Four games into the 2016 college football season, there’s still not much we can state definitively about the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Off to a 1-3 start with three blowout defeats and a comeback win over UT Martin, there isn’t much difference from the previous few Norm Chow led seasons. Nobody was expecting some sort of overnight transformation, but there was an inkling that Nick Rolovich would provide a necessary spark to propel UH towards relevance.
That’s not to say that still won’t happen, but we haven’t seen the signs of its arrival just yet.
With conference play opening this week, maybe the playing field will begin to level out and we’ll see where Hawaii falls on the spectrum. The Nevada Wolfpack, a program Rolovich certainly knows well, makes its way to Aloha Stadium on Saturday to open the Mountain West season at 6 p.m.
While we don’t really know just what to make of UH, there are some roles that have become well-defined. They don’t seem to be in a situation with any real position battles to sort out, other than how to best utilize their running back committee.
Ikaika Woolsey is the starting quarterback as long as he doesn’t have any disastrous outings. I think he has played well enough and seemed comfortable enough to hold onto that job, giving Hawaii its best chance to win games. He’s made too many mistakes (six interceptions in 90 pass attempts), but the offense has shown some explosiveness with him out there.
His favorite target has been Marcus Kemp, who will need to have a big day against a Nevada secondary giving up fewer than 175 yards per game. While the Wolfpack might not have been eaten up through the air, they have been susceptible to the big play, which is certainly Kemp’s specialty. The senior receiver already has four touchdowns among his 18 receptions.
But other than Woolsey and Kemp, the production so far hasn’t been all that stellar. A lot of that has to do with facing a good California team, a great Michigan team and a high-powered Arizona team in three of its first four games.
So how will that translate into the Mountain West? Sometimes under new coaches, it’s unwise to measure success by just wins and losses, but I would argue that Hawaii’s record by season’s end will be a very good barometer of how it should be judged. This is not a young team in a rebuilding season. The ‘Bows may not have the level of talent many Division I programs enjoy, but they are an experienced group. New offensive schemes are in place, but this is more about execution than learning.
Nevada doesn’t come in as the conference power it has been in the past. Since a 13-1 season in 2010, the Wolfpack haven’t won more than seven games in any of the past five years. They have fared much better than Hawaii over that stretch, but the ‘Bows are only considered a small underdog heading into Saturday.
Rolovich and the ‘Bows have taken on the big boys and been humbled slightly. But they need to start forming a winning tradition, which begins against teams with which they share a level playing field. Nevada must fall into that category, so a home win against the Wolfpack shouldn’t be an unexpected result.
Hawaii’s season really starts this week, so their record from here on out should tell us all we need to know about year one of the Rolovich era.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.