Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the
Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com
The experience is seared into my memory.
It was 1992 and the girlfriend and I were on the last night of a glorious seven-day trip to Hawaii. We were in Honolulu and she agreed to attend the Pittsburgh-Hawaii game at Aloha Stadium. For a college football junkie like myself who was stuck in the middle of the Pacific and desperate for a fix, this was just what I needed.
Hawaii had a hell of a squad - arguably its best in team history to that point - and entered with a 9-2 record. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had stumbled to a 3-8 mark and arrived on Oahu without Paul Hackett, who had resigned as coach earlier in the week.
Our seats were behind three large gentlemen of Samoan descent who - it quickly became obvious — had been tailgating for hours. Seeing that each had legs the size of tree trunks and necks and arms to match, the prudent move was to become best buddies in case something ugly was to happen.
I introduced myself and remarked how much I was looking forward to watching the home squad layeth the smacketh down on the intruders from the East. They heartily agreed and now that we had bonded, my only thought toward the Panthers was, “Bring it on, suckers!”
But Pittsburgh didn’t follow the script, holding its ground and eventually racing into the lead as the third quarter came to an end. The natives, as they say, were restless. Not good.
Then it happened. First came a strong gust of wind that sent newspapers, hot dog wrappers, paper cups and anything else that wasn’t tied down flying across the field. A minute later, a torrent of rain arrived and one of Samoans stood up and took off his shirt. He started pounding his chest and yelled some war chant into the darkened sky. What in the hell was going on?
Hawaii returned to the field and suddenly could do no wrong. It was as if a spirit had swept through Aloha Stadium and taken over the Warriors, who roared back with a monstrous 22-point fourth quarter that ended with a 36-23 victory.
I walked out thinking that there had to be a higher power in play. How else could one explain what I had just witnessed - the transformation of a team that appeared so lifeless for three quarters into an unstoppable force?
I followed Warrior games closely from that point. No, I never found that source of mystical power, but did conclude that Hawaii was a good bet when playing at home, not such a good bet on the road.
This could come into play the next five weeks because Hawaii finishes with four of its final five games at home, starting with Saturday night’s matchup against Utah State.
But is Hawaii really a lead-pipe lock at home? I decided to examine the Warriors’ record under Greg McMackin, who became coach in 2008. Straight up, McMackin’s teams are 28-21 — 18-8 at home and 10-13 on the road. The home record includes Hawaii Bowl losses to Tulsa and Notre Dame.
McMackin’s teams are 15-9 (62.5 percent) against the spread at Aloha Stadium. Note that two games (Central Arkansas in 2009 and Weber State in 2008) did not have pointspreads. But if you drop the bowl losses, the percentage improves to 68.2. That’s a nice rate of return.
On the road, Hawaii is a pedestrian 12-11 (52.2 percent) against the number. That’s break-even territory.
So yes, Hawaii is a different team when it plays at Aloha Stadium. Perhaps mainland teams are distracted by Oahu’s beauty. Maybe it’s the sun and surf. Or it could be the long flight and jet lag that wears on visitors.
Then again, maybe some mystical spirit is in play.Week 9 impressions:
- How good - or bad - is Georgia, co-leader of the Southeastern Conference’s East Division? The Bulldogs have won six in a row by beating Division I-AA Coastal Carolina and five SEC teams with a combined conference record of 4-22.
- No team makes halftime adjustments like Texas A&M. The Aggies led Missouri, 28-17, at the break last Saturday, but lost, 38-31. It’s the third time Texas A&M has lost after holding a double-digit lead at halftime.
- Teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 finally suffered a losing week against the spread. Entering last week, the Top 10ers were 54-17-2 (76.1 percent). But they were 2-5 last Saturday, dropping the season mark to 56-22-2 (71.8 percent).
- The six remaining unbeaten teams are 51-11 (82.3 percent) against the number.
- This is shaping up to be the most exciting Big Ten Legends Division race that I can remember…
- No hunch play at the moment. Still basking in the glow of the narrow Stanford cover versus USC, which improved my hunch mark to 5-1. If I come up with a selection, it will be on the twitter feed later this week. In the meantime, good luck to all!You can follow The Wiz of Odds on Twitter @JayChristensen