SEATTLE — Through the early days of the football season, through October and November, Hawaii has heard the criticism.
No matter how many games the Warriors win, or how impressive the beatings they administered, the Warriors have run their record to 11-0 with a huge asterisk hanging over one of the best seasons in Hawaii football history.
You play in the WAC, the doubters say. Your non-conference schedule is even worse, some would add. Finally, when the calendar flips to its final page of 2007, the Warriors will face their first BCS conference opponent. Still, a big win over Washington Saturday probably won’t impress everyone. The Huskies are, after all, a 4-8 team bringing up the rear in the Pac-10.
“It sucks, to be honest,” Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said of the criticisms. “But we do have what they say is the weakest schedule in college football, so it’s tough to argue when that’s where you stand. We’re not going to argue. We’re about beating the teams that are in front of us. Until we get two more victories, there is only so much we can say.”
One thing the Warriors can say about their soft schedule: It’s not for a lack of effort.
Hawaii was originally supposed to host Michigan State, but the Spartans decided they would rather pay a $250,000 buyout than make the trip to Hawaii. Hawaii’s athletic director, Herman Frazier, made contact with schools from the Pac-10, Big Ten, and Big 12, but for one reason or another, every team said no. Talks with Indiana, Wisconsin, Washington State, and Oregon State, to name a few, didn’t produce an opponent. Finally, Washington athletic director Todd Turner said yes.
“You name it, I’ve heard it,” Frazier said when asked what reasons teams gave for not playing Hawaii. “Some guys said, ‘Herm, my schedule’s already too tough, I don’t want to come over there. There’s no way.’ I knew who had open dates, and I knew who they were playing the week before and the week after. I also looked at teams that might have an open date after playing us so they could get some rest. We tried everything. We were fortunate when I called Todd Turner that he was real responsive right away and we were able to get the University of Washington.”
The NCAA has long tried to entice teams to travel to Hawaii for games by allowing them to play an extra game, hence the Huskies’ 13-game schedule this year. The Warriors also offer what Frazier called “a pretty healthy guarantee” to get teams to make the expensive trip. Hawaii’s recent success has been part of the problem.
Teams no longer view a game against Hawaii as an easy non-conference win with a tropical getaway on the side. In the five years prior to June Jones’ hiring, the Warriors were 12-47-1. Since Jones became head coach in 1999, Hawaii is 75-40.
“If you come here now you know you’re going to be in for a football game,” said Frazier. “That’s why I really salute and support the University of Washington. Todd Turner and Tyrone [Willingham] knew what kind of game this was going to be and they didn’t blink. That’s what competition’s about and that’s why they are quality, stand-up people.”
And it’s not just that teams don’t want to play Hawaii in Honolulu. The Warriors tried to work out an early-season game at Michigan, but the Wolverines instead decided to play Division I-AA Appalachian State, which didn’t work out great for the Wolverines.
So when the Warriors couldn’t find anyone else to fill out the schedule, they got stuck with, among other unattractive games, I-AA opponents Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern.
The good news, Jones says, is that this figures to be a one-year problem. Next year’s schedule includes an opener at Florida, as well as games at Oregon State and at home against Washington State and Cincinnati. The following year the Warriors will face Wisconsin and Washington State, and USC is scheduled to make the trip west in 2010.
This year however, the Warriors are stuck with the label of an undefeated team that hasn’t played anybody. All they can do is try to keep winning and hope the bowl season provides a chance to finally prove the doubters wrong.
“Everybody wants to bash our schedule, but it’s not like we didn’t try,” said Frazier. “At the end of the day, you play the schedule before you, and we’ve been fortunate to this point. You won’t hear us crying about anything. We just go about our business.”
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog