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Hawaii vs. San Diego State: Three things to look for, Prediction

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Can Hawaii end the regular season by making a dent into the Mountain West hierarchy?

NCAA Football: Hawaii at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII VS. SAN DIEGO STATE

Location: San Diego, California (SDCCU Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 24th at 5:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPNU

Streaming: WatchESPN app

Radio: ESPN 1420

Head-to-Head: San Diego State leads the series 21-9-2 all-time, the Aztecs dominating the series, having won 15 of the last 17 contests dating back to 1990. Hawaii’s last win vs. the Aztecs came in 2005 at Aloha Stadium in a 49-38 win. San Diego State won the 2017 game between the two 28-7 in Honolulu. Nick Rolovich has yet to defeat San Diego State as head coach of Hawaii.

Three things to look for:

1. Who starts at quarterback?

File that under, “questions I didn’t think we’d be asking” going into this final regular season game. Quarterback Cole McDonald has 3338 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Needless to say, a ton of football programs would love to have McDonald. That said, on Saturday night Nick Rolovich made the difficult decision to pull the star quarterback, who’s admittedly had a rough go of it as of late. True freshman Chevan Cordeiro came off the bench and rallied Hawaii in spectacular fashion. Cordeiro didn’t just orchestrate a comeback, he looked really good doing it. Does Rolovich stick with him vs. the Aztecs? Keep in mind, the new redshirt rules mean a player can play up to four games and still maintain his redshirt. Cordeiro has played in three games. Cannot help but wonder if Rolovich will keep that in mind when deciding who to start this week.

2. Will the defense build off of last week’s rare success?

It’s no secret that Hawaii defensive coordinator Corey Batoon’s defense has been through a gauntlet this season. Pass, run, it doesn’t matter. Hawaii hasn’t been able to stop anything that moves. That was the case in the first half of the UNLV game as running Lexington Thomas shredded the Warrior defense. Then something unexpected happened: Hawaii clamped down and made plays. TWICE the defense stonewalled the Rebels on 4th-and-short. Cordeiro did not lead the attack all on his own, he needed help from the defense. Multiple stops of help, and he got it.

It’s also no secret that San Diego State is struggling on offense. The Aztecs average around 350 total yards per game, which is definitely not ideal. Running back Juwan Washington’s mid-season injury means the Aztecs won’t have a 1000-yard rusher going into the season finale. Can Hawaii channel that positive momentum from the second half of the UNLV game and bring it with them to San Diego? If they can, they’ll have a chance Saturday.

3. Can Hawaii finally make a dent in the Mountain West hierarchy?

The glory decade of Hawaii football occurred from 2000-2010. The names and faces changed, but Hawaii’s quality and being a factor in the WAC championship race didn’t. Hawaii had the respect of their opponents. Then the 2011-present era happened and well, let’s be honest: Hawaii is not considered to be a tier 1 program in the Mountain West. Despite all that, Hawaii stunted on the doubters and did something few projected for the 2018 Warriors: a winning record and a bowl berth. It’s all locked up, Hawaii will play in a bowl game regardless of what happens this upcoming weekend.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to play for this weekend. The top hierarchy of the Mountain West has owned Hawaii for a long time. While this season has been a fantastic surprise for a young team, the Warriors got hammered by Fresno State and Utah State (and didn’t play Boise State). The Warriors 7-win season means they’ve jumped out of the conference cellar into the average tier. That said, there is still some respect to be gained, and Hawaii can do just that by beating San Diego State this weekend, a program that’s been towards the top of the conference since the TCU, Utah, BYU breakup. It will be far from easy, but while it would be easy to dismiss this game with a bowl berth in the bag, Hawaii very much has something to play for this weekend: respect.

Prediction:

I’m getting better at making these predictions. Congrats are in order for a Hawaii program that entered 2018 with an extremely young and inexperienced roster. I predicted 4-5 wins were in order if things went well. A bowl berth is nothing to scoff at for a program on the rise. This week will present a tough test for a team that hasn’t handled formidable defenses well in 2018. I think Cole McDonald starts at quarterback as the team protects Cordeiro’s redshirt eligibility. If McDonald plays well, he’ll likely start in the bowl game. If not, we probably see Cordeiro on December 22nd. I think McDonald’s mild struggles continue and the Aztecs do what they do: just enough to win. Give me Hawaii 13, San Diego State 24.