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With 3 games left, don’t give up on these ‘Bows just yet

November 7, 2017 - 12:05am

Is it too late for one more turning point that could save the University of Hawaii football team’s season?

The long downward trend in the standings continued Saturday, with UH’s 31-23 loss at UNLV, putting the Rainbow Warriors at 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the Mountain West.

This is the seventh November in a row where we’re having basically the same discussion, addressing the question of whether a team with a losing record can rally with a sprint to the finish.

It’s something worth pondering because winning the last three regular-season games (as unlikely as that seems right now) probably means a bowl game appearance. Also, closing out strong provides hope for next season and the program’s long-term future.

But that’s something you have to be careful with. It’s now apparent that this year — like 17 years ago when another new head coach who breathed life into the UH program headed into his second campaign — the offseason optimism coming from many corners was not justified.

Despite that huge turnaround in 1999, June Jones’ first season, the Warriors still had a lot of growing to do as a football program and it showed in 2000 when they went 3-9, following the 9-4 of ‘99. And then came the double-reverse to 9-3 in 2001, and UH was on a nearly uninterrupted upward trend for the next six seasons.

Back to the question of when to stop investing (in tickets, in pay-per-view, emotion, whatever) in a team. Of course, the hard-core fans will tell you to never give up on your guys. But sometimes casual fans have real decisions to make, like whether to attend their cousin’s poorly scheduled wedding or go to the game.

With that in mind, I’d ask how close a cousin we’re talking about. And if the answer is not-very, I’d say go to the game.

My reasoning is that when Hawaii and Fresno State meet up you can never really know what to expect, and it’s usually exciting. These programs have a history, and the Bulldogs are probably the closest thing the Warriors have to an actual rival these days.

Granted, last year’s game in Fresno wasn’t quite thrill-a-minute, but the conclusion of UH’s 14-13 win certainly was — and it provided that final turning point Hawaii needed for its stretch run. Viane Moala’s block of what would have been a game-deciding field goal gave Hawaii its first win in the series after five losses in a row.

It also broke a three-game losing streak that had the Warriors sitting ugly at 4-7 — and the two most-recent of those defeats were of the train-wreck variety, 55-0 at San Diego State and 52-16 against Boise State.

After the win at Fresno State, UH snuck into the Hawaii Bowl by edging UMass 46-40, and then won the postseason game against Middle Tennessee State 52-35.

Yes, things have changed quite a bit in a year.

Fresno State was 1-11 in 2016, but new coach Jeff Tedford — a former Bulldogs quarterback and two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year at Cal — has worked a Jonesian miracle in the valley. Fresno State is 6-3 and atop the West Division that San Diego State was supposed to win, and in which UH trails badly.

Fresno has won five of its past six, following losses to Alabama and Washington. That nonconference scheduling is reminiscent of the old Pat Hill mantra of, “Anyone, anywhere,” isn’t it? Except that now, instead of wearing out the Bulldogs before the start of conference competition it seems to have energized them — even though they lost to the Tide and the Huskies by a combined 89-26.

They also fell to UNLV for their first conference loss two weeks ago , but bounced back Saturday against BYU. Fresno State opened as 9-point favorites for this Saturday’s game at Aloha Stadium.

This Hawaii team has a lot of problems, including an injury-riddled offensive line that lost its coach midseason and the season-ending injury to nation-leading receiver John Ursua that has affected the entire offense. The offense has difficulty staying on the field and the defense getting off of it on third down.

UH is suffering from the lack of depth that programs in the second year after a coaching change often encounter.

If there was anything to be encouraged by in the loss at UNLV, it’s that the Rainbow Warriors showed signs of life all the way to the end.

They haven’t given up, so you shouldn’t either, especially if you’ve already bought the tickets … that is, unless you and that cousin who set his wedding date before the football schedule came out are super tight.

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