Tuesday | July 25, 2017
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Lewis: Hawaii football getting good preseason pub

As you thumb through the preseason football magazines on the newsstand this month, there will be no need to start at the bottom of the conference projections when searching for the University of Hawaii.

After four years of pretty much consigning UH to last in their division or, indeed, the whole 12-team Mountain West Conference, the early magazines are unanimous that things are looking up for the Rainbow Warriors.

Three of the first magazines to hit the newsstands — Street & Smith, Lindy’s and Athlon — all have the ‘Bows pegged second in the six-team West Division to two-time defending league champion San Diego State.

Not since 2011, UH’s last season in a watered down, Boise-less Western Athletic Conference, have the ‘Bows been picked as high.

UH finished a distant second to the Aztecs in 2016, but were one of the biggest surprises in the MWC in doing so. This time around, second place comes with some expectations.

That means, Street & Smith says, “a winning record is well within reach and a return to a bowl game is expected as (head coach Nick) Rolovich continues his quest of bringing stability and success to the program.”

Several magazines, including Athlon, which projects a 7-5 regular season (5-3 conference) record, have UH projected for a Hawaii Bowl return, with Lindy’s observing, “Staying home for Christmas means a Hawaii Bowl return. That’s good, right?”

The optimism largely springs from last year’s 7-7 finish (UH’s first non-losing season since 2010), some key returnees and a friendlier schedule.

While quarterback Dru Brown, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, safety Trayvon Henderson and tackle Dejon Allen are back, Boise State is off the schedule and there are no nonconference pay-for-pummeling games at Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin.

Lindy’s notes, “Nick Rolovich went 7-7 in his first season as head coach at Hawaii and, given the hard time the program had gone through, he could have been Coach of the Year, too.

“But the Rainbow Warriors should remain competitive with eight starters returning on offense and a division that, frankly, has a lot of separation from the top teams to the rest as new coaches are everywhere.”

Fresno State, Nevada and San Jose State — all of them UH victims last season — are rebuilding under new head coaches.

Perhaps the real question for the Rainbow Warriors is just how much of a challenge they can mount to San Diego State’s dominance in the West Division.

UH has yet to beat the Aztecs in five seasons of MWC membership.

The Aztecs have gone 13-2 inside the division over the past three seasons, largely propelled by running back Donnel Pumphrey, the Football Bowl Subdivision’s career rushing leader.

This season, even with Pumphrey’s departure for the NFL, Lindy’s predicts “San Diego State likely to cruise to another West title …” behind his replacement, Rashaad Penny, and its stingy defense.

Meanwhile, after years of writing off UH as cellar dweller in the conference, Street & Smith’s asks, “Now, what do the Rainbow Warriors do for an encore?”

This season, for the first time in a long time, an encore is something to look forward to.


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