9.4 - Florida Atlantic
>> Returning starters: 21
>> Last year: 11-3
: Coach Howard Schnellenberger led Miami to a national title in 1983. ... Former UTEP head coach Gary Nord now mentors QBs for FAU. ... The Owls football team has existed since 2000. ... QB Jared Allen has 37 career TD passes, including 24 last year. ... LB Chris Laskowski made 93 tackles, many with a broken hand, in 2003.
BIG PICTURE: A win doesn't do much for UH's national rep and a loss kills it. Openers against decent but unheralded teams become more dangerous each season, as fewer Warriors remain from 2000, when Hawaii lost 45-20 to Portland State. It set the stage for June Jones' only losing season and UH has yet to recover at the box office.
QUICK TAKE: Road kill. FAU is on the rise, and under Schnellenberger's leadership should become a powerful force in the Sun Belt. But the Owls aren't ready for one of the biggest homefield advantages in college football (Hawaii is 21-5 in the islands since 2001), not to mention the onslaught of UH's run-and-shoot offense.
9.18 at Rice
>> Returning starters: 16
>> Last year: 5-7 (5-3 WAC)
: Coach Ken Hatfield's 164 career wins place him fifth among active Division I-A coaches. ... The Owls won four of their last five games in 2003. ... Last season's top two tacklers (DB Terry Holley and DE John Syptak), rusher (RB Thomas Lott), passer (QB Greg Henderson) and pass-catcher (WR Marcus Battle) are all back this year.
BIG PICTURE: This game won't draw much attention nationally, but since 2000 it has developed into an interesting matchup of opposite styles and two of the better coaches in college football. This is the fifth time QB Tim Chang takes on Rice's defense, with two wins and two losses. He was injured during the 2001 game and lost for the season.
QUICK TAKE: Rice beat Hawaii the first three times the schools played, from 1999 to 2001, as UH couldn't figure out how to stop the Owls' ground-pounding option. The Warriors solved that puzzle the past two seasons, but an inexperienced defensive front could do in UH this time. And Rice has plenty of savvy veterans on both offense and defense.
10.2 - Tulsa
>> Returning starters: 18
>> Last year: 8-5 (6-2 WAC)
: WAC Coach of the Year Steve Kragthorpe was a finalist for several national honors. ... QB James Kilian may be the league's best combo passer/runner. ... LB Nick Bunting, WAC Freshman of the Year in 2003, leads the defense. ... Tulsa returns five of six starting OL, but first-team all-conference LT Austin Chadwick is done.
BIG PICTURE: Revenge time for UH, as the Warriors were stunned at Tulsa last season. If Tulsa can win at Aloha Stadium in its WAC opener, it might be a legitimate contender for the WAC crown -- Tulsa gets Boise State at home and doesn't play Fresno State. UH might not play Tulsa again for a while, since the Hurricane are leaving for Conference USA.
QUICK TAKE: Tulsa's defensive line has only one returning starter, which could be troublesome against UH's experienced and deep offensive front. Kragthorpe had an excellent defensive game plan in last year's 27-16 victory against the Warriors, but it was aided by the absence of two starting receivers (Chad Owens and Jeremiah Cockheran) from the Warriors lineup.
10.9 - Nevada
>> Returning starters: 14
>> Last year: 6-6 (4-4 WAC)
: "New" coach Chris Ault is starting his third go-round as Nevada's head man. He retained former Hawaii DB Kim McCloud as receivers coach. ... RB Chance Kretschmer underwent preseason knee surgery, but is one of the nation's toughest runners when healthy. ... S Keone Kauo is a co-captain and led the Pack with 62 solo tackles last year.
BIG PICTURE: Nevada is battling to regain respect, and not just on the field. Going into fall camp, nine Wolf Pack players had been arrested on felony charges in the past 1 1/2 years. When it plays at UH, Nevada will be coming off two other tough road games, including its annual battle against Nevada-Las Vegas for the "Fremont Cannon."
