Last Updated: 2019-08-16
“Week 0” of the 2019 college football season does feature two really interesting matchups. We previewed the Florida vs. Miami game and now we’ll take a look at the Arizona vs. Hawaii matchup, as football bettors will be treated to a degenerate special on the islands to kick off the CFB season and get back into rhythm.
Arizona is favored by double digits on the road, but there have been some nibbles on the Hawaii side of late, as Bookmaker sits at -12, but Pinnacle, Bovada, BetOnline, and most of the market sits on 11. 5Dimes has split the difference more than a week in advance of the game. The total is anywhere from 70 to 71 in the marketplace.
As far as this author is concerned, these are both play-on teams heading into the season. Arizona is in Year 2 with Kevin Sumlin following a 5-7 opening salvo. The Wildcats were 7-5 against the number, but Khalil Tate played hurt most of the year. Forced to improve his throwing, Tate posted a 26/8 TD/INT ratio and a 56.3% completion percentage. He had a better completion percentage in 2017, but teams had to worry a lot more about the run. He only had a 17/12 TD/INT ratio two years ago.
Tate rushed for 1,411 yards in 2017. He only ran for 345 yards in 2018. Some have credited the scheme of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone for the drop-off in rushing yards and the bump in pass production, but I think Tate was just hurt with that bum ankle all year and didn’t want to run around. To me, he’s a true dual-threat quarterback this year that progressed as a dropback passer, so now there is a new element for the opposition to worry about.
JJ Taylor is a lot to worry about as well. Arizona would have to have a magical season for Taylor to get into Heisman consideration, but he did run for 1,424 yards last season. Unfortunately, he only found paydirt six times. The Wildcats regressed in a big way as a rushing team last year because of Tate’s injury, but with one of the country’s top backs now a bigger, stronger junior and with the QB’s mobility back, look for Arizona to be among the nation’s top running teams.
Tate will have to find some new pass catchers, as Arizona bid farewell to its top four receivers from last season, but hopes are high for true freshman Boobie Curry, who was just outside the top 25 in this year’s wide receiver class. If nothing else, four returning starters on the offensive line should help Tate find time to hit his inexperienced crew of wideouts.
On the defensive side, Arizona needs to make some more strides. The Wildcats went from 6.0 yards per play allowed to 5.7 in the first year under Sumlin. Amazingly, Sumlin kept defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, when there weren’t many reasons to do so, as the Wildcats allowed over six yards per play in the two years before Sumlin arrived. The defensively losses are not that heavy, as top linebacker Colin Schooler returns with 18 tackles for loss last season. Eight starters are back on defense for a group that had 19 interceptions and shaved off .4 yards per carry last year. Similar gains would put Arizona into an interesting spot in the Pac-12.
Is it fair to say that expectations in Honolulu are as high as they’ve been since the Colt Brennan era? Cole McDonald is a big, big reason why. The junior quarterback completed 59% of his throws last season with a 36/10 TD/INT ratio, all while having a scrotum full of blood at times. “Injuries” slowed his progress down the stretch, but he is under the tutelage of a former Hawaii starting QB in head coach Nick Rolovich and developed a nice rapport with the holdovers from last year’s team.
John Ursua is a big loss, but Cedric Byrd caught 79 balls and JoJo Ward was a big play threat with 17 yards per reception. Hawaii’s ground game took a massive step back last season, going from 4.8 yards per carry to 3.7 yards per carry, so McDonald and the WR corps will have to shoulder the load once again. All five starters are back on the offensive line, though, so the rushing attack does have room to improve. The rushing numbers were dragged down by 46 sacks, so a more mature QB and more experienced linemen should all be positives.
You have to look pretty closely to find Hawaii’s defensive improvement from last season, but it is definitely there. The Rainbow Warriors shaved a half-yard per play off of their ledger, even though they allowed more points per game than they did in 2017. Jahlani Tavai was an ultra-talented player and was picked in the second-round by the Detroit Lions, but he was fourth in tackles because of injuries. He didn’t have the impact everybody expected, but it forced other guys to step up. Hawaii returns top sack man Kaimana Padello and top cover corner Rojesterman Farris. A second year under DC Corey Batoon shouldn’t hurt.
Hawaii was 8-6 straight up last season, but just 5-9 ATS. Playing a bowl game was a big boost for the Rainbow Warriors, as they got to add some extra practices to their 13-game regular season schedule. With 18 returning starters, all of that has to help moving forward.
Pick: Hawaii +11.5
My personal power ratings from July had this game right on 11.5, which is about where the consensus number lies in the marketplace. My home field advantage for Hawaii is likely lower than the market. In any event, laying doubles with a team that failed to get to a bowl game last season seems tough to do in Week 0. We know that Khalil Tate is healthier, but the Arizona defense isn’t all that trustworthy, especially against a Hawaii offense that threw for over 300 yards per game last season.
This won’t be a play on my card and is strictly a lean given that I’m right around the number with my power ratings.
We do have a cautionary tale as far as the long-term outlook for Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors beat Colorado State as a 16-point underdog and followed it up by beating Navy as an 11-point pup. At that point, lines got a bit inflated and Hawaii was 3-9 ATS the rest of the way. Just keep that in mind if they do pull the outright upset here.
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