Optimism is justifiable as Hawaii moves to 2-0 in conference play

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that we should ultimately judge the University of Hawaii’s football season exclusively on its performance in the Mountain West Conference play.

Maintaining that ideology, I’d have to say that Nick Rolovich has already made a huge impact on his new program.

Two weeks into conference play, and the ‘Bows are 2-0 with sole possession of first place in the West Division. They hold that status after Saturday’s victory at San Jose State, which was only the program’s second road win since 2011.

The team has responded incredibly well to Rolovich’s quarterback switch, since he decided to insert redshirt sophomore Dru Brown into the starting offense. It hasn’t been just Brown’s contributions, but Hawaii is averaging 36 points per game since the change. He’s 39 of 51 passing for 509 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a fantastic start against a pair of defenses he’s never seen before.

The road win can give Hawaii some real, much-needed momentum. They’re not accustomed to winning in general, let alone doing it away from Aloha Stadium. For a quarterback like Brown, making just his second start, to perform the way he did has to make Rolovich believe he not only made the right decision, but that he has his building block quarterback. Brown isn’t afraid to trust his receivers and has a knack for finding tight windows. He also tucked it and ran for a 62-yard score to give Hawaii its first lead of the game, which it wouldn’t relinquish.

Defensively, the ‘Bows have shaken off a few rough outings and displayed their toughness in San Jose. They showed some good push up front, notching six sacks on the day, and intercepted Spartan quarterback Kenny Potter three times. It was a complete effort and puts Hawaii in position to do something it hasn’t in quite a while.

A win over UNLV this Saturday on Homecoming would give the ‘Bows a 3-0 start to their conference season. That hasn’t happened since 2010, when Bryant Moniz threw for 5,000 yards and led Hawaii to a 10-4 campaign under Greg McMackin.

But it would mean a whole lot more this year. The depths of Hawaii’s woes since 2010 have been steep. Fan support has understandably dwindled. Optimism has seemed futile.

Yet here come the ‘Bows with a chance to turn things around in a legitimate fashion. They’re not ready to be considered a top-50 program just yet, but they are changing the culture. Starting conference play 3-0 wouldn’t be a fluke. It would signify that among its competitors, Hawaii can truly feel it has an edge.

The Mountain West isn’t the SEC. It isn’t the Big Ten. It isn’t even the AAC. But Hawaii has been a bottom feeder in a minimally respected conference. That label doesn’t change overnight and the numerous steps required are small ones. Eventually winning the Mountain West – West Division has to be one of Coach Rolovich’s most immediate goals. I doubt he expected them to contend for it this season, but a win on Homecoming Night makes it a much closer rung to reach on his ladder of success.

Toss those early non-conference results out the window. This is a Mountain West team. What we’re starting to see now is that it just might be a good Mountain West team.

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

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