Preseason rankings display little faith in UH

Can something be both disrespectful and completely understandable?

The Mountain West Conference revealed its preseason media rankings on Tuesday in Las Vegas and the University of Hawaii was picked to finish last in the West Division. Entering its third season in the Mountain West, UH went 0-8 in conference play in 2013 and finished 1-11 overall, topping Army 49-42 in the season’s final contest.

So while the voters are showing little faith in a quick Warrior turnaround, the players certainly have their own take.

“It was expected to be picked last because of our record last year, but it’s just a piece of motivation that we use to train even harder and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the season,” said defensive lineman Beau Yap in an interview conducted by the UH athletic department.

As a junior in 2013, Yap led the team with 5.5 sacks and was named Second Team All-Mountain West. But just like everyone else on the UH squad, he was not mentioned in any of the 2014 preseason all-conference teams.

The offense awoke down the stretch last year when running back Joey Iosefa took over in the backfield. After missing most of the first eight games of the season with a foot injury, Iosefa averaged 168 total yards per game and scored six touchdowns in the final four contests.

“We’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder,” said Iosefa in the same UH interview. “Just take one game at a time. We had a great offseason training, so we know what we can do. Not a lot of teams are going to expect what’s coming from us this year.”

The media certainly isn’t expecting what Iosefa believes UH has in store. Teams receive six points for a first-place vote in each division, five for a second and so on, down to one point for a sixth-place vote. With 33 media members voting, Hawaii received a total of 35 points, meaning it was very close to a unanimous pick to finish last.

Fresno State barely sits atop the West Division, narrowly topping San Diego State with 174 points to 172. Each received 15 first-place votes and third-place Nevada (130) received the other three. UNLV (95) and San Jose State (87) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

The Mountain Division was only slightly more decisive with Boise State earning 20 first-place votes and receiving 183 points. Utah State (176) received 12 first-place votes. Colorado State (135) took the other first-place vote and was followed by Wyoming (90), New Mexico (56) and Air Force (53).

Just one Kauai player remains on a UH team that had included some Garden Isle veterans over the past few seasons. Offensive lineman Sean Shigematsu, Kapaa High School alumnus, started seven games last year, showing versatility by moving between right tackle, left tackle and right guard. It feels like yesterday that Shigematsu was spiking volleyballs and anchoring the basketball team’s defense in the Kapaa High School gym, when he wasn’t pushing around overmatched linemen on the gridiron. But Shigematsu is entering his senior year at UH and will likely be one of the veterans offensive line coach Chris Naeole relies upon to help turn things around.

Heading into year three of the Norm Chow era, the Mountain West media doesn’t have much faith that the experienced head coach will be flipping the script after going 3-9 and 1-11 in his first two seasons. Frankly, there’s not much reason to blame them. Last year felt like every game was 28-0 before the Warriors had even assembled on the sideline. To their credit, they came back in many of those games to make things interesting, but as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”

Changing minds won’t happen with close losses. It will only happen with wins. Yap and Iosefa seem to think the media is wrong about them. There’s one good way to prove it.

David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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