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Trip to Hawaii presents unique challenge for Arizona

arizona-wildcats-hawaii-warriors-travel-college-football-2019-sumlin Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Taking a trip to Hawaii can be a memorable experience. But not always in a good way.

Kevin Sumlin vividly recalls the last time he went there for a football game, back in 1997 when he was quarterbacks coach at Minnesota. It did not go well, with the Golden Gophers committing three turnovers in a 17-3 loss.

Such an outcome on Saturday night in Honolulu would deal a major blow to the Arizona Wildcats’ plans for this season, though Sumlin said Monday his confidence level is much greater this time around.

“I feel better about this team going to Hawaii because we do have palm trees here,” he said. “A lot of these guys from California, they’ve been to the beach, so it’s a little bit different than the team I went to Hawaii with a few years ago from Minnesota. The scenery is a little bit different.”

Arizona last played at Hawaii on Sept. 3, 1998, winning 27-6 en route to a 12-1 record and the greatest season in program history. Such success isn’t always the case for power-conference teams that travel to the islands early in the season, as Colorado found out when it opened the 2015 season with a loss there, while in 2014 both Washington and Oregon State narrowly escaped with victories.

The Wildcats leave Wednesday for Hawaii, two days earlier than normal for a road game. Sumlin said the team will be staying on the beach, but that’s about as close as they’ll get to any sort of sightseeing on the trip.

“It’s a great experience for our players, for our student-athletes, coaches,” Sumlin said. “A lot of guys that haven’t been there.”

This will be the earliest Arizona has ever started a season, but the uniqueness doesn’t end there. The Wildcats get a week off after the opener, which on paper may seem odd but Sumlin said it works out perfectly considering the travel involved with going to Hawaii.

“When we get back it’s seven o’clock, eight o’clock in the morning on Sunday,” Sumlin said. “That makes for a tough week (if there was a game the following Saturday). So the bye comes at the right time for us, just from a recovery standpoint.”

This will be the first time Arizona has had a bye after its opening game since 2002, when there was a week off between a season-opening 37-3 win over Northern Arizona and a 23-17 victory against Utah, both at home. For Sumlin, his last experience with a bye so early came as an assistant with Purdue in 1998.

“I’d rather have that then playing 10 straight weeks like we did last year, particularly with a team like we had last year that didn’t have depth,” Sumlin said.