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Dave Reardon: Warriors could double their win total, but they won’t

Dave Reardon
ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Vanderbilt quarterback AJ Swann during a game in 2022.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Vanderbilt quarterback AJ Swann during a game in 2022.

In just a few days you can hit pause on conference realignment, NIL, and the portal. Transfer your eyes to some actual college football games.

University of Hawaii fans have the rest of the year to complain about what the Warriors don’t have. Week Zero represents one of UH’s advantages; the Warriors are annually among a small handful of teams that starts playing a week before everyone else.

That extra game is valuable, especially for a program that’s rebuilding (literally, when we consider UH’s stadium situation).

Hawaii went 3-10 in Timmy Chang’s debut as a head coach last year. More growing pains are predicted by Mountain West media, who voted UH to finish 10th in the 12-team conference this fall.

After four early season blowouts in ’22, five of UH’s last six losses were by an average of 4.6 points.

Hawaii has many winnable games on its ’23 conference schedule that dodges perennial contenders Boise State and Fresno State, but includes New Mexico and Nevada. The Broncos and Bulldogs accounted for 33 of the 37 first-place media votes heading into this season, and the Lobos and Wolf Pack were a combined 0-16 in the Mountain last year.

Here’s my annual look at how the Ws and Ls will likely stack up for the Warriors:

Game 1

at Vanderbilt

Saturday

For the second-year in a row, these teams meet during Week Zero at a construction site. But this time it’s Vanderbilt’s FirstBank Stadium in Nashville, more than 4,000 miles from the Ching Complex at UH— where the Commodores ripped the Warriors 63-10.

Quarterback Mike Wright won’t dominate again in the rematch, since he transferred to Mississippi State. But AJ Swann impressed as a freshman, with 1,274 passing yards, including 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Nearly the entire offensive line is back from last season’s 5-7 team, which is part of why the Commodores are favored by 17.5 points.

UH led most of the first quarter in ’22, but then Vanderbilt was unstoppable on both sides of the ball; its defense alone outscored Hawaii with two TDs on turnovers.

Maybe the Warriors’ newly installed run and shoot offense will fare better than whatever that was last year, but Hawaii will likely end Week Zero with zero wins again.

>> Loss, 0-1

Game 2

Stanford

Sept. 1

This game — the first at the expanded Ching Complex —is deemed such a big deal that UH is closing all of campus for the entire day. A lot of students don’t have Friday classes, but still …

Stanford is coming off a three-win season, and now hopes it didn’t miss the last lifeboat off of a formerly proud but sinking Pac-12. Now it’s the Pac-4, and the Cardinal were all but begging to get into the ACC late last week.

Stanford has a new coach, Troy Taylor, who loved throwing to tight ends at Sacramento State. The Cardinal have one of the best in the nation at the position in Benjamin Yurosek.

UH’s advantage of a game under its belt will be negated by its short week of practice after a long road trip. Stanford won’t worry about its conference affiliation long enough to go to 4-0 in games against Hawaii.

>> Loss, 0-2

Game 3

Albany

Sept. 9

The Great Danes weren’t so great in 2022, going 3-8 including 2-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

But quarterback Reese Poffenbarger put up nice numbers as a freshman, completing 61.5% of his passes for 24 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Poffenbarger was good enough to garner CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

The Warriors will do what they almost always do against FCS teams and win this one.

>> Win, 1-2

Game 4

at Oregon

Sept. 16

The Ducks have a No. 15 preseason ranking, and a legitimate Heisman candidate in Bo Nix. He completed 71.9 percent of his passes with 29 TDs and 14 rushing last year. Those were all career highs after transferring from Auburn, where he started three seasons — including his first game as a freshman in 2019, a win over Oregon.

Hawaii has a three-game winning streak against Oregon, including one in Eugene. But a lot of things have changed for both programs since 1988, 1992 and 1994, when Bob Wagner was the UH coach.

