With a new starter, it’s another new start for UH football

This is America’s weekend. Though it doesn’t quite date all the way back to 1776, baseball has long been considered America’s pastime. There aren’t many clearer identifiers of Americana than heading to the ball park, getting a hot dog and singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch.

But let’s be honest. Football is really America’s sport. It has overtaken baseball for many reasons, most notably the ease with which we can gamble on it. So to approach this July 4th weekend and talk about anything other than football would be downright treasonous!

Alright, that’s probably some unnecessarily over the top rhetoric – another American staple.

Two months from today, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors will be kicking off Norm Chow’s fourth season at the helm when they take on Colorado (7 p.m., Sept. 3, Aloha Stadium). It’s the start of a brutal non-conference schedule that includes road dates with defending champion Ohio State (Sept. 12) and Wisconsin (Sept. 26). Having such heavyweights at the top of the ticket will certainly make it a difficult debut for new starting quarterback, Max Wittek.

Last month, Hawaii named Wittek its starter after the junior transfer had to sit out last season. That was first reported by the Star-Advertiser. Seeing Wittek given the reins so early in the year feels very similar to where the team sat two years ago entering its 2013 campaign. A big, strong-armed quarterback from a first tier football school was stepping in to lend credibility to a struggling program. At that time it was Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham. Graham easily passed the eye test in practices, but things changed once game action got underway.

He struggled in his first three starts and suffered a shoulder injury that limited him to just two relief appearances the rest of the season. Graham came on in two more games last year and looked much more comfortable before another injury, this time a broken foot, during the team’s win over Wyoming.

Hopefully Wittek is able to outperform that comparison and give Coach Chow a reliable signal caller. I was surprised to hear Wittek overtake incumbent Ikaika Woolsey so early in camp. Woolsey had some issues last season, but he showed a lot of determination and competitiveness as the team improved during the second half of the year. He also provided the most dramatic moment of the season with the game-winning touchdown against UNLV as time expired during Senior Night.

But Chow certainly knows quarterbacks and he has tapped Wittek as his guy. There is talent returning at the skill positions and though he couldn’t get into game action, Wittek was still with the program all year and should have some familiarity with those lettermen. Running back Diocemy Saint Juste showed he could be special and is the starter heading into the fall. Wideouts Marcus Kemp and Quinton Pedroza combined for 1,471 yards and six scores and should only be more dangerous this time around.

It is likely a make or break season for Coach Chow, who has two more years on his contract, though that fifth season has a reasonable buyout if the program elects to look elsewhere. He coached last season under difficult family circumstances and produced a 4-9 record, his best during his three-year tenure. But expectations haven’t been met, though it’s reasonable to ask whether the expectations have themselves been reasonable.

Naming Wittek his starter, though it’s not especially controversial, could be the final major decision Chow makes as UH head coach. But if the former Trojan manages to aid in a ‘Bows turnaround, Hawaii isn’t as far from being competitive in the Mountain West as they have appeared the past few seasons.

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

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