Once the class of the Western Athletic Conference, Hawai'i has quickly fallen to mediocrity. It all began with the 2007 Sugar Bowl when Georgia put a 41-10 hurting on an undefeated Warrior team that argued it should have been playing in the national title game. June Jones, armed with Colt Brennan and company, got their BCS Bowl game but walked away with their tails between their legs. Jones has since left for SMU and now second-year coach Greg McMackin will continue to attempt to revive a Hawaii football program to the prominence it held less than two seasons ago.
In 2008, Hawai'i fared better than most forecasted with a 7-7 record and a handful of WAC wins. The Warriors defeated Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and Nevada to the surprise of many. Hawaii always has an advantage when teams travel to the Big Island to play in a different time zone, and the Warriors get Boise and Fresno at home this October. McMackin has plenty of work ahead of him if he wants to get into the same discussion as some of the top WAC teams, but a half-full pot of gold (bowl game) would not be a bad consolation prize underneath a Hawaiian rainbow in 2009.
The Warriors have never had many shortcomings offensively. Last season's offense was efficient, but three different quarterbacks saw significant playing time so solidifying a reliable starter is priority No. 1 for the Hawai'i coaching staff. Greg Anderson seems to be the front-runner for the position coming out of spring ball. He played the most under center last year, throwing for 1,895 yards and 14 TDs against five INTs. The offensive line must replace three starters, but is anchored by an NFL-caliber center in John Estes. Recycling all but the man snapping the pigskin might be a good thing considering Hawai'i ranked dead last in the country last season in sacks allowed with 57 on year. Receivers Greg Salas and Malcolm Lane are the quintessential Hawai'ian wideouts with blazing speed and sticky hands. Salas led the club in receiving last season with 57 catches for 831 yards and three TDs while Lane posted six scores and 613 yards. If you've watched Hawai'i at all in the past decade you know it doesn't need much in terms of the running game with the run-and-shoot offense. Senior running back Leon Wright-Jackson is penciled into the starting lineup for now, but the backup quarterback from last year, Inoke Funaki, will most likely find his place on the team as the starting tailback this season.
Graduation decimated the Warrior defense with only two starters coming back in 2009. The first is senior linebacker Brashton Satele, a 6-1, 255-pound run-plugger who posted 53.0 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss last year. Satele and R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, an up-and-coming star, make this Hawai'i linebacking corps the most dangerous sector of the defense. The other returning starter, senior defensive end John Fonoti, collected 62.0 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. He was part of an aggressive front seven that amassed 99.0 tackles for loss – a mark that ranked No. 16 in the nation. The secondary could be in shambles the first half of this season. All four starters from last year are gone, and the pair of projected starters at cornerback are JUCO transfers from a season ago (not always a bad thing right San Jose State?). Hawai'i's defense will be the giant question mark on the team and most likely won't improve on last year's statistic of giving up nearly 30 points per contest.
San Jose State cornerbacks versus Hawai'i receiver Greg Salas. Hawaii's offensive gameplan is no secret…throw, throw and throw some more. Salas is a 6-2, 200-pound receiver that has tons of speed. With the same frame as former Warrior receiver Jason Rivers, who scorched the Spartans in that memorable ESPN2 home contest in 2007 (12 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD), Salas is going to create matchup problems for the State secondary. Corners Alex Germany and Peyton Thompson are 5-9 and 5-11, respectively, and each weigh-in at 170 pounds. While defensive backs coach Keith Burns always has his troops prepared, the corners are going to need help containing Salas in this affair.
Arguably one of the best games San Jose State played last year was a 20-17 win against Hawai'i. The Spartans traveled across the pond and played a night game against the Warriors, which translates to a rabid crowd at Aloha Stadium. Trailing 17-7 after two frames, the Spartan defense pitched a second half shutout and hit two critical fourth quarter field goals (final FG with under two minutes) to fly back to California with a win. San Jose State didn't do anything particularly flashy in the game, but committed no turnovers while forcing Hawai'i into six – including four interceptions. The Spartans didn't see Greg Anderson so will have to expect more from the air attack in this matchup. The game will be nearly a toss-up in the oddsmakers projections, but San Jose State will come away with a home victory.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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