Monday, December 20, 1999
usher in new era
A good showing againstSun Devils will have to cram
Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl
would go a long way in helping
the Rainbows reach the next level
By Paul Arnett
A new era for the Hawaii football program began the minute the Rainbows checked into the Hilton Hawaiian Village yesterday afternoon.
Gone now are the demons of the 19-game losing streak and that 24-game skid in league road meetings that dated back to an afternoon in El Paso, Texas, seven years ago.
It's time to forget about where the Rainbows were the last few years and look at where they are headed as they prepare for the second annual Oahu Bowl with Oregon State at Aloha Stadium.
If Hawaii has plans of taking the program to the next level in the coming decade, it's imperative for the Rainbows to give a good account of themselves on their home field, and that includes drawing a big crowd for the national television audience to see.
Approximately 6,000 tickets remain for the Christmas Day doubleheader, not exactly a ringing endorsement from the Rainbow faithful considering more than half the tickets were already spoken for even before Hawaii secured the at-large bid by winning seven regular-season games.
Aloha BowlWho: Arizona State vs. Wake Forest
When: Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
Oahu BowlWho: Hawaii vs. Oregon State
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Aloha Stadium
Gates: Parking lot opens at 7:30 a.m., stadium turnstiles at 9 a.m.
RealAudio: Live Internet broadcast
Tickets: $45 sidelines, $30 end zone.
The Western Athletic Conference is already viewed in a somewhat skeptical light due to the caliber of teams left in it. Yes, three squads qualified for bowls, but the league already is down one after Fresno State's 17-16 loss to Utah over the weekend in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Texas Christian has to play No. 17-ranked East Carolina in Wednesday's Mobile Bowl. It is arguably the Horned Frogs' toughest game. UH head coach June Jones conceded yesterday that the Beavers are likely the most difficult opponent the Rainbows will face this magical season.
It is certainly the best Pac-10 team Hawaii has played so far. The Rainbows already have lost to two teams in the lower half of the conference -- Washington State and Southern California -- by a combined score of 84-21.
And as wonderful a story as this is for Hawaii, Oregon State's path to the Oahu Bowl isn't too shabby, either. This is not only the first time since the 1965 Rose Bowl that the Beavers took part in the postseason, it is also the first winning campaign in 29 years.
"There's tremendous excitement for us at Oregon State to have this opportunity," first-year head coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's very similar to this story here in Hawaii. But I think our story is close to what they've done. I think it's a great matchup."
The test for Hawaii will be protecting quarterback Dan Robinson and stopping the three-wide, one-back look that Erickson will employ on Saturday.
Running back Ken Simonton is a work in progress. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-7, 175-pounder rushed for 1,329 yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Jonathan Smith stands only three inches taller than Simonton, but don't let his stature fool you.
Smith passed for 303 yards against Sun Bowl-bound Oregon and 469 vs. Holiday Bowl-bound Washington. The sophomore is well aware of why Oregon State is spending a week in the islands and said as much last Saturday.
"We're glad to be taking part in the postseason, but it is not enough just to be here," said Smith. "We want to win this football game and build toward an even better season next year."
That is a goal the Rainbows have as well. As pleased as they are to qualify for a bowl, they know it's not enough just to get here.
"We want to win," senior quarterback Dan Robinson said flatly. "This is my last game here and I want to go out on a winning note. We all do and we're focused on that goal.
"Coach Jones told us last spring that we had to unite as a team, that we had to buy into this being the greatest turnaround in NCAA history. There was a lot of dissension on this team, but he brought us together and got us to start believing in ourselves."
The next step will be convincing local and national recruits that this is the place to be, something former Hawaii head coach Bob Wagner's staff failed to do after the Rainbows won the Holiday Bowl in 1992. Prior to this season, that was the last time Hawaii finished with a winning record.
Much like that team, this year's group has several seniors who will be difficult to replace. On the defensive side, the Rainbows lose down linemen Tony Tuioti, linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Yaphet Warren, and cornerback Quincy LeJay. LeJay led the league in interceptions with seven, including three returned for touchdowns. Ulbrich led the league in tackles with 169.
Finding someone to step in for Robinson will be equally challenging for Jones. He also loses four outstanding offensive linemen -- Dustin Owens, Andy Phillips, Kaulana Noa and Adrian Klemm -- and the best receiver on the team in Dwight Carter.
"The next two recruiting classes will be key for us," Jones conceded. "We have several areas we need to fill, but I believe being in a bowl game should help us."
Winning the game might help even more, especially on the local front, where the Rainbows need to build their numbers through not only scholarships but with the right blend of walk-ons as well.
"As an underclassmen, we want to keep this winning spirit going," junior slotback Channon Harris said. "The seniors showed us how. It's up to us to keep that moving in a positive direction next year."
Sun Devils willBy Paul Arnett
have to cram
for Aloha Bowl
Arizona State may be the one team practicing harder than all the rest in preparation for this Saturday's Christmas Day doubleheader.
The Sun Devils finished their finals on Friday, forcing head coach Bruce Snyder to be creative with his practice schedule the past two weeks.
That hasn't been a problem for Aloha Bowl opponent Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons' semester ended early, allowing head coach Jim Caldwell something of a head-start. So much so, Wake Forest won't arrive here until today.
"For us, this has to be a very serious week of practice because we've got to play catch-up," Snyder said after his team touched down Saturday afternoon. "We just finished our exams on Friday and now have to get ready for a tough opponent in a week."
Six of the Sun Devils' 14 seniors received their diplomas on Friday. Their graduation gift is a free week's stay in Waikiki. They earned that honor by beating chief rival Arizona the final game of the regular season. Like Wake Forest, Arizona State is 6-5.
"When you look at where our bowl games are as a conference, if you can't be in the Rose Bowl, then this is the best place to come," Snyder said, then quipped, "Just think, if we would have won one more game, we'd be in El Paso, Texas, right now (for the Sun Bowl). This is a great reward for a good season."
The key for Arizona State this week will be the progression of backup quarterback John Leonard. Starter Ryan Kealy injured his knee in Arizona State's 42-27 win over Arizona and will not be able to play.
Leonard was 24 of 64 this season for 312 yards and one touchdown. He also threw four interceptions. Running back J.R. Redmond promised to do his part to try to establish the rush to make the passing game that much more effective off play-action.
"We're here to have some fun, but we're also here to win a football game," Redmond said Saturday. "This is a great opportunity to come over here and spend Christmas in Hawaii.
"We know we're going to have to be able to run the ball to be effective on offense. Losing Ryan hurts, but we have to help get John prepared to have the best game he can have this Saturday."
This is an intriguing matchup. Arizona State has played only four teams from the ACC and this is the second Pac-10 opponent for Wake Forest. The Deacons beat the Ducks of Oregon in the 1995 Independence Bowl.
"We didn't know a whole lot about Arizona State before watching the film," Caldwell said during a recent teleconference call. "But what we saw on film is a very talented football team.
"This is a very fast, athletic football team. They are big and they are physical. This is a great opportunity for our team to close out the season with a bowl win, but we're going to have to play well for that to happen."