7 Things to Know When the Warriors Kick Off the NCAA Football Season in Australia
Like a high school senior who landed a date with Gisele Bundchen, UH somehow scored the college football season premiere that kicks off against Cal Berkeley, in Sydney at 4 p.m. (HST). But do the Warriors stand a chance? Here’s what you need to know.
University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors football coach Nick Rolovich.
PhotoS: Courtesy of UH Department of Athletics
1. First, do not attempt to adjust your antenna.
Your television’s transmission of the first kickoff of the entire NCAA college football season will not emanate from another dimension. And, if the accents are different, the meat in your roll is lamb and that coffee you’re drinking is called a flat white, just “rolo” with it—as in, you know, first-year coach Nick “Rolo” Rolovich of the University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors. Because you’re not in Hālawa anymore, mate. You’re in Australia.
2. Why are we here?
Sydney’s local government was looking for a test drive in hopes of landing an NFL preseason game. Cal was looking for a way to financially boost its program and applied for a headstart on the season; officials intended to play Baylor, which declined—either because student-athletes would be out of classes for a week, or because (the cynical view) they’ve been hit with a serious sexual assault investigation by the NCAA. Enter UH athletic director David Matlin, who applied to the NCAA for an exemption. Hawai‘i has gotten help from the NCAA before; in recognition of the difficulties posed by our remote location, the Warriors can play an extra, 13th game, if a Mainland opponent can be found. It’s like a bowl game, only it isn’t; teams do it to reward players.
3. What does UH get out of it?
A big payday for a strapped program: about $400,000, which, minus expenses, may be closer to $250,000. Also, a huge entourage of staff, players, family and fans get to experience a big game atmosphere before a season that is, frankly, expected to be a bit of a struggle.
4. Besides cash, how might it help the football program?
Compared to Mainland colleges, UH has been ahead of the curve in scouting and recruiting from Down Under, although Aussie punters started showing up in NFL ranks as far back as 1994. We’re always filling our volleyball and basketball squads with foreign talent, too. But, after the success of punter-returner-wide receiver Scott Harding, who was the team’s MVP in 2014, it just doesn’t feel like a UH team without an Aussie.
This year’s Aussie: rugby star Max HendrIe.
5. Do we have any Australian players?
We do and we don’t. Though offered a scholarship, rugby star Scott Hendrie is awaiting approval to join the team. The hangup is apparently getting his college credits to align with NCAA rules. The NCAA did finally grant a waiver so Hendrie can travel with the team to Sydney, though not to play.
6. Could the distraction and the jet lag hurt the team later on?
Fair dinkum, it could add miles and wear and tear on a team that has scheduled two very tough teams in the preseason. These so-called “body bag” games—alluding to the tendency of the power team to pummel the weaker team to the point of demoralization—are a mixed blessing. Sure, they make money. But will the Warriors be ready for Jim-Harbaugh-coached Michigan, ranked No. 7 and expected to contend for the national championship, followed two weeks later by Arizona?
7. Can we beat Cal?
Of course. We beat Cal’s ranked basketball team in the NCAA tournament last year, didn’t we? Realistically, well, expect the Warriors defense to be challenged early and often by a pair of freshman wide receivers. Cal is a passing juggernaut and has replaced last year’s No. 1 NFL draft pick, QB Jared Goff, with a fourth-year transfer from Texas Tech, another pass-happy team. It also has a good offensive line and three experienced backs who combined for 1,500 yards. If Davis Webb can connect with Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson…
On the other hand, UH is getting a fresh start under a young and already popular coach who’s raised the energy level and community hopes. Not to obsess about it, but we should hope those Cal Bears are woozy from too many flat whites after a night of Foster’s and grilled prawns.
SIDE NOTE: No matter who wins, it’s going to be a big day for the Warriors, who finished 3-10 (0-8 in the Mountain West Conference) and are picked last for this year, too. Last year’s largest home crowd was 25,000. This year’s Sydney College Football Cup, as it is being billed Down Under, is expected to draw 65,000 fans, almost all of them Aussies.