QUICK TAKE: Kretschmer's health could have a lot to do with the result of this game. The Pack have won both times against UH when their big rodeo boy wasn't tending to a wounded knee. Then again, both of those encounters were in Reno, while this game is at Aloha Stadium, where the Warriors bombed the Wolf Pack 59-34 in 2002.
10.16 at UTEP
>> Returning starters: 19
>> Last year: 2-11 (1-7 WAC)
: New coach Mike Price has revived hope in El Paso with his enthusiasm and experience. ... RB Howard Jackson is one of the league's most underrated players. He was first in the WAC and fourth nationwide with 165.1 all-purpose yards per game last fall. ... LB Robert Rodriguez led the league with 135 tackles in 2003, and is an outstanding leader.
BIG PICTURE: Some believe UTEP can be what Tulsa was last year -- the WAC's surprise team. Price is the reason. He led Washington State to Pac-10 prominence and a Rose Bowl victory in 2002. Then a fateful encounter with an exotic dancer got him fired by Alabama before he coached a single game for the Crimson Tide.
QUICK TAKE: Two years ago, Hawaii broke a three-game losing streak at the Sun Bowl. But Warriors QB Tim Chang has had problems in his two games at El Paso, and backup Shawn Withy-Allen bailed him out in 2002. This could be a shootout, as Price likes to throw the ball almost as much as UH coach June Jones does.
10.23 - San Jose State
>> Returning starters: 9
>> Last year: 3-8 (2-6 WAC)
: Coach Fitz Hill is 12-24 in three seasons and is one of only two Division I-A head coaches with a doctoral degree. ... New DC Keith Burns is the former Tulsa head coach. ... RB Lance Martin led with 520 rushing yards in 2003. ... S Josh Powell missed most of last season, but he is big, fast and confident.
BIG PICTURE: San Jose State hasn't had a winning season since 2000, and the program is in danger of not meeting a new NCAA Division I-A requirement for minimum average attendance (15,000 per home game). Rumors persist about the Spartans either moving down to a lower division or eliminating football altogether.
QUICK TAKE: Suspect officiating at the end contributed to a 13-10 Hawaii win at San Jose State last year in which the Spartans finished the game with the ball inches from the Hawaii goal line. The officiating crew was reprimanded and suspended. San Jose State will be hungry for revenge, but its personnel might not be up to the task.
10.29 at Boise State
>> Returning starters: 11
>> Last year: 13-1 (8-0 WAC)
: Coach Dan Hawkins is 33-6 at Boise State, and has led it to the past two WAC championships. ... T.J. Acree caught 51 passes for 758 yards and a team-high 7 TDs in 2003. ... LB Andy Avalos made 113 tackles and is the WAC preseason Defensive Player of the Year. ... S Chris Carr is also a top special teams performer.
BIG PICTURE: This could be as high-profile as a WAC game can get for several reasons. It figures to be a key early game in the conference race, it is on a Friday night on ESPN, and it might be the game where Hawaii quarterback Tim Chang breaks the career all-time passing yardage record. All that and a blue football field.
QUICK TAKE: It doesn't seem to matter who the Broncos put on the field. Over the past three seasons, they have UH's number. That theory will be put to the test in this game, since Boise State lost nearly all of its offensive star power. This might be a matchup of the WAC's most explosive offense and its best defense.
11.6 - Louisiana Tech
>> Returning starters: 16
>> Last year: 5-7 (3-5 WAC)
: LaTech is coached by Jack Bicknell, who led the team to a WAC championship in 2001. ... RB Ryan Moats is the league's most explosive runner. He rumbled for 1,300 yards and 10 TDs on 199 carries in 2003. ... New DC Tim Rose hopes a 3-4 alignment will help the Bulldogs stop somebody, anybody.
BIG PICTURE: This matchup illustrates the geographic insanity of the WAC. Ruston, La., and Honolulu are 4,000 miles and five time zones apart. The Sun Belt or Conference USA would be a good fit for LaTech, but the Bulldogs left the former for the WAC, and the latter isn't shopping after grabbing four other WAC schools.
QUICK TAKE: Hawaii needed a moat to stop Moats last year. He tore the UH defense apart in Ruston with 267 yards, but the Warriors still prevailed 44-41 as Bicknell had kicker Josh Scobee try a 53-yard field goal instead of giving it to Moats on fourth and 2 and time running out. "Moats might have scored," Hawaii coach June Jones said.
