Christmas Eve means Bowl season, and this year this is one game on the docket. Unlike most years, this Christmas Eve game actually showcases an interesting team that will more than likely draw a decent-sized national audience. The 2008 Hawaii Bowl will feature Hawaii vs. Notre Dame. Yes, this is what the Fighting Irish have been relegated to under Charlie Weis.
Last time most of us saw the Warriors of Hawaii, they were being run out of the Superdome by the Georgia Bulldogs in last year's Sugar Bowl. Well, a lot has changed since then. No, the team has not improved—they lost a lot of talent from the 2007 team—but they are playing against teams that are better suited for their level of competition.
Let’s face it—Hawaii had no business playing one of the hottest teams in the country in a major bowl game. While it is possible for a Boise State to beat an Oklahoma in a BCS Bowl game, it is not the norm. Don’t believe me? Just ask Utah in a few weeks when Alabama gets through working them over.
Anyways, back to Hawaii, and their latest Bowl appearance against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. This will be a home game for Hawaii as they will play in Aloha Stadium.
This is also one of the best-kept secrets in football; Hawaii has an obvious home field advantage thanks to the distance teams have to travel to play them. However, they also have some of the fiercest and most loyal fans in the country, and they will let opposing teams know they are not welcome on the island.
Hawaii began the season on a downward spiral, beginning just 1-3. There is no doubt the team had to adjust to a new quarterback and new coaches. In addition, there were plenty of programs that were ready to pay them back for the beatdowns they delivered last season. However, since their slow start Hawaii has bounced back and put together a solid season, going 7-6 overall and finishing second in the WAC.
Typically we have gotten used to watching Hawaii toss the ball around and put up close to 50 pass attempts a game. They will still do that on offense, but quarterback Greg Alexander has been limited in his efficiency all season due to a lack of talent at the skill positions around him. To be frankly honest, good defenses can now shut down the once vaunted Hawaii fun and gun offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hawaii has some solid players. They tout the WAC co-defensive player of the year in linebacker Solomon Elimimian. In addition, the Rainbow Warriors also have stud defensive end David Veikune, who is great at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In the final six games of the regular season Veikune racked up nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss. You can rest assured that the Notre Dame offensive line will have their hands full trying to keep him in check.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been less than impressive this season to say the very least. Never mind the 11-1 prediction from Lou Holtz at the beginning of the season (why does that man have a job?)—the Irish made all the wrong moves in the football season this year, and they earned their 6-6 record and a trip to a pre-Christmas Day bowl game.
There is no doubt that the Notre Dame football program is in turmoil, and in many ways the Hawaii Bowl is a must win situation for head coach Charlie Weis.
Going into the Hawaii Bowl, Notre Dame has had very little to cheer about. The Irish lost four out of their last five, with the only win coming in a nail-biter of a game against Navy. In addition, one-time offensive guru Charlie Weis has watched his pro-style offense come to a grinding halt during the second half of the season.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen played some terrible football coming down the stretch, throwing eight interceptions to just two touchdowns in the final half of the season. There is no doubt the Irish need something to jump-start their offense going into this bowl game. Perhaps the long trip and the warm weather will reenergize a team that seemed to have lost faith in itself.
On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame is not that bad. They run a 3-4 scheme that tends to be very aggressive, and they look to make plays. While still being very young on the defensive side of the ball, this is where the Irish have found success all season. Their linebackers and their secondary have developed quickly under new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
There is no doubt they will face an all-new test when they take on Hawaii. Granted, the Hawaii offense does not generate the numbers they were famous for just a year ago, but they still take their shots down the field. You can expect them to test the Notre Dame secondary early in an effort to find in holes in their armor.
The spread has Notre Dame favored by a slim two-point margin, which makes this a Pick’em game for all intents and purposes. However, here are a couple factors to remember when looking at this game.
The Hawaii Bowl will be the only game where one team is without a doubt a road team, and that will be Notre Dame. Playing in Hawaii can be very difficult—not only are the crowds hostile, but you can bet that for the majority of the Notre Dame players, they will be seeing and experiencing things they have only seen in movies or read about in books. Playing in Hawaii gives players absolutely no familiar surroundings to cling to.
In addition, the Fighting Irish are in the midst of a nine-game bowl losing streak. That’s right—the Irish have not played good football in the postseason, and it does not matter who the head coach has been. Granted, many of those losses came as a result of Notre Dame being placed in BCS games that they had no business playing in. The Hawaii Bowl places the Irish in a game that is on their level.
Unfortunately, Hawaii is thinking the same thing when they look across the ball at those golden domes lined up against them. Look for Hawaii to defend their home turf and knock off Notre Dame by covering the two-point spread.