.
While Boise relied on some brilliant trickery to get by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the Warriors will depend on a Heisman Trophy finalist under center - which the Broncos did not have - and a receiving corps that many consider to be tops in the nation.
"People that have played them say their receivers are as good as any you'll see in the country," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "They said the quarterback-receiver situation there, you won't go to any school in America and find a better bunch."
With a Heisman finalist running the offense and at least one first-place vote in each of the three major polls, the Warriors will have a case for a national championship claim - if they can beat Georgia. And that's a big if.
Still, should the Warriors' new shoes lead them where they led Boise last Jan. 1, Hawai'i will add a barrel of kerosene to the burning debate over the method used to crown a national champion.
Here's hoping a little fire is all it takes to fix the system.