11.12 at Fresno State
>> Returning starters: 19
>> Last year: 9-5 (6-2 WAC)
: Fresno State is coached by Pat Hill, who has led the Bulldogs to a 55-35 record. ... QB Paul Pinegar is poised for a breakout season after battling through a painful chest injury last year. ... S James Sanders was All-WAC as a sophomore in 2003 with a team-high 93 tackles. He also blocked two kicks.
BIG PICTURE: UH has won the last three meetings with Fresno State, but it is still an attractive enough rivalry for ESPN. If the Bulldogs survive their self-induced suicide nonconference road march of Washington and Kansas State and FSU and UH both manage to beat Boise State, this game could mean a Top 25 ranking for the winner.
QUICK TAKE: Fresno State looks to be the WAC's most balanced team going into the season and its offensive line is loaded with talent. If UH's defensive line doesn't avoid injuries, the Bulldogs might be able to push around Warrior backups at their leisure. FSU also has capable running backs who could make it a long night for UH.
11.20 - Idaho
>> Returning starters: 7
>> Last year: 3-9 (3-4 Sun Belt)
: Idaho's new coach is Nick Holt, a former USC assistant. ... QB Michael Harrington, brother of Joey, won the starting job last spring after losing it midway through the 2003 season. ... DE Mike Anderson led the Vandals with 97 tackles last fall while playing linebacker. He was involved in 23 stops against New Mexico State.
BIG PICTURE: Don't get too excited, but these guys join the WAC next fall. The Vandals have to do some slick footwork to meet the NCAA's new attendance requirement of 15,000 per football home game. While they're in, Boise State can schedule an additional nonconference game each year since its rival is now in the league.
QUICK TAKE: Let's see, a pretty good WAC team against a not very good Sun Belt outfit. The Vandals return plenty of players, but lost their top passer and runner. Holt, who coached linebackers for the 2003 co-national champion Trojans, renovated the Idaho defense but that alone won't be enough to win at Aloha Stadium.
11.27 - Northwestern
>> Returning starters: 19
>> Last year: 6-7 (4-4 Big Ten)
: Northwestern is coached by Randy Walker, who is one of only two coaches to take the Wildcats to more than one bowl game. ... Junior QB Brett Basanez had a great freshman season in 2002, but slumped in 2003. ... LB Tim McGarigle led Northwestern with 140 tackles last fall, good enough for fifth in the Big Ten.
BIG PICTURE: The Wildcats managed to get into a bowl game last year with six losses, and Bowling Green dealt them another defeat in the Motor City Bowl. That's the difference a conference can make. Seventh place in the Big Ten is good enough for a bowl, while the WAC has to scramble to find games for its top four teams.
QUICK TAKE: A revenge game? Against the Mildcats? You betcha. In 1998, they blasted Hawaii 47-21 at Aloha Stadium in the schools' only previous meeting. This might not be as sweet a trip for the boys from Evanston, but both of their lines return intact and that could pose problems for UH. Pick the healthier team to win.
12.4 - Michigan State
>> Returning starters: 16
>> Last year: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
: Head coach is John L. Smith, going into his second season at the MSU helm. ... Defensive coordinator Chris Smeland held that post for UH in 1992 when the Rainbows won the WAC. ... WR Agim Shabaj caught 57 passes for 693 yards and 5 TDs last fall. ... DE Clifford Dukes' 57 tackles in 2003 included 7 sacks.
BIG PICTURE: This will likely be a national TV game (ESPN), and if the Warriors win it could impact recruiting the way last year's victory against Alabama did. When you think about it, what high school football star can resist a wide-open offense, cool unis, and a victory over a storied program -- not to mention bikinis in December?
QUICK TAKE: The Spartans will be the third team in a row ending its 2004 regular season here. What does that mean? Heck, we don't know. ... Guys playing their final game can be very inspired, or, if they've already got a bowl game lined up and they're in paradise they can stink it up (reference BYU, 2001).