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NCAA Football Preview - Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

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Updated: 8/20 12:50 pm

Hawaii struggled to produce an offense that could compete, particularly in the early going when it was being outscored by a combined 94-36 against the likes of USC, Oregon State and Nevada. However, in the first Mountain West Conference home game in late September the squad actually threw a scare into nationally-ranked Fresno State, before dropping a 42-37 final.

The defeats kept rolling in for the once-mighty offensive juggernaut, the team showing an 0-9 mark before going up against San Diego State. The Warriors managed to take that Nov. 16 meeting into overtime, but eventually settled for a 28-21 loss. It was the same story a week later, this time Hawaii going down to Wyoming on the mainland in overtime, 59-56.

At that point the program had dropped all 11 regular-season outings and had only one more game to play versus Army. It was another high-scoring affair, but this time around the Rainbow Warriors came out on the right side of the 49-42 final.

Unfortunately, the thrill of victory was tempered with the knowledge that earlier that day running back Willis Wilson passed away. While Wilson had not appeared in any games in 2013, the news was still difficult to take.

"It's been rough, it's been a hard day," coach Chow said at the time. "It's really not about me or about the coaches. It's about these young people. To see the happiness on their faces."

Considering how the season played out, there were very few smiles on the Hawaii sidelines as the team ranked 113th nationally in scoring defense (38.8 ppg) and 116th in pass defense (281.1 ypg). Overall, the squad surrendered 494.7 ypg, which was 10th in the Mountain West and 115th in the country.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: The Rainbow Warriors are close to starting from scratch when it comes to this year's quarterback. Gone are the campaigns when 400-yard passing attacks and six touchdowns per contest were the norm, now coach Chow and his assistants have to find a replacement for Sean Schroeder, a two-year starter who was decent at best.

Schroeder managed to complete 62.0 percent of his attempts for 28 touchdowns and 269.1 ypg a year ago, but he did that with the help of Chris Gant (59 catches, 973 yards, nine TDs) who is also gone from the roster. While Taylor Graham (a transfer from Ohio State) may have more overall game experience as a college quarterback, early indications have Ikaika Woolsey being penciled in as the initial starter for the Warriors.

Woolsey started two games for the team a season ago and appeared in 11 contests overall, although it is difficult to get excited about a signal caller who completed a feeble 37.9 percent of his attempts and was picked off three times without the benefit of a single touchdown through the air. Graham, who tossed two TDs but also five picks in 100 attempts in 2013, will be afforded every opportunity to earn the starting spot, but this is a battle that could rage all season long.

Following spring practice, senior signal caller Jeremy Higgins was also in the mix for the starting job, clouding an already murky depth chart, but Woolsey believes the competition will benefit the team in the long run.

"Competition breeds excellence and that's what I enjoy and all the boys know that. We're all battling for one position but we do what we can to help each other out."

Receivers Scott Harding and Keith Kirkwood will do their best to make the transition at quarterback as seamless as possible, but you can be sure there will still be several bumps in the road. Harding returns after delivering 56 receptions for 631 yards and a score, and Kirkwood used his five starts to turn 12 catches into 250 yards and four TDs.

Rarely a strong point for the Rainbow Warriors, the running attack seems to be solid with both Joey Iosefa and Steven Lakalaka back for 2014. Iosefa appeared in just five games yet still finished with a team-best 590 yards and five TDs on the ground, while Lakalaka accounted for 468 yards and four scores. Still, Hawaii ranked 12th in the conference and 113th nationally with only 114.6 ypg on the ground.

DEFENSE: Stretched beyond the limits a year ago, the defense for the Rainbow Warriors is set to take a major hit in 2014 since the top four tacklers from a year ago have departed. Brenden Daley was first in total tackles (90) and forced fumbles (three) and second in tackles for loss (13.0), behind only Art Laurel (77 stops) who made 14.5 TFL.

Defensive lineman Beau Yap will do his best to fill some of the void, but there is only so much more he can do after pacing the unit in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (six). Beau posted 12 of his 37 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage, so already he has come close to hitting his ceiling.

The lone returning starter at linebacker is Jerrol Garcia-Williams, who is also the top returning tackler after putting up 67 stops in his 12 appearances. Yap and Garcia-Williams will need a lot of help attacking the line of scrimmage again, particularly since the team ranked 104th in the country in run defense a year ago when Daley and Laurel were clogging up the trenches.

Back in the secondary, Marrell Jackson, Dee Maggitt, and Ne'Quan Phillips bring back a level of experience that the Warriors desperately need if they hope to keep from being blown out on a regular basis again. Unfortunately, the trio had a total of just three interceptions between them and were seen more as the last tacklers on the field rather than players competing for ball security.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Perhaps the most intriguing player on the Hawaii roster again this season is Harding, a candidate for the Paul Hornung Award who played wide receiver, punter and punter returner in 2013. Harding was honorable mention all-conference as a punter last season after averaging 40.2 yards per punt while nearly 75 percent of his boots were either fair-caught or downed.

On punt returns, of which he fielded 21 total, Harding averaged better than eight yards per return.

While the Rainbow Warriors are getting more than they ever bargained for out of Harding, the same cannot be said for kicker Tyler Hadden who converted just 7-of-13 field goal attempts a year ago. Hadden had his troubles not only from long distance, but he also hit just two of his four tries from between 20-29 yards as well. Needless to say, Chow must be able to rely on his kicker more than he did last season.

OUTLOOK: Bringing in some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, which now includes former Utah players Jordan Wynn (quarterbacks) and Luke Matthews (wide receivers) should give the squad a swift kick where it needs it most. But make no mistake, the 2014 schedule is by no means filled with easy pickings.

In fact, of the 12 opponents that Hawaii has faced previously, the team has a winning record against just two (Colorado and UNLV). The squad does have the luxury of playing three straight home games to open the campaign, but those opponents (Washington, Oregon State and Northern Iowa) are far from push- overs.

Bringing back 16 starters from a year ago should be a positive for Hawaii, but with too many key elements still in question, don't expect the team to rise much above their record from a year ago.

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