By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are heading to the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve…with a 6-7 record. Now, as Hawaii fans, we recognize that a Rainbow Warrior bowl appearance is always worth celebrating. It’s good for the program (morale, recruiting, extra practices), UH Athletics, the fan base, etc. This season, the bowl invite is especially welcome, if only as a salve for recent player defections and fan discontent.
Still, the purist in us must be thinking, “Bowl game? For 6-7? Seriously?”
This is college football in 2021.
This season, there are 42 postseason bowl games. Way back in 1974, when Hawaii became a Division I program, there were only 11. If you used the current criteria of having a .500 or better win-loss record to be bowl eligible, 13 Rainbow Warrior teams since 1974 would have played in the postseason but did not. Here are five UH teams that, given today’s bowl game setup, definitely should have gone “bowling”:
Honorable Mention: 1973 TEAM (9-2): First, a nod to Dave Holmes’ final season as Hawaii head coach. The 1973 team won its first eight games of the season, including a stunning 10-7 upset at Washington in the season opener. Said Holmes after the game,”We beat a PAC-8 football team. Now maybe some of those people who think we’re some sort of pushovers will start giving us a little more respect.”
1980 TEAM (8-3): Hawaii coaching legend Dick Tomey, in his fourth season at the helm of the UH program, led the Rainbow Warriors to their best record since that ’73 campaign. After a 2-2 start, Hawaii went 6-1 to finish the season, including a thrilling 16-13 win over West Virginia and acclaimed QB Oliver Luck (the father of Andrew Luck).
1981 TEAM (9-2): It’s really a shame this team never made it to a bowl game. This was Tomey’s best team. The roster was loaded with performers such as Niko Noga, Gary Allen, David Toloumu, Jesse Sapolu, Anthony Edgar, Dana McLemore and Mark Kafentzis. The Rainbow Warriors started the season 7-0 and achieved the program’s first-ever national ranking (No. 18 in the AP Poll) before losing a close game to BYU.
1988 TEAM (8-3): In Bob Wagner’s second season as head coach, Hawaii opened their schedule with an epic victory over No. 9 Iowa and closed it with a 41-17 win over Oregon. They also,pulled off big road wins against Utah and San Diego State.
1990 TEAM (7-5): The previous season, Hawaii made its first postseason bowl appearance, falling to Michigan State in the Aloha Bowl. While the 1990 team wasn’t as successful, they did cap the season with a resounding 59-28 blowout over No. 4 BYU and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. That by itself is bowl-worthy.
2001 TEAM (9-3): This was the team that led to the berth of the Hawaii Bowl. Imagine the outrage among UH fans after the the June Jones-led Warriors won eight of their final nine games (finishing with a 72-45 romp over No. 9 BYU) and still weren’t invited to the postseason. The NCAA rectified that injustice in May of 2002, when it certified the Hawaii Bowl with the understanding that UH would host the game as long as the team was bowl eligible. Noted Jones to Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Dave Reardon: “It doesn’t matter who we play, we won’t have the same kind of situation like [last season].”