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UH will be on most opponent’s radar as it makes its final run in the WAC

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 10:13 p.m. HST, Sep 2, 2011

This year it isn’t the nationally ranked opponents that the University of Hawaii football team has to be wary of as much as it is the underdogs that lurk in the schedule’s shadows and the potential ambushes that await them.

Be ready for the marquee teams, but also beware the trapdoor encounters, because this year, in ways they’ve never experienced before leading to this 33rd — and last — Western Athletic Conference campaign, the Warriors are the hunted.

It is one thing to have a price on their helmets as both defending WAC champions and preseason picks to repeat. But there is something personal, in play, too. OK, a lot. Remember last season, when UH took undisguised delight in picking off Mountain West-bound defectors Nevada and Fresno State and fans reveled in the comeuppance served?

Well, the spikes are on the other foot this year, and the bull’s-eye has been shared.

Before the Warriors take up MWC membership with the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs in 2012, they will join them as the widely despised and zealously hunted objects of this final WAC campaign.

Which should make things interesting on a schedule that otherwise lacks for degree of difficulty as the Warriors try to put double-digit victory seasons back to back for the second time in school history. Only in 2006-07 have the Warriors managed the feat.

Reaching it this year should be a task made easier by the departure — for one year, anyway — of conference bully Boise State from the schedule. What that leaves is a slate devoid of opponents in the preseason USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll and few foes that would seem to have a chance to crack it by season’s end.

Statistical guru Phil Steele rates the Warriors’ schedule the 115th toughest among 120 major college teams. An NCAA formula lists UH’s opposition as 113th-most rigorous.

To put this in perspective, UH went 10-4 in 2010 against a schedule that finished as the 72nd toughest, according to the NCAA.

So the schedule figures to be as tough as the Warriors make it. Especially when it comes to the last expedition to Ruston, La.; a final call on the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho; and a last visit to San Jose, Calif., for a while. Avoid the booby traps there and the Warriors have a chance to run the table in conference.

If opportunity knocks for the Warriors this year with senior Bryant Moniz at quarterback, a glance at the ’12 schedule reminds how big of a shame it would be if they fail to seize it.

Back-to-back games at Southern California and Brigham Young to open in ’12 await UH, along with breaking in a new quarterback. Not to mention conference road stops at Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State. There still looms the possibility of a school-record seventh road game unless UH is able to fill the puka with a home game.

So, in their last mission in the WAC, it behooves the Warriors to take to heart that conference slogan of “Play Up!” because those who surround them surely intend to.

Colorado >> Sept. 3 • 4:15 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

After huffing and puffing at 5,345 feet in the Rockies and blowing a 10-0 lead last year, the Warriors have the Buffaloes right where they want ’em — at sea level.

Washington >> Sept. 10 • 9:30 a.m. • Husky Stadium • Seattle, Wash.

UH returns to the scene of one of its most celebrated victories, the 1973 stunner of the Huskies. A reprise of that stirring victory would give them even more to yell about.

UNLV >> Sept. 17 • 4 p.m. • Sam Boyd Stadium • Las Vegas, Nev.

Here’s one visitor that beats the house in Vegas.

UC Davis >> Sept. 24 • 6 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

Thanks to this game, the Warriors can go for a rarity in college football, the Aggie hat trick (UC Davis, Utah State and New Mexico State). Pity that the rest of the Aggies — Cameron University, Delaware Valley College, North Carolina A&T, Oklahoma Panhandle State and Texas A&M — were apparently unavailable.

Louisiana Tech >> Oct. 1 • 1 p.m. • Joe Aillet Stadium • Ruston, La.

As the Warriors say “aloha” to the WAC, this will be one of the stops they won’t miss. The parting will be better enjoyed if there is more to bring back than a t-shirt from Ponchatoulas restaurant.

San Jose State >> Oct. 14 • 3 p.m. • Spartan Stadium • San Jose, Calif.

With 13 days between games the Warriors should be at their best for this Friday night ESPN appearance.

New Mexico State >> Oct. 22 • 6 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

There is a reason UH chose this for the annual homecoming game — and it wasn’t just to celebrate ex-Leilehua quarterback Andrew Manley’s return.

Idaho >> Oct. 29 • 11 a.m. • Kibbie Dome • Moscow, Idaho

Beware: If there is a “trapdoor” game on this schedule, the stop in Moscow is it.

Utah State >> Nov. 5 • 6 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

Maybe Gov. Abercrombie can declare it bowl-eligibility day since this is when UH should clinch its annual berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Nevada >> Nov. 12 • 11:05 a.m. • Mackay Stadium • Reno, Nev.

Memo to UH officials: Time to petition the Mountain West for future Warriors’ games at Nevada to be played in September or October.

Fresno State >> Nov. 19 • 6 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

Who let the ’Dogs out? Definitely not the Warriors’ defense that keeps a tight leash on Derek Carr & Co.

Tulane >> Nov. 26 • 6 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

The Green Wave got a pretty penny to fill the slot left by Washington State’s bailout. The Warriors make ’em earn it.

BYU >> Dec. 3 • 2:30 p.m. • Aloha Stadium • Honolulu

In a 10th anniversary season of their memorable 2001 game here, the Warriors and Cougars meet up again at Aloha Stadium for the first time since. It will be hard to match the fireworks of that 72-45 UH victory, but they’ll try.

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