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Hawaii @ UCLA: Three things to look for, Prediction

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The frustrated Rainbow Warriors open the 2021 season at the famed Rose Bowl

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

HAWAII @ UCLA

Location: Pasadena, California (Rose Bowl)

Date/Time: Saturday, August 28th at 9:30 a.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: ESPN

Streaming: TV subscribers should be able to watch on the ESPN app

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: UCLA leads the series 3-0. The two programs faced each other twice back in the 1930s, then didn’t meet again until 2017. Baffling, really, wouldn’t have guessed that hiatus. UCLA won that 2017 meeting 56-23. Josh Rosen lit UH up. The pandemic robbed Hawaii of a home contest against UCLA last fall. Unaware if that game will ever be rescheduled. EDIT: Of course, a mere two hours after this post went live, UH announced that the 2020 home match has been rescheduled for 2024, AND Hawaii and UCLA added a game each to the series. Good on ya, Bruins.

Three things to look for:

1. Beware of the sleeping giant

Chip Kelly’s stint at UCLA has been strange to this point. Kelly sits at 10-21 through three seasons, thus far not fulfilling the promise his hiring initially suggested. However, the Bruins went 3-4 during last season’s shortened season, and while on the surface that appears to be a poor record, the Bruins were a total of 15 points away from being undefeated. Yes, yes. That’s not how football works, could, shoulda, woulda, but the Bruins were not the push over they were in the preceding two seasons. In fact, they might be one of the better sleepers in college football going into this fall.

Finishing 69th in total defense (this is me showing restraint), the Bruins defense wasn’t perfect, but did finish 8th nationally in Team Sacks, averaging 3.29 per game. This defense will attack relentlessly. The concession: the Bruins also conceded 274.1 passing yards per game. Boom or bust on defense. Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro will be asked to scramble in this contest, and whether he can find wide receivers down the field might determine whether the Warriors have success on offense. Todd Graham’s offense is typically thinking run first, and that won’t change, but with the Bruins 4-2-5 base preferring an aggressive style, UH might look at the air in this contest.

2. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is good

DTR showed up the Pasadena around the same time Chip Kelly did. Put the two together: the offensive mastermind who changed the way we think about offensive tactics while at Oregon has the opportunity to foster the talent of a top recruit. To say things were initially bumpy would be an understatement, but DTR showed improvement last fall and appears poised to be one of college football’s best quarterbacks. Better late than never.

The Bruins offense ranked 8th nationally in total offense, 12th nationally in rushing offense, 68th in passing offense. DTR added 61.2 rushing yards per game all by himself. Demetric Felton is really good, but he plays for the Cleveland Browns now so expect to see running back Brittain Brown standing next to DTR in the shotgun.

Also watch out for tight end Greg Dulcich, who ranked 2nd in the Pac-12 in receiving yards in 2020. 19.9 yards per catch. Dominant. Really, this is only name-dropping a few very talented players. Yes, I know. Nevada, San Jose State are very good and are garnering Top 25 votes, but this UCLA team has the most talented group of players Hawaii will see all season.

3. Warning signs entering the 2021 season

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. This past Friday, the city of Honolulu and Hawaii Athletics dropped a bombshell on fans by announcing that the Warriors’ home games won’t allow fans in attendance, at least for now.

Players took to Twitter to voice their opposition. While the streets of Waikiki are flooded on evenings, concerts occurring, etc., vaccinated fans cannot pack UH’s tiny new stadium for a few Saturdays. You’d be hard-pressed to blame Hawaii fans for feeling picked on.

Regardless of where you stand on the debate, it’s another warning shot to college football fans everywhere. I myself want to dive headfirst into the excitement of the 2021 college football season. 2020 sucked, I want to believe this fall will be different, but the reality is the pandemic has not faded away. This time around, it’s an unforced error, but all the same we need to be careful.

The same day the city of Honolulu shutdown UH fans, the FBS programs in Oregon announced that proof of vaccination will be required to attend games. LSU followed suit, more to come.

The point here: this is all trending in the wrong direction, and while the merits of the city of Honolulu’s ban are very much up for debate (vaccinated football fans are not the reason case numbers are rising), 2021 college football is not going to be the free-for-all we thought it would be as recently as June. Please get vaccinated, readers. If this continues to escalate, we’ll all be watching games from home, reading about cancellations, etc.

Prediction:

Here we go again, another season of wrong picks from the author. I’ll be honest: I think Hawaii can win just about every game on the 2021 schedule. Hold your horses, I’m not picking them to finish 13-0 (FWIW, I picked 8-5 in the season preview), only saying that Hawaii should be able to contend for a win almost every week. Few, if any blowout losses. No 20+ point spreads.

However, if there is one game I think could get away from Hawaii, it’s this one. Hawaii is a 17-point underdog against a super talented UCLA team that feels poised to breakout this fall. The versatility of Chevan Cordeiro and Calvin Turner Jr. give Hawaii hope, and the Warriors defense will surprise this fall, but I think the Bruins are just a little too much for UH from a talent perspective. Give me Bruins 40, Warriors 24.