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Hawaii vs. Vanderbilt: Three things to look for, Prediction

A brand-new era of Hawaii Rainbow Warrior football begins with SEC foe Vanderbilt coming to Manoa

Fresno State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images


Location: Honolulu, Hawaii (Clarence T.C. Ching Complex)

Date/Time: Saturday, August 27th at 4:30 p.m. (Hawaii Time)

Television: CBS Sports Network

Streaming: You’ll need a cable log-in, but the game will be streamed here.

Radio: ESPN Honolulu

Head-to-Head: Hawaii and Vanderbilt have never met on the gridiron. The Warriors will host the Commodores on Saturday, and travel to Nashville for a Week 0 contest next season in 2023.

Three things to look for:

1. Who are the 2022 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors?

I’m not going to belabor the obvious: Hawaii football once again dealt with a tidal wave of change during the off-season, a theme in recent years. Todd Graham is gone, but only after he burned the house down. Chevan Cordeiro plays for San Jose State. Darius Muasau plays for UCLA. Jonah Laulu plays for Oklahoma. The list goes on and on, Hawaii’s roster was ravaged by the transfer portal back in January.

After Graham resigned, Hawaii hired Timmy Chang as head coach. Chang is a rising young mind in the game, but admittedly is a little on the green side when it comes to experience. He hasn’t even been an offensive coordinator at the Group of 5 level, let alone head coach. Add in the fact that Hawaii has an astounding 53 incoming players this fall, and it’s fair to wonder: who are the 2022 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors?

In all my years of following this program, I’ve never entered a season unsure what to expect quite like this one. With so many new faces on offense, defense, and the coaching staff, Hawaii is a total wildcard. Betting odds warn of a rebuilding season, but otherwise Hawaii fans enter this game like a kid on Christmas: I don’t know what’s in the stocking, but I really hope it isn’t coal. For what it is worth, expectations seem to be low from neutrals. On the flip side, look no further than the 1992, 1999, and 2018 seasons for optimism. UH has a strange tradition of thriving when neutral expectations are in the dirt.

2. Is Vanderbilt what the doctor ordered?

It is not every year that Hawaii has the opportunity to host a Power 5 program. This should be quite the interesting look on national television, hosting Vanderbilt in 9,000 seat Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. Needless to say, the Commodores are amazing in several sports, especially baseball, but yes...they’re typically the butt of jokes for football.

Vanderbilt is 2-19 in their last two seasons. Former Vanderbilt fullback Clark Lea took over as head coach last season and the results were mostly the same. Hard to fault him there, this is a major rebuilding project. There were some bright moments, his team did push South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ole Miss in games where they were heavy underdogs. Still, 2-10 is nothing to be impressed with. That said, Hawaii is in no position to overlook any team. In fact, the Warriors are betting underdogs for this game.

Quarterback Mike Wright is the starting quarterback for the Commodores, and he has a running back group filled with experience. Rocko Griffin is the leading returner in rushing, but Ray Davis is likely to start and could be the focus of this offense. If the offensive line has improved, Vandy could sport a decent running game.

Keep an eye on freshman quarterback AJ Swann. Maybe he plays, maybe he doesn’t, but Vandy fans are hoping the prized recruit ends up playing a big role in digging this program out of the recent rut.

Vanderbilt brings back 7 starters on defense, including their top 4 leading tacklers from last season. Again, not all experience is good experience, but Vanderbilt does have some experienced talent for the 2022 campaign. Looking at the linked depth chart, you’ll notice the Vanderbilt defensive line has some serious length.

Is progress on the horizon for Lea’s program? Or more of the same? UH will be hoping for the latter.

3. Hawaii needs playmakers to reveal themselves

Casual Hawaii fans attending this game in person will want to grab a program from one of the ushers. New names abound. For internet fans, here’s the depth chart Hawaii released. With most, if not all, of last year’s star players gone, who enters the spotlight? Here are a few names to watch:

Quarterback Brayden Schager is believed to be leading the quarterback battle including Cammon Cooper, Joey Yellen, Jake Farrell, and a few others. Schager played some last season as a true freshman with mixed results, although did register a massive upset win over ranked Fresno State. He’ll hand off the ball to running back Dedrick Parson, who thrived in the bell-cow role after Dae Dae Hunter spent most of the season hurt. Freshman running backs Tylan Hines and Jordan Johnson both have promising upside.

The wide receiver room is unproven, but tight end Jordan Murray just might be the breakout player on this offense. Seriously, there is all-conference potential for the 6’4” 235 lbs tight end. Hawaii’s roster is filled with mystery, but I’d be stunned if Murray isn’t a key player. An offensive line filled with experience should help these skill players find their footing.

On defense, pass rushing transfer Mataio Soli is expected to be an instant-impact player. Linebacker Wynden Ho’ohuli, the top recruit in the state of Hawaii in 2021, has the chance to be special. Linebackers Isaiah Tufaga and Penei Pavihi are experienced players who will be relied upon for leadership. In the secondary, cornerbacks Jojo Forest, Virdell Edwards, and Hugh Nelson will all bring Power 5 experience to the table. As alluded to earlier, there are a host of transfers among the 53 incoming players that Hawaii fans are hoping become unexpected stars. Surely, there will be playmakers who shine Saturday that will surprise onlookers. But I think a few of the mentioned players above will play a big role. Bottom line: Hawaii needs difference makers, playmakers, to off-set the transfer portal losses from January.


Nothing quite illustrates how hard Hawaii was hit by the transfer portal like seeing that the Rainbow Warriors opened as 6.5-point underdogs against Vanderbilt. It’s moved up to as high as +8. Yes, the Commodores should be improved in year #2 under Clark Lea, but that’s still a reality check of sorts for Hawaii fans.

Hawaii has a young coach, leading a young staff, that’s trying to guide a roster filled with transfers that haven’t played together. That’s a difficult task. The flip side is the mystery box concept: what if we open the transfer box and it’s filled with playmakers! Well, in that case maybe Hawaii will surprise the Mountain West this fall. The Debbie Downer’s will counter: what if the transfers don’t pan out? That would suck.

I expect a mixed bag Saturday and all season. For me, the key is the quarterback position. An effective quarterback can mask issues elsewhere on the team. Is Schager, or Yellen, Cooper, etc., prepared to thrive in this Air Raid/Run-and-shoot hybrid? I have reservations about the defense, I think a step back is likely in the cards, but I’d be shocked if Timmy Chang’s offense isn’t exciting. I’ll drink the juice and predict that Hawaii comes out flying on offense.

Yes, the 2022 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors have a plethora of question marks across the roster and coaching staff. Growing pains seem like a near lock, but not painful enough to lose to Vanderbilt, right? Last season, the Commodores opened the season with a 23-3 loss to East Tennessee State. I know Hawaii has questions, valid questions. Vanderbilt might eventually find their way as a program under Clark Lea, but I can’t ignore their recent results. The Commodores rebuild still feels very much a work in progress. You all know me, I’ll eat crow if I’m wrong, but a loss Saturday would be foreboding for the Warriors.

The 2022 Warriors are going to reveal who they are in late August and September. For now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt against a traditionally poor opponent. Give me Hawaii 30, Vanderbilt 20.