Ferd Lewis: Warriors bring a rare title game to Aloha Stadium
A couple of hours earlier and 377 miles away in Provo, Utah, bowl representatives were at Brigham Young University to ritually invite the Cougars to appear in the Dec. 24 SoFi Hawaii Bowl.
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LAS VEGAS >> A couple of hours earlier and 377 miles away in Provo, Utah, bowl representatives were at Brigham Young University to ritually invite the Cougars to appear in the Dec. 24 SoFi Hawaii Bowl.
But Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium there was no ceremony, nobody to grandly announce that the University of Hawaii was bowl eligible or proclaim precisely where the Rainbow Warriors (7-4, 4-3 Mountain West Conference) were bowl bound after defeating Nevada-Las Vegas, 21-7.
“That’s OK,” UH head coach Nick Rolovich said surveying a scene where his players were celebrating amid several thousand green-clad Hawaii faithful. “We would shake their hands if (bowl representatives) were here, but we’re going to get ready for San Diego State (8-2, 5-2).”
“There is,” Rolovich said, slowly savoring the words as he deliberately said them, “championship football to be played in November.”
Yes, for the first time in UH’s seven years of Mountain West Conference membership, there is a championship to be played for as Thanksgiving approaches.
To the victor in this Saturday’s game with the 25th-ranked Aztecs (Coaches Poll) goes the West Division title and a berth in the Dec. 7 overall championship game at the home of the highest-ranked team.
Not since 2010, in its last years in the Western Athletic Conference, has UH played for a conference crown in football. Not since Nov. 23, 2007, their Sugar Bowl season, what will be exactly 12 years to the day, have the Warriors brought a title showdown of any stripe home to be decided in Aloha Stadium.
After an eight-season slog — seven of them without a winning record covering three head coaching tenures — the Warriors’ final conference game of the regular season will have title implications.
Every year since 2013, when the MWC went to a 12-team, two-division format, either San Diego State or Fresno State have claimed the West Division crown and UH has been on the outside looking in. More than once, UH has looked up from the bottom of the division standings.
Now, the Warriors feel it is finally their turn and relish the opportunity. “We’ll push all the bowl talk to the side for right now and get ready for San Diego State,” Rolovich said. “The main thing is we’ll be going to a bowl, somewhere, but right now there is championship football.”
The goal once the 2019 conference schedule was announced eight months ago was to make the San Diego State game, the penultimate regular-season contest of the schedule and final MWC game, mean something.
That hope seemed to have been dashed in thumpings by Boise State and Air Force in October and confirmed by the loss to Fresno State two weeks ago.
But UH’s two subsequent victories and recent losses suffered by Fresno State (to Utah State and San Diego State) and San Diego State (to Nevada) have managed to keep open the path for the Rainbow Warriors.
What the Warriors do with the opportunity might well decide where they end up in the musical chairs bowl process. BYU (6-4), an independent with few options, got the quick placement with its bowl eligibility by securing a win over Idaho State on Saturday.
UH will likely eventually be paired with the Cougars on Christmas Eve, but with conference championship scenarios still to unfold, could still put itself in a position for something more.
There is, after all, championship football to be played in November.