When San Jose State and Hawaii meet on Saturday night in Honolulu, there will be more on the line than just a Mountain West divisional win. Both teams will be playing for the Dick Tomey Legacy Trophy, an honor created for the legendary head coach of both programs who passed away in May 2019.
But emotions will more likely be running high for another man linking the two programs.
Colt Brennan, a record-holder for Hawaii and cousin of San Jose head coach Brent Brennan, died of a drug overdose earlier this year.
He was 37.
"This game will be an emotional deal for me because that's still pretty fresh for all us," said Brent Brennan, recalling his relative and famed NCAA quarterback. "I think it speaks to how the University of Hawaii and the state of Hawaii embraced Colt and how they felt about him and how in what he gave them in the magical run of winning football and a packed stadium. And you look at those videos that they've been kind of on repeat for the last few months, just to see Aloha Stadium full and just people going wild and just what that was for Colt and UH and the state of Hawaii.
"It's been really special," continued Brennan. "I think it's an incredible way that they've honored him, and I think it's a cool thing because the outpouring of love and how much they respected him is also … how he felt about Hawaii."
Unfortunately, all that emotion won't be felt by anyone in the stands of that iconic football facility come kickoff late Saturday.
That's because structural issues at Aloha Stadium have moved the game — all Hawaii home games, in fact — to the on-campus Clarence TC Ching Athletic Complex.
And state restrictions due to the COVID are keeping fans out of the stands for now, stifling the Warriors' usual solid home-field advantage.
"Wish we'd have a packed stadium, but we're not going to have that," Hawaii head coach Todd Graham told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "Hope our fans are all cheering on TV and all that good stuff."
Added sophomore wide receiver Nick Mardner, "We really have to bring our own juice. When it comes to juice and energy, we've got it. But it would be nice to have some fans here. All the hard work we put in, we want to have people see it."
What they'll see — from afar, of course — in this Mountain West season-opener for both sides are teams that light the field on fire when they play each other.
San Jose State at Hawaii
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 12:30 a.m. ET
Spread: San Jose State -6.5
When San Jose State Has the Ball
The Spartans can move the ball as well as anyone in the Mountain West.
That's thanks to a prolific passing game anchored by their leader, quarterback Nick Starkel, who — in his first year with the program — led them to an undefeated 2020 regular season, first Mountain West championship, and first ranking (No. 24) in the final Associated Press poll since 2012.
Sure, San Jose State fell 30-7 to USC in its opener, but it put up 376 yards, including 308 through the air, in the losing effort. The Spartans rebounded nicely at home with a 45-14 victory over FCS Southern Utah that saw the offense pile up 543 yards.
So, indeed, San Jose has game offensively.
Starkel himself — thanks to good protection from the offensive line — is 40-of-73 for 702 yards and four touchdowns through two games. He just needs to cut down on the turnovers, as he's tossed three interceptions already.
He's hit plenty of targets, too —10 total. Fellow senior Derrick Deese Jr., a tight end, leads the team with 135 receiving yards, while sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Hamilton has a team-leading eight receptions.
And when it comes to playing Hawaii, San Jose State is never at a loss in the running attack. Senior back Tyler Nevens, this year's workhorse out of the backfield, and sophomore Kairee Robinson combined for nearly 300 yards in last season's 35-24 win in Honolulu. Nevens has rolled up 149 yards and two TDs on 27 carries this season.
Don't expect that attack to slow down this year, given Hawaii's porous defensive start so far. Through three games, the Rainbow Warriors are giving up 476 yards per game, with Oregon State gashing them for 558 last week. That also includes 477 yards surrendered to FCS Portland State in a game that Hawaii won 49-35. The Rainbow Warriors rank second to last in the Mountain West against both the run (192.3 ypg) and pass (283.3 ypg), so the Spartans should have options when it comes to moving the ball.
When Hawaii Has the Ball
Don't panic, Warriors fans.
With quarterback Chevan Cordeiro running the show, there should be plenty of fireworks for the home side, as well.
In last week's loss to Oregon State, the Rainbow Warriors put up 454 total yards, after rolling up 573 against FCS Portland State and 269 vs. much-improved UCLA.
Just like San Jose State, Hawaii favors the pass, with the sophomore quarterback already tossing for 891 yards and six TDs. But Cordeiro, too, is prone to turnovers, getting picked off five times and fumbling three times already on the year.
Good thing the Spartans, who allowed a whopping 416 yards to USC in Week 1, haven't figured out how to pick off a pass just yet.
However, it seems like only a matter of time, with a defensive line that knows how to bring the pressure. It's likely to make a mess of Hawaii's front five.
So the onus might be on Cordeiro to be extra special Saturday. And the main man he's been connecting with in a pass-happy attack has been Mardner. The hands-man has 13 catches for 242 yards and two scores.
When the Warriors do rush, it's been freshman Dae Dae Hunter doing the bulk of the work. He has 26 carries for 161 yards, including a career-best 128 against Portland State.
"I just know that watching these guys on tape that they're four-quarter, play-your-butts-off-all-freakin'-game that you have to be ready for," Brennan said. "However the score ends up, things will take care of itself. We just gotta be ready for another great, epic battle with Hawaii."
Yes, everyone seems to be expecting another high-octane battle.
"It's always been an incredible football game," said Brennan of a series led by Hawaii 22-20-1 but which ironically favors San Jose State 14-13 in Honolulu. "Every year that I've been a part of it, it's always been a (high-scoring) four-quarter game. Historically, if you look way back, each program has had good offensive teams in the past, so maybe that speaks to why those numbers are like that."
One thing's for sure, San Jose State's likely to be ever-fresh coming in off the bye.
But Hawaii will want to make amends for last week's loss at Oregon State, although the hosts are looking at this as a clean slate.
"Everything we've done to this point is to have the opportunity to be 0-0 right now going into conference game No. 1," Graham told the Star-Advertiser. "We've got eight conference games, and you've got to win this one. ... At the end of the day, I told our players this: 'We're zero and zero. Everybody is zero and zero. Nobody's made a yard in this conference. And nobody's made a touchdown. Nobody's made anything.'"
Prediction: San Jose State 48, Hawaii 38
Podcast: Complete Week 3 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread