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Army game could be pivotal for Warriors

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At least a few University of Hawaii football fans have already hit the fast-forward button — and to a week later than you might expect.

There’s still a month until the start of the season, and people want to talk about the game at Army on Sept. 11 … some even more than the bright-lights event preceding it, the 2010 curtain-raiser against Southern Cal.

It’s OK to look ahead to a team that runs the option. Defensive coordinators do it all the time, they must.

Oh, yes, the USC game Sept. 2 will still draw a rare Aloha Stadium sellout (it had better, for the sake of the UH athletic department’s bank account). There will be plenty of accompanying buzz. It’s on ESPN, it’s all of college football’s opener.

Heck, it’s still USC.

But some of the Warriors faithful (semi-faithful?) assume a loss and choose to think ahead. Few outside of Manoa dare to ponder the possibility aloud of the Warriors taking down USC. That possible upset vibe just isn’t there this time, at least not yet. This, despite enough chaos in Trojania for a season’s worth of MTV reality shows.

Vacated victories, bowl bans, a couple of transfers, a controversial new coach and one less Heisman Trophy on the shelf make it interesting on the periphery. In the previous visits the focus was on the incredible talent. Ronnie Lott, Charles White, Marcus Allen, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush came to town as the frontmen for some of the best teams in college football history.

The Trojans aren’t as mighty or glitzy this time, but the apparent disarray doesn’t significantly affect the balance of power in this game. That comes later when USC’s forfeited scholarships add up and perhaps the Warriors can finally get some revenge on future dates.

The fanatics and the supporters who trust their hearts more than their minds never count a game as a loss before it is played. But those more pragmatic hear the classic from The Who on the internal iPod: Won’t Get Fooled Again. UH and USC have met six times, and USC has won every time, by an average score of 49-11.

All of college football will watch USC at Hawaii. But the second UH game — which will draw little if any national attention — promises to tell much more about what to expect from the 2010 Warriors. Winning it might be the key to the entire season.

UH simply can’t afford to lose to the Black Knights. If it does, can anyone really expect a win at Colorado the next week on the way home? Yes, a defeat on the banks of the Hudson could very well mean the Warriors limp back to Honolulu at 0-3, finally getting their first victory in front of a few friends and family against Charleston Southern at Aloha Stadium.

A winning season and a bowl game could become unlikely even before the WAC season begins. But beating Army means a win far from home and a lot of confidence to build upon, a good shot at a 3-1 mark heading into conference.

We all remember the last time Hawaii played an academy team coached by a UH alum that runs the option: The Warriors knocked off Navy 24-17 last November. Hopefully for Hawaii, it still has the defensive game plan it used to sink the Midshipmen.

Army was flogged the last time it played Hawaii, falling 59-28 to a Warriors team that then beat Alabama the next Saturday. But that was seven years ago, and former Rainbow Warrior Rich Ellerson is turning things around at West Point.

Two of the major college football magazines predict a bowl game appearance for Army, since the Black Knights are stocked with returnees from a 5-7 team and blessed with a soft schedule. Ellerson’s co-defensive coordinator is Chris Smeland, who was the Hawaii DC when UH won the WAC and the Holiday Bowl in 1992.

We’ll close today on a positive note for UH. The Warriors went a combined 22-13 after losing big to USC in the first or second game of 1999, 2003 and 2005.

So don’t worry about the outcome on Sept. 2. Leave for the stadium early, have a good time, don’t look at the scoreboard.

But, then, borrow Navy’s motto: Beat Army.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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