The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors clash with the UCLA Bruins in the season opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Here’s a complete preview for the game, including college football picks.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. UCLA Bruins
Saturday, August 28, 2021 – 03:30 PM EDT at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
The UCLA Bruins opened as 17-point favorites on the college football odds board at Heritage Sports and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them an 88.3 percent chance to win. The equivalent
For reference, let’s take a quick look at the F+ Ratings at Football Outsiders last season, where UCLA checked in at No. 44 overall (No. 25 offense, No. 69 defense). That was well ahead of Hawaii at No. 92 (No. 69 offense, No. 93 defense). Need a second source? Sports Reference had UCLA (minus-0.11 SRS) rated almost five points better than Hawaii (minus-4.98 SRS) using their Simple Rating System.
Can a Normal Offseason Help Hawaii?
Hawaii beat Houston 28-14 in the New Mexico Bowl on December 24th to finish their first season under Todd Graham with a 5-4 record. This team will have a challenging schedule, which can complicate their bowl aspirations but a normal offseason should help them. Hawaii native Chevan Cordeiro, Cole McDonald’s backup quarterback for two years, is coming off his first season as the starter under center and he became one of the top signal-callers in the Mountain West after completing 195 of 313 passes for 2,083 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions in nine games.
Calvin Turner (six touchdowns through the air and four touchdowns on the ground) and Jared Smart (36 receptions), Cordeiro’s main weapons, are both back, which is a big plus for this offense and their line is experienced. They did allow 28 sacks last year, so there’s clearly room for improvement. The defense is heading in the right direction, they gave up under 30 points per game for the first time since 2014 and they allowed 5.7 yards per snap (after allowing 6.3 in 2019). The return of linebacker Darius Muasau can help them get tougher against the run but they also need to improve their pass rush and limit big plays allowed.
Can UCLA Have a Breakthrough Season?
UCLA is just 10-21 under Chip Kelly but all their four losses last season came by six points or less and the defense turned a corner. The signs of improvement displayed by that unit along with an offense that averaged 35.4 points a game point to a potential breakthrough season for a team that wants to attain a bowl game. UCLA’s schedule is tough but quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson made progress last season and he can build on that. Thompson-Robinson completed 90 of 138 passes for 1,1120 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions in five games and the offensive line can be a strength this season.
The defense improved last year, allowing 30.7 points per game and 5.4 yards per snap, cutting those totals from 34.8 and 6.7 in 2019. This unit led the Pac-12 in sacks and finished second against the run but they still need more overall improvement, particularly when it comes to stops on third downs and inside the red zone.
Brittain Brown and Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet can be a solid combo at running back but UCLA will miss Demetric Felton. UCLA ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last season and they struggled with big plays out of the passing game, turnovers and situational stops. As mentioned before, the Hawaii offensive line allowed 28 sacks last year but they’re due for some positive regression and a normal offseason can help this team on both sides of the ball. Hawaii has options, led by Cordeiro, Turner and Smart and UCLA is laying too many points. This is just the season opener and while I see UCLA winning this game, they’re just 1-3 ATS in their last four games and I can’t trust them to cover. I like Hawaii catching more than two touchdowns here.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.