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Hawaii clears several hurdles, but one more obstacle looms

Hawaii — the same program whose lack of resources has given pundits legitimate cause to recommend disbandment or downgrading — is close to pulling off a remarkable feat this season.

“Close” and “mission accomplished” aren’t the same thing, but then again, Hawaii is close because it did accomplish one mission over the past weekend in Colorado Springs.

The Rainbow Warriors, always existing at a logistical disadvantage whenever they play road games outside the Pacific time zone, cover more time zones per season than almost any other in the FBS. Hawaii players and coaches can say — to an extent unmatched by every program except for (possibly) Idaho in the Sun Belt, and perhaps another program or two in another geographically expansive conference — that their commutes to gameday locations are exhausting. It’s not whining; it’s spatial, geographical reality. It’s great when opponents have to come to Honolulu for an adjusted-body clock game, but when Hawaii has to fly to a Mountain or Central time zone location, the Rainbow Warriors usually fight an uphill battle.

Saturday in the heart of the Mountain West — a conference, but also a region of the United States — Hawaii swatted away its limitations.

The Rainbow Warriors, under first-year head coach Nick Rolovich, won their first road game outside the Pacific time zone since 2011 (Louisiana Tech). Hawaii limited Air Force’s veteran quarterback, Nate Romine, to one completed pass in 10 attempts, containing coach Troy Calhoun’s diverse and formidable offense. By allowing just 20 points in regulation — and receiving the gift of a missed 32-yard field goal by Air Force at the end of regulation — UH was able to pull out a 34-27 double-overtime victory which has greatly reshaped the nature of the Warriors’ season.

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Just how much did Hawaii accomplish in this victory?

Conquering the Mountain time zone problem represents one very important achievement for UH. Another potent psychological boost for the program is that Air Force hung 58 points on Hawaii last year, leading to the dismissal of previous head coach Norm Chow. Rolovich, by engineering a dramatic reversal in terms of outcome and performance against Air Force — the defending Mountain West Mountain Division champion — has already altered the course of Hawaii football. That he defeated an Air Force team which had lost two in a row, and therefore had every incentive to fight harder in order to halt its losing skid, says even more about the Rainbow Warriors’ resilience. This victory is valuable on emotional and spiritual levels for UH.

Beyond the realm of the spirit, this win also gave Hawaii a genuine portal to a bowl game. With a 13th game on the docket, Hawaii must win seven games in order to have a good chance at a bowl. A loss and a subsequent 3-5 record would have dashed that dream, since league heavyweights Boise State and San Diego State remain on the schedule. At 4-4, however, Hawaii knows that with MWC doormat Fresno State and a frail Massachusetts team still on the slate, it can get to seven wins.

The game which will likely tell the tale: this weekend against New Mexico.

Hawaii should split the SDSU-Boise-Fresno-UMass quartet. The upcoming contest with UNM in Week 9 won’t receive national attention, but it’s the game the Rainbow Warriors can’t afford to lose if they want to feel safe about their postseason prospects.

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It is a victory and an achievement for Hawaii to merely be in the bowl hunt at this point in the season. It is also a triumph to wash away the taste of last year’s Air Force blowout and conquer the Mountain time zone ghosts which loomed over the program for five years. Yet, Hawaii cannot rest in the wake of a surmounted challenge. Fresh off the Air Force conquest, the Warriors must immediately reset the dial and thwart Los Lobos in Aloha Stadium.

If Hawaii can follow one cleared hurdle with another, the college football community will receive very convincing evidence that UH — a program in utter disrepair on many levels — can still produce a substantial level of quality on the field. That knowledge means a lot to every struggling program, but it might mean more to Hawaii than any other member of the FBS’s underclass.

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