POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 26, 2010
It appears the battle is on in Conference USA.
The one for the C-USA football championship?
Well, there is that one, too, of course.
But, at the moment, we're talking about grabbing an inside lane for a berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and a shot at the University of Hawaii on Christmas Eve.
As teams close in on bowl eligibility -- and C-USA has four of them one game away already -- an appearance in the Hawaii Bowl is something to shoot for in a lot of places. And be assured the jockeying has already started behind closed doors. Elbows are next.
I mean, what says r-e-w-a-r-d better come December, an all-expenses-paid week here or in, say, Dallas?
At this point, UH isn't saying what -- or whom -- it wants, partly, you suspect, out of respect for the "bachi" factor. But what the Warriors should seek, especially if they continue to take care of business in the win column, is the highest-ranked opponent that can be begged, cajoled, borrowed or Shanghaied from ESPN Regional TV's vast inventory.
UH can secure its earliest Hawaii Bowl bid with a win Saturday against Idaho and, when that is locked up, it is never too early to make its Christmas wishes known to Bowl Santa, aka ESPN Regional TV, the Charlotte, N.C.-based marketing, syndication, event-management and production company that owns and operates this and five other bowls.
The Hawaii Bowl has agreements with the WAC and C-USA to provide representatives. What that means is as long as UH is bowl eligible and not Bowl Championship Series bound, the Warriors play in their backyard. And C-USA, which earmarks its champion to the Liberty Bowl, sends a runner-up or a mutually acceptable team here.
Last year the drama was in whether UH would rally from a 2-6 start and become bowl eligible. It didn't. This year, with the rampaging Warriors 6-2 and one victory -- Saturday's homecoming game -- away from becoming bowl eligible with five games remaining, the intrigue shifts to whom the Warriors would play come Dec. 24 at Aloha Stadium.
You get the feeling the bowl would like to bring back June Jones and Southern Methodist to play UH in an overdue run-and-shoot showdown. Call it a settling of some unfinished business, especially with the prospect of the game's first sellout.
But there are several potential obstacles beyond whether SMU, currently 4-4 with four games remaining, becomes bowl eligible. For one, SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium is hosting the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl since the usual home, Texas Christian's Carter Stadium, is scheduled to undergo a $105 million renovation at the close of the regular season next month. And the bowl's owner, ESPN Regional TV, and its partner, C-USA, would have a sellout there with the Mustangs at home, something another team might not deliver.
All along some SMU alums had wanted the Mustangs to play closer to home last year when they achieved their breakthrough first bowl appearance in a quarter century. Two in a row in Hawaii might be a tough sell, even for the persuasive Jones.
Then, there is the matter of the other schools, having heard the raves of previous visitors, wanting their turn. "The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl offers a team from C-USA a great experience, and one of these years, Southern Miss would be excited to make the trip," said Richard Giannini, athletic director of Southern Mississippi, which is 5-2.
And, there are some who think two years is long enough to wait for a return, too.
"We had a very successful trip culminating in a huge victory over a top-flight program (Boise State in 2007), so the Pirate Nation would be excited about an invitation to return," East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland said in an e-mail. The defending C-USA champions are 5-2.
Wrote an SMU staffer in an e-mail, "If my wife is in charge of where we'd go, I know her vote would be for Hawaii!"
Meanwhile, UH should also make its "vote" soon.