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Troubled Trojans will certainly bring the intensity this time

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 1:36 a.m. HST, Aug 17, 2010

After the University of Hawaii football team lost to national-championship-bound Southern California 21-5 in the 1978 regular-season finale, UH coach Dick Tomey railed at the suggestion there was comfort in "coming close."

Thirty-two years later, however, that game, in which UH trailed 9-5 into the fourth quarter and had chances to lead, shines as UH's highlight in a series so one-sided that the Trojans have won the six meetings by an average of nearly four touchdowns per game.

So, hopes here for the Sept. 2 season opener against USC have naturally risen with each curious turn of events, defection, suspension, lawsuit and fight, surrounding the headline-making summer soap opera Trojans football has become. And when the Las Vegas line of 19 1/2 points -- the smallest in the post-World War II history of the series -- was posted, the talk predictably turned to the "V" word, the long hoped-for but yet-to-be-witnessed vulnerability of USC.

But as turmoil-tossed as the Trojans have been these past months, the fear for UH now should be that recent events have given USC a focus and ferocity that might have otherwise escaped it.

Instead of ambling into Aloha Stadium like they did in 1999 or 2005 as 27- and 32-point favorites, the concern should be that these Trojans are on a statement-making mission rather than merely working out the kinks.

For sure their embattled new head coach seems to be. A suggestion of which appears in the September issue of Men's Journal magazine, where debuting Lane Kiffin is quoted as saying, "other schools are smelling blood, calling my juniors and seniors. They're calling our recruits now, saying, 'SC's done, they're finished.' I can't wait till September is all I'll say. They're gonna see a fury coming at 'em."

So much for easing into the schedule like seasons past, apparently.

What was signed years ago as a late-summer lark for well-heeled alumni and a nonconference tune-up for a perennial national power squad has become more with each day. Much more.

"They've been put back in the position of not being the anointed national championship or conference contender but of having to prove themselves," Tomey said. "As a coach, you always like it when your team feels that way because it makes you more dangerous."

To be sure this will be the shallowest USC team to appear here, one with just 71 players on scholarship. It will be 14 scholarships below the NCAA maximum in part as a result of five scholarship players and two incoming recruits having bolted in the wake of NCAA sanctions. And it will have promising running back Dillon Baxter out on suspension.

But what figures to be good for Pac-10 opposition over the long haul might not be so beneficial for UH, which gets first shot at the Trojans on national TV -- and vice versa.

Tomey had the right idea back in 1978 in insisting UH wasn't in the game to keep it close. It was the operative philosophy for a program in its growing stages that would be entering the Western Athletic Conference the next season. And it wouldn't be a bad one to take hold of today for a program with plenty to demonstrate now.

Especially since the Warriors should understand going in that the Trojans will be motivated as rarely before to prove plenty on their own.

Reach Ferd Lewis at


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