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Let’s play some football

  • Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i

    The University of Hawai’i football team prepares for the season-opener against Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium.

  • Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i

    The University of Hawai’i football team prepares for the season-opening against Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium.

  • Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i

    Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (12 green) during football practice at the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus.

The University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors are experiencing a transformation at the helm in a year that is full of changes throughout collegiate football.

With any collegiate football program, the major change occurred at the head-coaching position, when UH hired Todd Graham, who coached the Arizona State University Sun Devils’ from 2012 to 2017.

Graham replaces Nick Rolovich, who led the Rainbow the previous three seasons before defecting to Washington State to coach the Cougars.

Graham looks to start his career as the Rainbows’ new head coach with a debut victory when his team takes on the Fresno State Bulldogs at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Fresno.

A program on the rise

Graham, who took a three-year hiatus from coaching collegiate football after his stint with the Sun Devils, will step into his new position with the Rainbows with high expectations.

The Rainbows enter the season as the defending West Division champions, and played in its first-ever Mountain West Conference championship game, falling to Boise State 31-10.

The success the Rainbows experienced last season most likely accelerated Rolovich’s defection to Washington State, and is the reason he was offered the $3 million contract to coach the PAC-12 team.

Mix of youth, experience

The University of Hawai‘i’s offensive line will enter the 2020 campaign with experience.

The Rainbows’ line features nine different players who started at least one game last year, with a combined 121 starts, which is the third-most-experienced line in the country.

Maintaining mojo

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Chevan Cordeiro will enter the season opener against the Dogs with an unblemished 4-0 record in his starts with the Rainbows.

Last season, Cordeiro came of age when he orchestrated a 96-yard touchdown drive that proved to be the game-winner over the University of San Diego.

Cordeiro’s undefeated record as a starter is against some high-quality opponents.

Cordiero guided the Rainbows to victories over the University of Wyoming in 2018, and captured three victories over San Jose State, UNLV and Army in 2019.

Smart choice

Cordiero won’t be left without plenty of weapons at his disposal this season, and his top target will no doubt be Jared Smart.

Smart, who finished second on the team in receptions (87) and receiving yards (1,129), was only one of four Rainbows to start every game last season.

During the 2019 campaign, Smart led the team with five, 100-yard receiving games, including a career-high 142 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns in a victory over BYU in the SoFi Hawai‘i Bowl.

Because of Smart’s success in 2019, he will enter this season on the preseason watch list for the esteemed Biletnikoff Award, named in honor of the former Oakland Raider wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who played in the AFL and NFL for a total of 13 seasons.

Smart was ranked fifth in the MWC in both receptions per game (5.8) and receiving yards per game (75.3), and averaged 13 yards per reception.

‘Bam Bam’ on the radar

Smart isn’t the only player on college football’s watch list as a threat to receive top recognition.

Miles “Bam Bam” Reed hopes to build on last year’s breakout season for the Rainbows.

After Reed’s 2019 season, he is now on the watch list for the prestigious Doak Walker award.

Darius ‘The Destroyer’ returns

Darius Muasua didn’t take long to make his impact known in the Mountain West.

The Mililani High School grad from O‘ahu, saw his roles expand exponentially because of injuries to Rainbows’ linebackers.

Muasau played in all 15 games with four starts at linebacker, and was named the team’s Dick Tomey Special Teams MVP.

Muasau recorded a season-high 11 tackles in a win over Army and finished with 61 tackles in 2019.

Running Rivers

The Fresno State Bulldogs have one of the premier running backs in the NCAA, and the Rainbows will have to contain Ronnie Rivers if they want to have a chance to win Saturday’s contest.

Rivers, the Bulldogs’ highly regarded senior running back, is a statistical double-take.

Rivers, who was named the second-team All-Mountain West running back, started 12 games and was the Dogs’ leading rusher last season, accumulating a total of 899 yards rushing.

Rivers isn’t just effective on the ground.

He added 348 yards receiving to give him a total of 1,367 all-purpose yardages, and scored 13 touchdowns during last year’s campaign.

Rivers finished last season with a total of six, 100-yard all-purpose games, and four, 100-yard rushing games, including three consecutive games breaking the century mark.

A dog fight

The Fresno State Bulldogs’ most famous alumni list is topped by Trent Dilfer, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer who guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2001.

Fresno State has won eight of the last nine meetings over the Rainbows, and won seven of eight games in Mountain West play last year.

The UH’s only victory came in a 14-13 victory that came in 2016.

Where to watch

When: Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020

Time: 4:30 p.m. PT/1:30 p.m HT

Where: Fresno, Calif.

Stadium: Bulldog Stadium

Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (Spectrum Ch. 255/HD 1255 and Hawaiian Telcom Ch. 969). Robert Kekaula (play-by-play) and Rich Miano (analyst).

Radio: ESPN Honolulu (1420AM/92.7FM). Bobby Curran (play-by-play) and John Veneri (analyst). KRKH (Maui), KPUA (Hawai‘i Island), and KTOH-HD3 (Kaua‘i). Chris Hart and Gary Dickman hosts the “Countdown To Kickoff” at 11:30 a.m.

Video Streaming: Only available outside the state of Hawai‘i through the Team1Sports app.

Audio Streaming: ESPNHonolulu.com/Sideline Hawaii app

Live Stats: HawaiiAthletics.com

•••

Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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