People are starting to notice Hawaii’s slow climb up the Bowl Championship Series standings. Warriors coach June Jones, however, is not among them.
Jones and No. 14 Hawaii try to remain unbeaten as they begin a difficult closing stretch Saturday against Fresno State in a Western Athletic Conference matchup.
The Warriors (8-0, 5-0 WAC) are currently 16th in the BCS standings, and need to climb to 12th by the end of the season to secure a spot in a lucrative BCS game usually reserved for the top six conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Hawaii is trying to follow Boise State’s path from last season, when the WAC champion Broncos finished undefeated and ranked No. 5 after an upset victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
But the current rankings appear to be of little interest to Jones, who knows the only reason his team is gathering national attention is due to its status as one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS.
“I don’t look at it because it doesn’t matter,” he said during Hawaii’s bye week. “It’ll only matter if we keep winning. We’ve convinced the players of that too. They speak that same way. It is kind of cool, but everyone in this room will be disappointed if we don’t end up that way.”
Hawaii, though, will have earned its way into a possible BCS game should it remain unbeaten and climb the standings. Its final three conference opponents - starting with Fresno State (6-3, 5-1) - have a combined record of 19-8, and the Rainbow Warriors also must play 19th-ranked Boise State at home before a season-ending contest at Pac-10 school Washington.
Jones is now concerned about a Fresno State team looking to avenge a 68-37 home thrashing last season in which Colt Brennan threw for 409 yards and five touchdowns as the Warriors totaled 570 yards of offense.
“(It doesn’t matter if we’re 8-0 or 0-8) it’s Fresno. They will play their (butts) off when they come here, I assure you of that,” the Hawaii coach said. “In 2004, they put 70 on us and then came here the following year and won. I think it has more to do with them being Fresno. Since the 1999 game, I think this game has been more emotional with more hype.”
Brennan, still in the running for the Heisman Trophy, has thrown for 2,820 yards and 26 touchdowns, including 970 yards and 10 TDs in the last two games. He has a win and a loss against the Bulldogs in his career, completing 72 percent of his passes for 736 yards and six scores in those contests.
Fresno State is third in the WAC, one-half game behind Hawaii and Boise State. The Bulldogs became bowl eligible last week with their fifth win in six games, a 38-27 victory over Utah State.
Clifton Smith and Ryan Mathews each ran for more than 100 yards as Fresno eclipsed 200 rushing yards for the fifth time this season. Mathews, who leads the nation’s freshmen with 12 touchdowns, did all his work in the first half before leaving with a sprained left ankle, and his status is uncertain for this game.
“I am very satisfied with the win. With all the depth problems we have, we are a tired football team right now,” Fresno coach Pat Hill said. “I need to do something in practice to make sure this team stays fresh. I thought our effort was good. I liked the way we played in getting the win.
“We are 5-1 heading to Hawaii and we have the opportunity to do something really special against a very good football team.”
Mathews has a team-high 784 yards and is averaging 6.3 yards per rush. Smith accumulated a career-high 126 rushing yards in last Saturday’s victory to give him 372 on the year.
Hawaii’s win last season ended a two-game losing streak to Fresno, which won 27-13 in its last trip to Hawaii in 2005.