It is still early yet, but so far the football season has gone anything but according to plan for the University of Hawaii. With 12 starters returning from their best team ever, the Rainbow Warriors had high expectations for 1990, but here it is mid-September and they're still looking for their first victory.

A close opening-day loss to powerful Texas A&M was understandable, but the following week's lopsided road loss to Air Force was not. If an 0-2 start weren't bad enough, the 'Bows also have suspended their star running back for disciplinary reasons.After a bye week, the Rainbows return to action Saturday night against the University of Utah in Rice Stadium (kickoff: 7). A loss there would virtually end their title hopes before the season is a month old.

"We're not close to being the same team we have been the last couple of years," says Hawaii coach Bob Wagner, whose team was 9-3-1 a year ago, including a bowl game loss to Michigan State.

Perhaps Utah will be a remedy. The Rainbows have defeated the Utes in six of their last eight meetings, including the last four. A year ago they thumped Utah 67-20.

"They're oh-and-two, and they've had a week off," says Utah coach Ron McBride. "Their backs are to the wall. They're going to come here a very hungry team."

The Utes, 2-1, also will be hungry, following their 31-7 loss to Fresno State a week ago.

"Because of a number of injuries we had, the bye couldn't have come at a better time," says Wagner.

The Rainbows will be healthy for Saturday's game (kickoff: 7 p.m.), but they'll still be shorthanded. A year ago, running back Jamaal Farmer set an NCAA record by rushing for 18 touchdowns as a freshman. He also ran for 986 yards. But following the first game of the season, Wagner suspended him from the team. Farmer missed last week's Air Force game; he also won't play against Utah.

"If he continues to make the progress he's making, he's got a chance to make amends," says Wagner. "If he stays on track, he'll probably be back for the next game (following Utah)."

Farmer has been replaced by Richard Stevenson, who, ironically, lost his starting job to Farmer early last season after being sidelined by an injury. Sofar, Stevenson has rushed four times for 21 yards.

As for the team's other offensive star of 1989, quarterback Garrett Gabriel has thrown for a modest 305 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in two games. That adds up to a pass efficiency rating of 96.1.

The team's real problems, though, have been inexperience in the offensive line (three new starters) and the defensive front six (five new starters).

So far, Hawaii's top offensive performers have been slotbacks Jeff Sydner (98 rushing yards, eight catches for 77 yards) and Dane McArthur (10 catches for 145 yards). Mark Odom, of the top linebackers in the Western Athletic Conference, has 19 tackles and one sack.

Aside from inexperience, the Rainbows have something else working against them: road games. They played just two road games in 1989, which accounted for their only two regular-season losses and cost them a conference championship. The loss to Air Force ran their road losing streak to three in a row.