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SoFi Hawaii Bowl - Hawaii vs. BYU: Three things to look for, Prediction

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An old WAC rival comes to Hawaii on Christmas Eve

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Louisiana Tech vs Hawaii Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports

BRIGHAM YOUNG VS. HAWAII

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 24th at 3:00 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPN

Streaming: WatchESPN app for those with subscriptions

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: This is a series that has been long dominated by Brigham Young, the Cougars leading the all-time series 23-8. The two programs played five times from 1930-1974, Hawaii won four of them! Unfortunately, from 1978-2018 the Cougars are 22-4 against the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii has never won in Provo, all eight of their victories over the Cougars occurring on Oahu. Their most recent win against BYU was in 2001, a famous 72-45 victory over then #8 ranked BYU, who was undefeated prior to that game. Current Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich was the star quarterback that day for the Warriors. Chad Owens returning kicks, Craig Stuzmann punting a ball into the stands, fun times. BYU won the latest contest between the two programs last fall in Provo by the score 49-23. Zach Wilson’s coming out party.

Three things to look for:

1. Which BYU team shows up?

You would be hard pressed to find another team in college football with a range of more conflicting results than the 2019 Brigham Young Cougars. BYU is 7-5 on the season, and has wins over the likes of Tennessee, Southern California, and Boise State. The Cougars went to Logan, Utah and extracted the souls of Utah State. Impressive stuff. So why is there a hint of lingering doubt surrounding this team?

Well, some of the other results on the schedule are downright shocking. A loss to Toledo, who’s season nosedived after defeating the Cougars. A loss to South Florida, who’s head coach was essentially fired at the end of the season. San Diego State, whom Hawaii defeated to win the West Division, absolutely destroyed the Cougars’ offense. In that particular game, BYU starting quarterback Zach Wilson struggled mightily, leading some to speculate as to whether backup Baylor Romney, the architect of the win over Boise State in October, should return as starter.

This all begs the question: which BYU will Hawaii face? The turnover prone team that’s lost to some teams it absolutely should have beaten? Or the giant-killer with a star quarterback? The range of possible results varies for this contest.

2. The quarterback debate rages on

Oh, you knew we had to talk about this. One cannot talk about the 2019 Hawaii Warriors without discussing the never-ending quarterback controversy. Hawaii is unique in this debate. For most programs, a quarterback controversy brews if multiple quarterbacks are struggling to perform. One way or another, these debates do not last long.

Not Hawaii. Cole McDonald vs. Chevan Cordeiro has been a topic of debate since spring of 2018, and it hasn’t stopped. McDonald has been Hawaii’s primary starter during both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but has the shortest leash of any quarterback with his statistics, maybe ever? McDonald finished second-team all-conference, but there are still those that believe Cordeiro should start.

The results are mixed. McDonald has had good moments, and bad moments. Cordeiro has also been up-and-down (reminder: it was his dreadful performance against UNLV that re-opened the door for McDonald). Boise State has an excellent defense, it shouldn’t have been a surprise they muzzled the run-and-shoot offense better than most, but alas debate rages on about McDonald’s performance in the conference championship game. Cordeiro was rumored to be dealing with an ankle injury. If he’s 100% for the bowl game, could he start? Does Rolovich stick with McDonald? Does either quarterback have a short leash? This debate won’t settle during the Hawaii Bowl, and it’ll be fascinating to see if it continues into 2020.

3. The quest for a double-digit win season

It has been a rollercoaster of a year for Hawaii football. The summer held promise for the Warriors, but the death of linebacker Scheyenne Sanitoa gobsmacked the program. Dedicating the season to Sanitoa, the Warriors started off with two big wins over Pac-12 programs, featuring a game-winning tackle by Manly Williams against Arizona that went viral on the internet. The loss to Washington was disappointing, but a stunning demolishing of Nevada in Reno, a place Hawaii historically struggled, had optimism running high.

At 4-1 and receiving votes in the polls, the season hit a rough patch with blowout losses to Boise State and Air Force, and a disappointing loss at home to a Fresno team that otherwise struggled mightily in 2019. The West Division appeared to be out of reach, even head coach Nick Rolovich acknowledging that their ultimate goal was unlikely to be attainable. Somehow, someway, a few crazy games in the West Division knocked Fresno State and San Diego State down a beg and enabled Hawaii to win their first West Division ever in unlikely fashion. Hawaii would ultimately lose to Boise State again, this time in the conference championship game, but Hawaii achieved something few expected: a division championship.

Attention turning to the Hawaii Bowl, it would be easy to dismiss the bowl season like many do, but Hawaii has a huge carrot to chase: a 10-win, double-digit win season. You don’t need a reminder, but I’ll do it anyway: The decade is coming to an end, and it hasn’t been pretty for Hawaii. The post-June Jones era was supposed to be a time in which Hawaii football capitalized off of what the Brennan, Bess, etc. teams accomplished. Greg McMackin did that. Norm Chow...did not. Hawaii fell from grace, and some wondered if the program’s day in the sun was over.

Enter Nick Rolovich. Four seasons after his hiring, the Warriors are West Division champs and can achieve something no Hawaii team has achieved since Bryant Moniz was spinning the football for UH in 2010: a double-digit win season.

Does a special 2019 season have another highlight in it? BYU stand in the way, because of course it would be them.

Prediction:

Before I say anything else, I’d like to thank you readers for following along to my ramblings this season. It’s been fun watching Hawaii’s program grow. No matter what happens in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl, the West Division title is intact. Successful 2019 campaign, with plenty of optimism entering 2020. As noted above, Brigham Young is all over the place. A 3-point underdog, the Warriors do not have the talent edge in this contest. BYU is big and physical, and while their offense isn’t explosive, Zach Wilson and tight end Matt Bushman present serious problems. Hawaii’s defense, which has shown improvement in recent weeks, will need to provide a spark and create a turnover or two against a turnover prone BYU team. I expect to see both McDonald and Cordeiro on offense, and a team hungry to end the season on a positive note after 2018’s anticlimactic bowl loss to Louisiana Tech. It will be close, but Hawaii rallies late. Give me Hawaii 28, Brigham Young 27.