It has taken a while to put a finger on it again, but could it really be that the anticipation beginning to surround the University of Hawaii’s football meeting with Nevada on Saturday is a reemergence of … the "big game" feeling?
As big games go in the Western Athletic Conference, it has been a while for the Warriors.
You have to go back to the magical 2007 season to find a WAC contest more important to UH than this one. Not since their 2007 showdown with Boise State, which clinched UH’s first outright WAC title, have the Warriors entered a conference game with so much to look forward to. Not since their 2007 meeting — a last-seconds 28-26 UH victory — have the Warriors and Wolf Pack met with much more than postseason elimination hanging in the balance.
The absence is easily explained: Last year UH started 0-5 in the WAC and, in 2008, it dropped its opener.
And as history reminds us, one loss in this conference this century usually means instant termination of championship hopes. In the last four seasons — and seven of the eight most recent overall — the WAC champion has not lost a conference game.
This time around, UH is 2-0 in conference play and, if it can somehow find a way to make it 3-0 at the expense of 19th-ranked Nevada, the Warriors can seriously talk about contending for a WAC title for the first time since Colt Brennan, Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen & Co. moved on.
That is a considerable "if" to be sure. But it’s one that the victory over Fresno State has allowed the Warriors and their fans to entertain.
Get past Nevada and UH will find itself on a collision course with two-time defending WAC champ and current No. 3 Boise State. Avoid the trapdoor games in between and UH sets up a meeting with the Broncos for what might be all the marbles three weeks hence.
There is a lot UH must do in the interim, of course. But it would be a remarkable turn of events for the Warriors, who were picked to finish fifth by the conference coaches and seventh by the WAC media, just three months ago.
Should UH put itself on track for a winner-take-all meeting with Boise State, the pleasure would be all Hawaii’s since the conference schedule is scripted to deliver the WAC — and its TV partner, ESPN — a Thanksgiving weekend championship pairing in Reno between Boise State and Nevada.
In the same way that schedules were set up to provide a UH-Boise State smackdown in 2007, this time it has been orchestrated to position Nevada and Boise State on the national stage.
So, imagine not only the satisfaction of the Warriors crashing the title game but, as an added bonus, having the potential to wreck it for renegade member Nevada a week after playing spoiler for that other deserter, Fresno State.
As much as it can be a parting shot at the defectors, it would also be a significant statement on UH’s behalf at a time when the Warriors really need one.
Whether UH remains in the WAC as the conference’s senior member, charges into independence or seeks a home in another league, making the most of this season can only help.
Saturday’s appearance at Aloha Stadium is gaining a big-game feel about it. Just how huge it turns out depends on what the Warriors do with the opportunity.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.