There’s not much that’s more American than college football, but the 2016 NCAA season kicks off Friday night about as far from the USA as possible when California and Hawaii face off in Sydney, Australia. It’s the first college football game ever played in the city and first Down Under since 1987. The Bears are big favourites on Sports Interaction NCAA football odds.
NCAA Football Opener: California Golden Bears vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Point Spread: Cal -20.5 Over/under: 63 Date: Friday, Aug. 26, 10 p.m. ET (noon in Sydney) Location:ANZ Stadium, Sydney
University of California
Behind star quarterback Jared Goff, California started last season 5-0 and got into the Top 25 of the polls. But then the Bears lost four straight and five of their next seven to finish 4-5 in the Pac-12 Conference and tied for fourth in the North Division. Cal closed the year with a 55-36 rout of Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The Bears lost Goff to the NFL Draft as he was the No. 1 overall pick of the Los Angeles Rams. Those are big shoes to fill as Goff was arguably the best QB in school history (and Aaron Rodgers went to Cal). He completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns in 2015 (yards and TDs were Pac-12 records) and was a three-year starter. Goff set 26 Cal records, including career marks for passing yards (12,220), passing yards per game (329.7 ypg) and touchdown passes (96).
The starting QB Friday against Hawaii will be Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb. He was spectacular for the Red Raiders as a freshman in 2013, but got hurt late in the 2014 season and lost his job to Patrick Mahomes entering last season and barely saw the field. The Texas Tech offensive scheme is basically a mirror image of Cal’s “Bear Raid” up-tempo passing game. In addition, new Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is from former Texas Tech (and current Washington State) coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” coaching tree, as are Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Cal is going to score plenty this season — despite just four offensive starters back — but could have trouble defensively as it did in 2015.
University of Hawaii
Hawaii has finished with a winning record just once since 2007 and last year was 3-10. Coach Norm Chow was fired nine games into the season. He was replaced this offseason by Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, a former quarterback (2000-01) and assistant coach (2003-04, 2008-11) at Hawaii. Rolovich still holds several passing records at Hawaii, including most touchdowns in a quarter and a game.
Rolovich named his starting quarterback for the season last week and it wasn’t a surprise that it was Ikaika Woolsey. He was the only quarterback on the roster with FBS experience, playing in 37 total games. In three years, the senior has thrown for 3,589 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for three more.
Hawaii struggled offensively last year in averaging just 17.6 points per game, which was 118th in the country. The defense was also one of the country’s worst, allowing 35.6 ppg. UH is switching from 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme this year under new defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa. There are 15 returning starters on Hawaii, six of them on defense.
Hawaii hasn’t played Cal since 1994 but has opened with a Pac-12 opponent the past six years and is 2-4. Last year the Rainbow Warriors upset visiting Colorado 28-20.
Cal vs. Hawaii Prediction
Cal is certainly the better team, but that’s a lot of points to give up Week 1, especially with all the travel involved. Hawaii has covered six of its past seven vs. the Pac-12, so take the points. Go over that total as neither team is good defensively.