They’re trying to build for next year and send their seniors out the right way and we’re trying to do the same thing. —Kalani Sitake
BYU (3-9) at Hawaii (3-8)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MST Aloha Stadium
TV: CBS Sports TV
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
HONOLULU — This is as close as BYU and Hawaii are coming to playing in a bowl game.
A bowl game is supposed to be a reward for a successful season. The Cougars (3-9) and the Rainbow Warriors (3-8) have both had miserable campaigns.
But as they get set to collide Saturday (7 p.m., MST, CBSSN) at Aloha Stadium, this game has importance in terms of ending the season on a high note. Bouncing back home with a win would be a wonderful springboard into next year.
“Our focus is trying to get this win and send the seniors out on a win and set the tone for next season,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “Senior Day didn’t go well for us this last weekend. But we have one last game to send our guys out as winners and just as important is trying to set the tone for next season. That’s the ultimate goal for us.”
BYU is also trying to avoid its first year with double-digit losses since — gulp — 1949, when the Cougars posted a 0-11 record.
“Knowing this is the last game of the year and the seniors won’t have another game to play and there’s not a bowl game,” said defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “A lot of people want to treat it like a bowl game and have fun and relax. But it’s quite opposite. This is going to be a game that helps us decide how we change through the offseason.”
For Hawaii, this game is crucial, too.
“Winning the last game of the season would be very important as far as recruiting and knowing that we can win again and not living the offseason in doubt, if we know how to win,” said Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich. “It’s all in your head. It’s mentality. Ending the season with a win on Senior Night against BYU has the ability to send us off in the right direction hitting December and January recruiting and all the stuff that goes with it.”
The Rainbow Warriors appear to be treating this matchup against BYU as a bowl game.
“Absolutely,” said Hawaii wide receiver, and BYU transfer, Dylan Collie. “For me personally and for the coaches and some of the players that understand the rivalry and understand what this game means, it will be like a bowl game. It will be a bowl-game atmosphere. It’s going to be a fun one.”
Sitake said BYU and Hawaii will be battling for the same thing.
“They’re trying to build for next year and send their seniors out the right way and we’re trying to do the same thing,” he said. “We have a common goal. It’s a matter of who can get that accomplished Saturday.”
Freshman tight end Matt Bushman said Saturday’s game at Aloha Stadium is “really important. To finish the season off with a win, everything feels so much better when we win. It’s a tough season. We’ve had adversity. We want to send the seniors off with a win and have good energy and get prepared for next season and have some positivity. It’s been a pretty negative season with everything that’s happened — the losses, the injuries. Coach Sitake told us that it’s really important to finish the season off with a win. We don’t go and think it’s going to be a vacation. It’s a business trip. Obviously, it’s cool to go to Hawaii but we need to finish this season off with a win.”
Of course, being in Hawaii can be distracting but the Cougars say there’s been an emphasis on winning this final game.
“We’re not going to a bowl game but this could be a bowl for us. But (Sitake) doesn’t want that to be that way. There are reasons to have fun and slack off but that’s what we can't do,” Bushman said. “The way the season’s been we can’t go out and mess around the last game of the season. We have to prove it to ourselves that we want to go out and win and make this more of a business trip than a vacation. It’s still the last game of the season. It’s not like it doesn’t matter or that it’s meaningless. A win can do so much for us.”
Winning Saturday’s game could be a positive step toward the 2018 campaign.
“That can be a little springboard,” Kaufusi said. “If we can win this game then it can set us off on the right foot so we can get our minds right because we’ll be back at it (off-season conditioning) the next week.”