Commentary

There'll be no element of surprise for Hawaii

Updated: December 31, 2007, 12:43 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Think back to a year ago, when no one gave Boise State a chance of defeating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Typical college football fans considered the Broncos a lock to lose, if they considered the Broncos at all.

[+] EnlargeColt Brennan
AP Photo/Hugh GentryColt Brennan's quick release will likely help offset the Georgia speed.
Flash forward 364 days, and the same skepticism does not apply to No. 10 Hawaii, Boise State's successor as Western Athletic Conference champion and BCS interloper. The Warriors, the last undefeated team in Division I-A, will stay that way only if they overcome No. 5 Georgia (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.

The respect for the Warriors doesn't reflect the teams they beat on their way to 12-0 -- in truth, Hawaii's schedule played as if assembled by Tempur-Pedic.

It doesn't reflect the way Hawaii dominated its opponents, because the Warriors didn't do that, either. They got three narrow victories on the road and overcame a 21-0 deficit to defeat Washington in the season finale.

Hawaii enjoys increased respect for two reasons. The prodigious output of an offense led by senior quarterback Colt Brennan, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, gives the Warriors a puncher's chance of upsetting the Bulldogs. The other reason is image; Hawaii basks in the gleam of Boise State's 43-42 overtime upset of Oklahoma. A year later, it has refused to dim.

When Brennan became a Heisman finalist, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said, "It validates last year." Validation, as in being taken seriously, is the be-all and end-all of the college football beauty pageant.

"Boise State was tremendous," Benson said. "To follow it up allows it to be more than a one-year deal. … To be put onto this stage is a demonstration that you don't have to go to Ohio State or Southern Cal to gain this type of [attention]."

That validation could dissipate if Hawaii stumbles against a bigger, faster Georgia team. But that's the beauty of Hawaii coach June Jones' offense. The way the Warriors spread the field can negate any athletic advantage the Bulldogs may have.

You get a [team] that is experienced and a bunch of seniors who have played together for a while, it doesn't matter. 'Any Given Day' has been true this year. It can happen. That's the beauty of college football.

-- Boise State coach Chris Petersen

"I think that if you were to line up in the I formation, their speed and power will overwhelm us," Jones said in his first news conference in New Orleans. "Because of what we do offensively and Colt's quick release, we have a chance."

No one better understands the task Jones will undertake Tuesday night than Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Playing on a big stage like the Sugar Bowl can become bigger than the task of X-ing and O-ing.

"The main thing is just them being focused in and not being too amped up and not making mistakes they wouldn't normally make," Petersen said. "They will feel the bigness of the game.

"The one thing that was good for us last year is that on the outside, there's so much more going on than on the inside," Petersen said, the "inside" being the cocoon in which coaches keep their teams as they prepare. "There are more people in the stands than you're used to. It still is just another game. You don't think about all the people watching on TV. The more you can make it just another game to your guys, the more you can keep it, 'Hey, we've done this for a long time. We've got good players, too. Let's go play.'"

The coaches who know Hawaii best -- the coaches in the WAC -- believe the Warriors can win the game.

San Jose State wide receivers coach Ken Margerum praised Brennan's quartet of wide receivers, led by Jason Rivers and Davone Bess. The Spartans blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead over the Warriors in wind, rain and mud at home and lost 42-35 in overtime.

[+] EnlargeJason Rivers
AP Photo/Cathleen AllisonThe Hawaii receivers are dangerous at any point on the field.
"The footing will be good, and there will be no wind, and Brennan's very accurate," said Margerum, a two-time All-American wideout at Stanford who played seven seasons in the NFL. "June Jones has got a really good system of spreading receivers. If Georgia plays man, [the receivers] are quick enough, fast enough to get open. If Georgia plays zone, [the receivers] are good at standing in the holes and pockets. Brennan puts the ball right on them."

Boise State's 39-27 loss at Hawaii on Thanksgiving weekend did more to make Hawaii palatable to poll voters across the nation than any of the Warriors' other victories. You might say it validated Hawaii.

"I really believe that Hawaii is going to score points," Petersen said. "It may take them a few minutes to get on track. That's the thing that's important -- the defense holding up and keeping them in the game. The speed of the game and getting through the butterflies. How fast they get settled in. That's the X factor."

Hawaii led the WAC with 28 turnovers created. Georgia suffered only 16 giveaways. There's little about Georgia that looks as if it will give away anything Tuesday night. The Warriors believe they can win, however, and in a season in which the only predictable thing has been the unpredictability of every Saturday, it's safe to say that crazier things have happened.

"The WAC is a microcosm of college football in general," Petersen said. "You get a [team] that is experienced and a bunch of seniors who have played together for a while, it doesn't matter. 'Any Given Day' has been true this year. It can happen. That's the beauty of college football."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com