Warriors now must prove they can handle being the favorites
WELL, now everyone is back from the Western Athletic Conference preseason football preview, and the verdict is in. Hawaii is the favorite, officially. This is the year UH has been picked to win.
And so now the question becomes, how will Hawaii handle that? Because everything is suddenly a lot tougher, or so they tell us, with that target on your back.
What Hawaii has done best, under June Jones, is rally. The crowning achievement -- the 1999 season -- came on the heels of an 0-18 slide. Each year, the greatest moments always seem to come during that last, magical, season-ending stretch run at home. Think back, through the last several years. Impossible comebacks have become routine.
June Jones lives for the thrill of proving people wrong.
How do you handle it when, instead, they refuse to bet against you?
UH has not done well as the preseason favorite, these last few years (or, really, ever, the few times it's happened). In 2003, UH stumbled out of the gate with a disastrous road trip, Jones called his guys "arrogant," Hawaii went on to lose to Tulsa on the road. UH finished fourth.
In 2004, UH was not picked to win the WAC, but with it being Timmy Chang's and Chad Owens' senior seasons, hype locally was at a fever pitch. Expectations were through the roof. But then UH started 0-2 (losing to Division I-AA Florida Atlantic) and had to come up with a miracle final run just to salvage its bowl eligibility, which it did. It was not a feel-good season. UH finished fifth.
Still, Hawaii rallied. Impossible comebacks. That's what UH does.
And impossible comebacks are wonderful things. But if you're going to win a conference title, you've got to be able to run from the front. Which brings us to Boise State, which faces that very challenge every year and never relents (and also has something to do with Hawaii not finishing first -- in 2002 and 2006 UH finished with 7-1 WAC records, with those lone losses coming to Guess Who).
It's mental toughness, a grind. It's a unique pressure, and how Hawaii handles it will probably have a lot to do with the cues the guys take from Colt Brennan. Brennan seems born for this stuff, shrugging off the hype and taking all this Heisman craziness in stride. He is the great star who shows you his humility -- his best leadership decision may be that he is smart enough to have the linemen run the team.
And Greg McMackin, maybe the right man at the right time, the freeing breath of fresh air. It was Jerry Glanville's presence that brought UH to the precipice, but ... well, Dan Hawkins built a dynasty in Boise, but it was only when Chris Petersen replaced him that the Broncos were invigorated enough to take the next step.
How will Hawaii handle this? We don't know yet. Maybe nobody does. Jones is a man who relishes his impossible comebacks, who loves to come from behind and prove everyone wrong. Now no one is doing him the favor of doubting him.
It's the oldest theme in sports to draw deep-down determination from an us-against-the-world theme.
How do you respond when the world thinks you should win?