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Kinne, Moniz spearhead top offenses

Their pedigrees are as different as the offenses they run.

G.J. Kinne was a three-time high school player of the year in his Texas division and spent one season at the University of Texas before transferring to Tulsa. Bryant Moniz went the junior-college route after being unrecruited out of high school, then walked on at Hawaii and delivered pizzas to pay the bills.

Yet here they are, the two centerpieces of their prolific offenses as Tulsa and Hawaii prepare to meet in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Friday night in Honolulu. Kinne has led Tulsa with his arms and his legs, as the Golden Hurricane rank No. 5 in total offense in the country.

Moniz has led Hawaii with his arm, as Hawaii ranks No. 8 in total offense, but No. 1 in passing offense. He has thrown for 4,629 yards this season. Their play is a big reason why their teams are playing in a bowl game this season after sitting home in 2009.

So what has been the difference for both? Let’s start with Kinne. He started last season as a sophomore with a very young team behind him, and was learning a new spread-style offense. This season, Tulsa added assistant coach Chad Morris, whom Kinne credits for helping him get on track. Kinne has started all 24 games he has played at Tulsa.

“He helped tremendously,” Kinne said. “He’s a great teacher. Now I feel like I’m playing my best ball toward the end of the year, as far as reading the coverages and feeling comfortable in the system.”

Or as coach Todd Graham said, “This became his offense this year.”

Kinne also cites his maturity, his teammates’ hard work in the offseason to turn around a 5-7 season and his increasing role as a leader. “I was never a vocal person even in high school,” he said. “Seeing that role blossom like that, I can tell the difference in the team and the way the team looks at me.”

The Golden Hurricane have done that and more, winning six straight games to close the season. Kinne was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,307 yards and 28 TDs this year, along with a team-high 557 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Tulsa was the hottest team in Conference USA down the stretch. Think about this – if East Carolina had not completed a Hail Mary with no time left in the season opener, the Golden Hurricane would have been playing for the conference championship.

Still, Graham deserves credit for keeping his team together after that heartbreaking defeat and a 1-2 start to the season. The 28-27 Notre Dame win served as a turning point.

“Everything changed that day,” Graham said. “The buy-in, the belief, it’s changed everything. That’s why we put so much emphasis on that game. To get your first BCS win, but to get it at Notre Dame on national television and how we did it on the last play of the game was really spectacular.”

Moniz, on the other hand, did not go into last season as the starter. He was No. 6 on the depth chart in the spring, but worked his way up. After injuries to two players, Moniz was thrown into the starting job, but he really has flourished this season with a full year in the complicated and pass-heavy run 'n' shoot-style offense.

Unlike Kinne, he is little threat to run. Instead, Moniz leads the nation in passing (356.1) and total offense (361.9), and credits his work in the offseason with receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares for helping him get better.

“I guess that’s what’s expected in this offense, but I never expected even playing or starting at the University of Hawaii,” Moniz said. “When I accomplished that, anything after that was icing on the cake. To me, the big accomplishment was to make the team and start. If someone told me I’d throw for how many yards we have this year, I wouldn’t believe them.”

Both players are juniors this season, and though they will be losing some of their top receivers, they will have one thing in common in 2011 – high expectations for another outstanding season.