As difficult as it is to believe, game week is upon us. Vanderbilt is set to take on the Rainbow Warriors of
Hawaii in a Week Zero matchup Saturday evening at 9:30 local time. Coach Clark Lea and his team will
be looking to improve upon a 2-10 record after his first year coaching the Commodores.
As for what to expect from Hawaii, your guess may be as good as ours. You would be hard-pressed to
find any football program that experienced as much turnover from the top down as this one. The
Rainbow Warriors finished last season with a 6-7 record but were still invited to a bowl. The team
declined to participate due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but then reports began to surface about alleged
abuse from head coach Todd Graham and a players-only meeting where the team decided to sit out the
bowl without the coach’s knowledge. All this led to Graham’s resignation and a mass exodus of players.
Like Vanderbilt, Hawaii decided to hire a former player as their next head coach: Timmy Chang. Chang
is a beloved former Rainbow Warrior who set several program records as a quarterback in 2000-2004.
Still, his hire was still questionable given he has no experience as a coordinator or head coach at the FBS
level. Compounding his own thin resume, Chang then inexplicably hired an offensive coordinator – Ian
Shoemaker – who has no FBS coaching experience period.
On offense, Hawaii only returns four starters – with three of those on the offensive line which is
unquestionably the biggest strength of the team going into Chang’s first season. It appears the new
coach will have his team running some variation of the run and shoot air raid offense, but what
quarterback will be running that offense remains to be seen. Hawaii’s experience starting QB of last
season, Chevan Cordeiro, transferred to San Jose St. His backup, Brayden Schager, threw for 615 yards
in 5 games with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions as a true freshman. He will be competing with two —
incoming transfers Cammon Cooper (Washington State) and Joey Yellen (Pittsburgh) – and of course the
depth chart just released offered no hint who would start. The Rainbow Warriors also lost their three
top receivers, but they do return a solid offensive line with a quality running back in Dedrick Parson who
rushed for 618 yards at 5.3 per carry.
On defense, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of reason for optimism for Hawaii. They lost 10 starters
from the worst defense in the Mountain West, a unit that allowed 446 yards and 31.6 points per game.
They will be replaced by a hodgepodge of new players from various schools including edge rusher
Mataio Soli from Arkansas and corner Jojo Forest from Oregon St. They do have a solid kicker in
Matthew Shipley who hit 18 of 21 field goals and averaged 41.5 yards per punt. If the Commodore
offense struggles against this unit, it would be disappointing to say the least.
Another factor in Vanderbilt’s favor is the lack of a true home field advantage. Hawaii is still playing
home games at the Ching Athletics Complex – with a seating capacity of just over 9,000 – while Aloha
Stadium is being rebuilt. The crowd should have minimal impact against a team that has played in some
of the toughest road environments in the SEC.
Of course, Hawaii football director of player development Jeff Reinebold apparently disagrees.
At practice last Thursday, Reinebold told reporters “I cannot wait for that moment when we come out into
that stadium. I know there’s going to be 9,300 people there, but I will bet you that the energy is going
to be like there’s 90,000 in that stadium.” He further added “This is a special place, Vanderbilt has no
idea what they’re getting into.”
Maybe there is some truth to that, but with all due respect to Reinebold there is a reason this game is
one of the rare instances where Vanderbilt is a solid favorite going in. Hawaii has recruited poorly for
years. While Vandy fans bemoan when the Commodores have consistently finished in the 50’s
nationally in recruiting, Hawaii has consistently finished in the 120’s. When you consider that, the
upheaval of the roster, a very inexperienced staff coaching their first game, and the lack of a home field,
there is simply no reason Vanderbilt should lose this game. Of course, I said the same thing about the opener last season…