>> Loss, 1-3

Game 5

New Mexico State

Sept. 23

Some losses are easier to take because they are not surprises. Then there are the embarrassing defeats, like when the Aggies spanked the Warriors 45-26 last fall.

There was nothing fluky or lucky about NMSU’s first win against UH, as the Aggies pounded the Warriors for 357 rushing yards. In their other eight meetings — including four others at Las Cruces — Hawaii won by at least 12 points, and six by 20 or more.

It was New Mexico State’s first win after four losses, and the springboard to a 7-6 record in its last year as an independent before joining Conference USA.

The Warriors win this one because they’re at home, but only if they remember the Aggies are no longer the pushovers of old.

>> Win, 2-3

Game 6

at UNLV

Sept. 30

The Warriors beat the Rebels 31-26 on Senior Night last year, in one of the better games for quarterback Brayden Schager, who is back to start this season in the run and shoot. And the defense forced UNLV to settle for field goals.

But the house edge is strong in this series, both ways, and the Warriors have won just once in their last six visits to Vegas. Dealer wins, 20-17, same score it so often does by in blackjack.

>> Loss, 2-4

Game 7

San Diego State

Oct. 14

It seemed like a desperation move when the Aztecs brought Jalen Mayden back from safety to start at quarterback against UH last year. But he was just good enough to get the job done in a heartbreaking loss for the Warriors on a last-minute SDSU field goal.

Mayden, a four-star prospect QB in high school, spent the rest of last season shaking off the rust and leading the Aztecs to the Hawaii Bowl.

The visitors will be favored, but the Warriors have a shot if Mayden is still throwing picks at the rate he did last year, when he passed it to the other guys 10 times in his half season at quarterback.

>> Loss, 2-5

Game 8

at New Mexico

Oct. 21

Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent brought his quarterback at UAB, Dylan Hopkins, with him. That should help an offense that was one of the worst in the nation statistically.

But most of the Lobos best defensive players from last year are gone, as is the legendary former head coach and, in recent years, defensive coordinator, Rocky Long, who left for Syracuse.

The Warriors win if they are healthy and take care of the ball.

>> Win, 3-5

Game 9

San Jose State

Oct. 28

It’s homecoming — for Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, the Mountain West preseason offensive player of the year who was UH’s starter before transferring after the tumultuous 2021 season.

Cordeiro led a balanced offense in a 27-14 win against his former teammates last year at San Jose.

Going into his sixth college season after starring at Saint Louis School, he’s the conference’s most experienced and dangerous dual threat QB. This is going to be a hard one for Warriors fans to watch as they reflect on what could have been.

>> Loss 3-6

Game 10

at Nevada

Nov. 4

Chang’s previous job was as a Wolf Pack assistant from 2017 to 2021. His familiarity with Nevada’s personnel pays off like it did in last year’s 31-16 win.

Plus, the Pack isn’t expected to be much better than last year, when it was especially bad against passing offenses.

>> Win 4-6

Game 11

Air Force

Nov. 11

This figures to be the toughest conference game on UH’s schedule, as the Falcons are picked to finish second in the Mountain.

Air Force loses a lot of the key parts that won 10 games, including Baylor in a bowl game. But this is a machine that has won 10 every year since 2019 — except for 2020, when it played just six.

And what does the schedule-maker have against Hawaii, giving it a military academy on Veterans Day?

>> Loss 4-7

Game 12

at Wyoming

Nov. 18

Brrrr.

Yes, November in Laramie gives you football weather — which is a big advantage for guys who live in it against visitors from the tropics.

The Cowboys got nothing in return when stellar corner Cam Stone joined the Warriors (as every UH fan knows, that’s how the portal works). But one man does not a football team make. And the elements favor the home team, especially against a passing offense.

>> Loss 4-8

Game 13

Colorado State

Nov. 25

The Warriors have won the home finale for the seniors five times in a row, including against the Rams in 2021.

Colorado State has five losing seasons in a row. Unless the Rams are somehow playing for bowl eligibility, Hawaii will be way more motivated.

>> Win 5-8

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