Hawaii to head down under for Rolo debut against Cal

We’re now less than two weeks away from kickoff of the 2016 college football season when Hawaii opens up against Cal in Sydney, Australia (Aug. 26). I’m truly terrible when it comes to time zones, so though my calendar only says Aug. 14, there’s a chance this game has already taken place.

If that happens to not be true and the Nick Rolovich era is still yet to begin, let’s explore a little bit of what to expect from the opener and the season. There isn’t much confidence from Vegas in our ‘Bows, who enter the game as an almost three-touchdown underdog. Hawaii has had some pretty good openers over the past few years, even as the collective results during the Norm Chow tenure have been lackluster.

They beat Colorado last season, never trailing in a 28-20 victory. That 1-0 start was pretty much the high point for Hawaii and quarterback Max Wittek, who threw for 202 yards and three scores. The team won just twice the rest of the way against UC Davis and Louisiana Monroe.

That lack of production led to some big changes and a lot will be different between last year’s opener and this one. A different continent, a different head coach, a different quarterback. But there could be familiarity in one change as the most likely option under center remains Ikaika Woolsey. Back for his senior season, Woolsey has started 19 games for the ‘Bows, though he really hasn’t ever shaken the stigma of being considered just a backup.

Even now, as we approach the opener, Woolsey is still in a battle for that feature role with Aaron Zwahlen. Without injury, I expect Woolsey to earn the nod and get the first crack at the Bears defense. He’s consistently shown heart and had some memorable moments but his offense always feels like it’s limited in the passing game. Maybe Rolovich can help alter that in both perception and reality.

Sometimes a coach can get too much credit or too much blame, but we are going to have a fairly straightforward visual of just how much of a difference Coach Rolovich can make since a lot of his offensive pieces will be returning contributors. Woolsey, running backs Paul Harris and Diocemy Saint Juste, receivers Marcus Kemp and Dylan Collie should all get plenty of reps against Cal and moving forward.

One knock against Coach Chow was that his game plan was often too conservative and put UH in too many early deficits. Coach Rolovich is known as an offensive innovator (as was Chow), earning that reputation by improving upon Nevada’s production as its offensive coordinator. He has garnered a reputation as more of a gunslinger, which shouldn’t be surprising from a former quarterback.

Whether that reputation seems appropriate at UH will depend on how much he trusts his offense. That was why Coach Chow was perceived as he was. It wasn’t that he became a conservative personality, he just didn’t have faith in his players to execute well enough to open up the offense.

Coach Rolovich has a lot more leeway in that regard and doesn’t have much to lose, so he has an opportunity to be aggressive from the start. Not only does that suit his personality, but it should also show his players a level of trust they may not have felt in previous seasons. No matter how the game against Cal ends, that morale boost would be the larger victory.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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