Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Case for Hawaii

One win away. A victory over a 4-8 Washington team apparently is the only thing separating Hawai'i from a BCS bowl invitation. Destination: New Orleans.

I did say "apparently," didn't I?

The formula for Hawai'i seems simple. Win, stay in the Top 12 of the BCS standings, and earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl. But there are a couple of potential scenarios that are out of the Warriors' control. And if Hawai'i has to leave its fate to others, i.e. the BCS selection committee, then it has a lot to be afraid of.

First, let's discuss the two scenarios:

1. Oklahoma beats Missouri, Boston College beats Virginia Tech, LSU beats Tennessee, Arizona State beats Arizona. In this instance, there is a chance that Hawai'i might slide to No. 13, behind Arizona State, and Illinois might move up to No. 14, thus become eligible for an at-large selection.

2. Oklahoma beats Missouri, Boston College beats Virginia Tech, Tennessee beats LSU, Arizona State beats Arizona. In this case, it's possible for Hawai'i to drop to No. 13 after being leapfrogged by Tennessee, while Arizona State stays in the Top 14.

In either event, instead of being guaranteed a BCS berth, Hawai'i will have to vie for a spot with either Virginia Tech or Illinois. In Case No. 1, the Rose Bowl might take 3-loss Illinois should it loses Ohio State to the BCS title game, the Fiesta opts for ASU, the Orange Bowl takes Georgia and the Sugar Bowl goes for either 1-loss Kansas or 2-loss Missouri over an undefeated Hawai'i team.

In Case No. 2, Rose takes Kansas or Missouri, Orange takes Georgia, Fiesta goes for Arizona State, and the Sugar Bowl faces a decision: 3-loss Virginia Tech or Hawai'i?

I believe Case No. 1 is the worst case scenario for Hawai'i. If it comes down to Case No. 2, it should be a slam-dunk, Hawai'i should be the choice.

But what I'm saying here is if Hawai'i beats Washington, Hawai'i must be the choice. Whether it's 11th, 12th, 13th or 14th should be irrelevant. Whether the competition is Illinois or Virginia Tech, it should be irrelevant, too.

Aside from the BCS national championship game, the other bowls are really exhibitions featuring the best of the rest. And a Hawai'i team that goes 12-0 has to be considered among the nation's elite.

Forget about the strength of schedule. The non-conference schedules of Kansas and Ohio State are not appreciably better than Hawai'i's, yet both teams likely will have a place at the BCS table. The Warriors could've done better with their non-conference schedule -- and they did try, Jeff Anderson be damned -- but they cannot be blamed for the WAC slate.

While one can argue about Hawai'i's merits against a one-loss Kansas or a two-loss Missouri, there should be no debate about whether the Warriors are more worthy than a 3-loss Illinois or Virginia Tech.

There are a glut of teams that have lost three times this season, and when you have three losses, you do not stand out in any way. Illinois benefited from tying for second in a very weak Big Ten this season and its reward should not be a trip to Pasadena. Ditto for Virginia Tech should it fail to beat Boston College in the ACC championship game.

Last year, Boise State proved its doubters wrong by starring in perhaps the most memorable college football game this century. Lost in the dizzying array of trick plays that propelled the Broncos to victory in overtime was that they actually dominated much of the game against a physically superior foe.

Hawai'i should get a chance to at least duplicate that. With a record-setting Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, the Warriors have an explosive offense that's difficult to stop for any team. And New Orleans, a city famous for enchanting entertainment, should welcome the chance to host an extra Mardi Gras, instead of another run-of-the-mill big conference also-ran.

Besides, from a money perspective, the Sugar Bowl will make out handsomely anyway. It already has the BCS national title game and it should have no trouble selling out a contest involving either LSU or Tennessee. Getting an much-ballyhooed undercard involving Hawai'i is like having your king cake and eat it, too.

Or as they say in the Crescent City, it's just lagniappe.

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