2001 NCAA Football Preview
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Hawaii Rainbows (2000: 3-9)

The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.

 

Coach and program

The Hawaii program is June Jones' baby. It's the only job for which he said he would ever leave a promising NFL coaching career. He made good on that promise two years ago and endeared himself to the Island by winning nine games and taking a Warriors team that hadn't won a game the year before to its first WAC title since 1992. He won several coach-of-the-year awards and the Hawaii program was suddenly on the national scene.

The Warriors struggled last season, dropping from nine wins in 1999 to only three. But the honeymoon in Honolulu is far from over for Jones' staff. He's there as long as he wants to be. This is his program.

And, once again, Hawaii could be a national, feel-good story. Not because of what will be an improved team, but because of the remarkable recovery Jones has made after a Feb. 22 car accident left him in critical condition. Jones was driving on H-1, Hawaii's main highway, toward the Honolulu airport when he lost control of his car and hit a pole.

"I honestly don't remember anything that happened," Jones said. "I was driving to the airport and then the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital."

From all indications, Jones will be back. He was released from the hospital within a month of the accident and was looking forward to 2001 not long after.

Jones should be looking forward to the year with anticipation. The Rainbows have nine starters back from an offense that was led by freshman quarterback Timmy Chang. One of the most highly recruited players ever to sign with the Warriors, Chang started nine games and set eight school passing records. He threw for more than 3,000 yards in only 10 games. And, he has his four leading receivers returning.

In an attempt to make the team more than just a Honolulu experience, Hawaii opens this season against Montana on Maui.

"We are Hawaii's NFL franchise," Jones said. "We don't have any pro sports here. We want to be the pro team -- so to speak -- out here. Doing that means not just being Honolulu's team."

Offense

In only one season, Chang, the WAC Freshman of the Year, became the Warriors' eighth all-time leading passer. If he comes close to the 3,041 yards he threw for in 2000, Chang will be the all-time leader.

In Jones' run-and-shoot offense, the quarterback is going to get numbers. Being accurate and able to make plays outside the pocket is more important than the statistics. Chang has the numbers. He needs to improve on making plays with his feet and understanding when to run instead of forcing passes.

Of the eight players Hawaii has at running back, only junior Thero Mitchell (5-10, 207) had a carry last season. Mitchell will get carries, but the job belongs to junior college transfer Josh Galeai (6-2, 240).

The Warriors return all four starting receivers. The four combined for almost 70 percent of the team's receptions and 22 of Hawaii's 25 receiving touchdowns.

The best of the four is junior Ashley Lelie (6-3, 178). The tall, speedy wideout plays on the outside and is one of the WAC's best playmakers. His 11 touchdowns last year were a school record. He finished with 1,110 yards -- becoming only the third Hawaii receiver to have 1,000 yards in a season --on 74 catches and was a second-team All-WAC selection.

Defense and special teams

Jones didn't think he was going to have to worry much about his defensive line a year ago. Things changed quickly. The Warriors got off to a slow start and the defensive line went right along with the rest of the team. There wasn't much of a pass rush and the run defense wasn't exactly the best, finishing 105th in the nation after giving up almost 211 yards per game.

Two starters and one experienced backup return along with a junior college prospect that has Jones thinking that the defensive line may be the most improved part of the defense.

Junior Lui Fuga (6-2, 305) is a big tackle who can make plays when he's healthy. He played 11 games a year ago, starting eight at tackle. Alongside Fuga, is junior college transfer Isaak Sopoaga (6-4, 290), one of the most high-profile recruits the program has ever signed. Jones said Sopoaga turned down offers from Texas A&M and every Pac-10 team.

Junior middle linebacker Chris Brown (6-1, 256) returns but needs help on the outside to cover receivers. Of the weak side, junior Pisa Tinoisamoa (6-1, 255) played in all 12 games and started five at middle linebacker. He led the team with 10 tackles for loss and tied with Brown for the sack lead.

Get ready for this secondary to get a workout. Seniors Nate Jackson (5-10, 168) and Jacob Espiau (5-10, 190) are back at safety. However, the rest of the secondary is stocked with inexperience and opportunities for teams to do some testing.

One of Hawaii's biggest losses came in its return game. Jamal Garland didn't have as good a 2000 as he did in 1999 when he was first-team All-WAC, but he still averaged almost 23 yards per kick return. Sophomore Clifton Herbert (5-7, 163) is the only returning player who returned a punt.

Bottom line

If Hawaii's defense has rounded into shape and the offense performs to the level Jones expects by Oct. 20, the Warriors could be looking good. That day, Hawaii plays at Tulsa and then doesn't go back to the mainland the rest of the year. The final six games are at Aloha Stadium, including the last three WAC games, two of which are against league favorites Fresno State and San Jose State.

And, unlike most seasons, Hawaii isn't providing a cushy road trip for a giant late in the season. The last three games are non-conference games, but all three are winnable.

 

   
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