Honolulu, HI—Through the University of Hawaii football team's first nine games of the season, the only constant has been a lack of smooth sailing for the Warriors, who were chosen as preseason favorites to repeat as Western Athletic Conference champions.
The "soft" part of the schedule that many people expected would permit Hawaii to stockpile wins before playing more difficult games to finish the season jumped up and bit the Warriors' okole.
Returning senior quarterback Bryant Moniz, who passed for over 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns last season hasn't quite lived up to his Heisman hype, due in equal parts to young, inexperienced receivers, a taped-together offensive line and his own maddening inconsistencies.
The defense that was counted on to be the best of head coach Greg McMackin's four-year tenure started off the season promising, but has since given way to a pair of last minute, game-winning touchdown drives against WAC foes San Jose State and Utah State.
Resulting from the high seas that Hawaii has been navigating is a disheartening 5-4 record (3-2 in WAC games), busted WAC title hopes and—fair or not—a growing number of catcalls for McMackin's ouster with one year and $1.1 million remaining on his five-year contract.
"What the heck are we gonna do?" McMackin rhetorically asked the media at his weekly presser on Monday. "We're sure not gonna lay down and quit and badmouth and criticize and point our finger; because when you point your finger at somebody, you got three fingers coming back at ya.
"You know when there's ants, and you put water on them, they all take off and spread around?
"I hope people don't do that, 'cause we're gonna work as hard as we can. We have some controversy, you know, some adversity; and we've had it before, and we've worked through it."
While a few "ants" may have already jumped Hawaii's ship judging by the season-low 26,205 at Saturday night's 35-31 loss to Utah State, even the most dissident fan should sympathize with the "devastating" number of injuries McMackin's squad has suffered during its plummet into mediocrity.
In the Utah State game alone, Hawaii lost left tackle Clayton Laurel for the season with a broken arm, receiver Justin Clapp for the next four weeks with fractured ribs and receiver Royce Pollard for an undetermined amount of time with a meniscus tear in his left knee and a sprained left ankle.
Add those critical injuries to the season-ending knee injuries suffered by starting right tackle Sean Shigematsu and left wideout Allen Sampson, then sprinkle in nagging ailments that have hindered at least eight other starters, often leading to missed games, and Hawaii's on-the-ball video production department could produce its own version of the television program M*A*S*H.
"The best game we played is LaTech [a 44-26 win at Louisiana Tech on October 1], in our opinion," McMackin said. "It wasn't perfect, but it was the best game that we've played. If you take the offensive line, the five guys on the offensive line and you take our four receivers that played in that LaTech game. At the same positions, we have one guy out of those nine guys that played in the second half (against Utah State).
"We also have a problem with [Bryant Moniz, who] is at the doctor right now, and so is [starting strong safety] Richard Torres."
While McMackin offered no further clarification as to why Moniz and Torres were at the doctors, the mere mention of it was not encouraging news.
The wounded Warriors will embark on what is arguably their toughest road test of the season this Saturday when they travel to Mackay Stadium in Reno to take on Nevada. The Wolf Pack are in first place in the WAC with a 3-0 record and are 5-3 overall.
Hawaii finishes the season with three consecutive home games against Fresno State, Tulane and Brigham Young University.
"The only thing I'm focused on," McMackin said, "is that we have to win two more games to go to a bowl game. These teams coming up are good football teams, and if we win them all and win the bowl game, we can have the same record we did last year. So that is what we are focusing on.
"We take the positive route, a lot of people take the negative route, but that's where we are at right now."
Battered and bloodied, Hawaii certainly is.
But its spirit remains unbroken.
Kevin Riley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.