California Golden Bears (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Friday, August 26, 2016 at 10PM EST
Where: ANZ Stadium, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAL -20.5/HAW +20.5
Over/Under Total: 63
The California Golden Bears face the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Friday on August 26 in the first game of the 2016-17 college football season.
The game is being held in the exotic location of Sydney, Australia. Hawaii is 5 hours closer by plane, but make no mistake, this is a titanic road trip for both teams. Both teams enter a crossroads season, with Cal looking to avoid a downward trajectory after establishing themselves as a legitimate Pac-12 team last season. Hawaii has new leadership and is looking to return to their high-flying days of the past. Which team can get off to a good start in Australia nearly a full week before all the other teams get started?
Cal is now in the post-Jared Goff era. The top pick in the NFL draft was a big part of bringing Cal up from laughingstock status. They scored some big wins last season, including a 55-36 win over a good Air Force team in a bowl game. They started the season 5-0, ending up at 8-5. In the offensive-heavy Pac-12, they were the second-highest scoring team in the conference.
Hawaii saw their program even more ragged than normal in Ď15. Even their normal robust home presence was not apparent. They covered the spread only 3 times the whole season, with the point spreads seemingly never big enough for a lousy Hawaii bunch. New head coach Nick Rolovich has an offensive mind. He looks to return the Rainbow Warriors to their status of not that long ago, when they would let it fly and at least were able to field a potent aerial offense. Weíll see if he can make it work, as itís been painful to watch the Hawaii offense slosh around in recent years with no direction, fire, or electricity.
The good news for the Hawaii offense, in addition to the arrival of Rolovich, is that ten returners are on this side of the ball and new coordinator Zak Hill has some tools with which to work. He was fairly adept in turning FCS school Eastern Washington into an offensive force and weíll see what Hill and Rolovich can come up with in Hawaii. They might need some time for this to come around, still mostly stuck with the same players who were responsible for Hawaii being so lackluster in recent seasons.
As of press time, there is a QB battle raging in Hawaii that is closely-contested. Ikaike Woosley was the backup last year and had some playing time. He was the assumed starter, but has been challenged by Aaron Zwahlen and Dru Brown. In any event, this isnít a case of having a wealth of great options, as Rolovich and Hill are just looking for their best fit. Some nice tools are available, namely with RB Paul Harris, who ran for 1132 yards last season. From a ball-catching standpoint, the receiver crew has talent and depth. Marcus Kemp, Devan Stubblefield, Isaiah Bernard, and Dylan Collie will provide whoever the quarterback is with some viable options. The line returns all starters and are hoping hard-earned experience manifests into some better form in 2016.
The Hawaii defense has a new coordinator in Kevin Lempa, who looks to increase the aggression and playmaking components with a ďDĒ that hasnít made an impact in recent seasons. He also looks to impart on this team the ability to make a key play, with them being horrible in clutch spots over the recent past. The pass-rush was decent last season. Unfortunately, their line was picked apart by suspensions and injuries. Linebacker returns just one starter. At corner, Jalen Rogers and Nick Nelson will be good, as will safeties Daniel Lewis and Dany Mulanga. But with the front looking tattered, they might look a lot like the same group that gave up 36 points a game in 2015.
Cal is banking that they got a gem in grad transfer QB Davis Webb, the former Texas Tech quarterback. New offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was an understudy of Kliff Kingsbury, whose Texas Tech offense will be a template of what theyíre trying to accomplish at Cal. Webb tossed 46 touchdowns with the Red Raiders and gives Cal at least the chance to continue their high-flying offensive ways.
Cal was identified as more of a passing team last season and should remain one to some extent with the arm of Webb, but there is some upside in the ground-game. Tre Watson, Vic Enwere, and Khalfani Muhammad were all over 500 yards on the ground last season. They will be running behind an experienced line that returns four starters and should be effective. The outstanding issue is the thin receiver crew that Webb will have at his disposal. There is some youth with size on its way up the depth chart, along with existing pieces with Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson, who will need to pick up the slack. This part of the offense will likely determine if Calís offense has a chance to again be really good.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes hasnít gotten much credit for his handiwork on the defensive side of the ball, where he has progressively made gains with what was at one point a laughable unit. Last seasonís Cal ďDĒ gave up 30.7 points a game against an offensively-heavy schedule of teams, but thatís a 15+ point drop from three seasons ago. Only five starters return to this group, with the majority of their leadership out the door. Look for James Looney and DeVante Wilson to do well up front against the run. Linebacker is an even thinner spot with guys transferring and graduating. Darius Allensworth is a nice foundational piece for the secondary, but a few other pieces need to come around. Losing strong safety Damariay Drew for the season certainly didnít help. At face value, this Cal defense looks like a potential liability.
Itís hard enough to gauge how a pro team will do when having to cross an ocean, but going to Australia is a big ask for college kids and one can only be so sure how it will all resonate. Hawaii is perhaps more adept at long trips due to their geography. But weíre looking at week one in a faraway location, making it a bit difficult to gauge what will unfold on the field come August 26.
Hawaii is headed in the right direction and their new leadership under former Rainbow Warriors player Rolovich should pan out at some point. This is a really tough spot, though, against a Pac-12 team in a different hemisphere. And while Cal is still working on a lot of things, including a revamped defense and new quarterback, they should be pretty strong out of the gates. Still, with a Hawaii offense that should have more pep facing a Cal ďDĒ with a lot of questions in a faraway land, I sense Hawaii can cover the number.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors plus 20.5 points.
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