Last week we attempted to predict which of the 12 football teams will be the most improved in the 2020 season. This week, as you may have guessed, will look at the opposite. Which team appears to be the most likely to regress in the upcoming season?
While looking over the 2019 rosters and records of the Mountain West school’s the answer to the question is pretty clear to me. Hawaii is going to struggle to maintain their 10-5 success from last season with a new head coach at the helm and the loss of various key players, including QB Cole McDonald and three receivers who each had 60+ receptions. With the offense likely taking a significant step backward and their defense being mediocre at best, it is safe to assume the Rainbow Warriors will take a significant step back in 2020. .
As an honorable mention I also believe Utah State will regress with Jordan Love entering the NFL ranks after being drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. The only reason I did not put them first is they were only 7-6 last year and I do not anticipate them falling as far as Hawaii might simply due to the heights they reached a year ago.
On paper, this doesn’t feel difficult at all. Hawaii won 10 games in 2019, won the West Division championship and knocked off old rival Brigham Young in their bowl game.
Then January happened.
Cole McDonald declared pro. Nick Rolovich left for the Pac-12. Todd Graham of all people replaced him and had spring ball taken away from him because of the pandemic. Hawaii will have a first-year staff with a new starting quarterback, and on-field installation of the new system can’t start until mid-July. Add in a brutal schedule, and it’s not difficult to see Hawaii regressing in 2020. Sure, you can throw Utah State minus Jordan Love in there, or San Diego State taking a step back minus Rocky Long, but the overall series of events that unfolded this off-season for Hawaii sure seem to set the stage for a step back. Will that be a slight step back (6-8 wins) or a big step back (not bowl eligible) remains to be seen.
The obvious pick is Hawaii. They were the West Division champions and are coming off of a 10 win season. Unfortunately for the Rainbow Warriors, they won’t be repeating that same kind of success in 2020. Cordiero is solid, but he is no Cole McDonald. I think the Warriors will be staying home during bowl season.
Utah State and Nevada are in my honorable mention category. The Aggies are replacing a once in a generation quarterback for that program and are really lacking at the skill positions. I also think all of the preseason Nevada hype is a bit much. They will probably be a bowl team, but the championship game isn’t happening.
Hawaii is the easy choice. But I’m going to highlight Utah State. Sure they went 7-6 so it’s not like they reached a high bar in 2019. But they are losing a lot.
First round talent Jordan Love is gone. Steady running back Gerold Bright was right behind him. So is the heart and soul of the defense David Woodward, along with other top performers in DJ Williams and Tipa Galea’i. Heck, even one of the best kickers in the conference, Dominic Eberele graduated. The Aggies lost a lot of receivers and offensive line players the year prior and this is year two of the transition. I expect the bottom to fall out from under them.
Also look at their schedule. Outside of Southern Utah, New Mexico, and toss ups at best with Fresno State and Colorado State, it’s hard to find many wins.
Hawaii. It has to be Hawaii. They won 10 games last season. They lose their head coach and bring in a guy from outside the program who brings in new coordinators on both sides of the ball. So much of the offensive production from 2019 (which carried the team) is gone. Hawaii ranked 96th in total defense last season, so they relied on winning the shootouts. This team plays 13 games in 2020, and I think they likely go either 7-6 or 6-7 (leaning here). Either way, I think a step back occurs.
I also agree with the questions on Utah State. I could see them falling back down to a losing season in 2020, but they were only 7-6 last season. I don’t know if they fall back as far (win total) as Hawaii since that would mean going 4-8 or 3-9. Possible, but I think the 2020 Utah State team will be more competitive than that.
Lastly, UNLV might fall back in the win column. The Rebels went 4-8 last season, so the bar is not set very high for 2020. Still, they play a brutal schedule this fall. UNLV might not be favored in any of their games this year. Wins for a new coaching staff could be very hard to come by.
I would like to pick someone different than everybody else, but it has to be Hawaii. Utah State has another tough non-conference schedule, but they don’t have as far to fall as Hawaii. Air Force has a long way to fall, but maintains the core of it’s offense and front seven on defense, so I only see a few more losses for the Falcons. With Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA on the non conference schedule, and the loss of McDonald and the head coach, I see a fairly large falloff from the Rainbow Warriors.
I, too, believe that Hawaii will be taking a step back this year. It is hard for any team to repeat or improve upon a 10-win season, when they are not consistently at 10 wins. Everyone looks at Cole McDonald leaving as the major reason for the step back, but I believe that it has to do more with the coach. The change to Todd Graham as head coach caught me off guard a bit, I think he is a good coach, but a bit of a drop off from Nick Rolovich.
The West Division, I believe, will be much weaker this year, the division winner will have six or seven wins. And Hawaii does have a good team, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro should have a good year this year. Along with the Rainbow Warriors, Utah State, with losing Jordan Love, will take a step back this year too, as will San Diego State this year.