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Vanderbilt Football Opponent Preview: Hawaii

Vanderbilt opens the season with an even bigger dumpster fire than itself.

Louisiana Tech v University Of Hawaii

Opponent: Hawaii Warriors

Date: August 27, 2022, 9:30 PM CT

Where: Honolulu, Hawaii

Last year: 6-7 (3-5 MWC), averaged 28.8 ppg, allowed 31.4 ppg. -5.19 SRS rating, good for 95th. Three of the wins came against FCS Portland State and 2-10 New Mexico State (twice.) For reasons we’ll get to in a minute, “last year” is sort of irrelevant here.

Head Coach

Timmy Chang, former Hawaii star quarterback, enters his first year as Hawaii’s head coach and his main qualification appears to be “would take the job.” After his playing career ended, Chang worked as a grad assistant at SMU for two years, followed by stints as an offensive coordinator at Jackson State and ODAC powerhouse Emory and Henry, and five years as a position coach on Jay Norvell’s staff at Nevada. This frankly sounds nothing like the resume of an FBS head coach, but Hawaii had to hire somebody in a rough spot.

The reason they’re in a rough spot is, well, former head coach Todd Graham. Graham went 11-11 in two years, which is fine, but also saw 21 players transfer out of the program including his own son between the end of the season and his merciful resignation on January 15, with some of the players alleging mistreatment by Graham. There’s also a minor facilities situation making the job less attractive, with the Warriors’ former home, Aloha Stadium, having been condemned and Hawaii now playing at the on-campus Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, which, uh... well, I’ve seen nicer high school stadiums than this.

An FBS football stadium, allegedly.

Offense

So, about all that attrition? The team’s starting quarterback (Cheven Cordeiro) is gone, as are all four players who rushed for positive yardage in 2021, and five of the team’s top six pass catchers.

If there’s a starting place here, the offensive line at least has some continuity. Starting left tackle Ilm Manning (6’4”/280), left guard Micah Vanterpool (6’6”/300), right guard Solo Vaipulu (6’2”/300), and part-time starter Eliki Tanuvasa (6’2”/320) are all back. Granted, I don’t have any indication that this line was good last season, and they still have to replace their starting center and right tackle, but at least Hawaii isn’t having to find a bunch of offensive linemen along with trying to figure out where the skill players are.

As for the skill players, well, at least there might be some help coming from the transfer portal. Last year’s backup quarterback, sophomore Brayden Schager, threw two touchdowns to five interceptions in limited action, though he did complete 60 percent of his passes. He’ll compete with Pitt transfer Joey Yellen (a former four-star recruit) and Wazzu transfer Cammon Cooper for the starting job. Incoming transfers at running back and wide receiver, though, were spare parts at their previous stops. And Hawaii’s last three recruiting classes have ranked 125th, 127th, and 119th in the 247 Sports composite, so don’t expect an infusion of talent from recent recruiting, either. This offense could be rough.

Defense

The exodus to the transfer portal might have hit the defense even harder than it did the offense, somehow. The Rainbow Warriors return a decent starting linebacker in Penei Pavihi and a part-time starter at cornerback in Hugh Nelson II and... that’s approximately it.

If you wanted to pin your hopes on anything, Hawaii does have some former highly-rated recruits like DL Mataio Soli (Arkansas) and LB Wynden Ho’ohuli (Nebraska) coming in from the transfer portal. Sometimes guys like this can find new footing at a program like Hawaii, but there simply aren’t enough of them to make a huge difference on this side of the ball, and anyway, look again at those recruiting rankings. Where do you think the replacements for all the players they lost are coming from?

Outlook

I don’t know, Hawaii is pretty obviously blowing things up and starting over in 2022; Bill Connelly talks about the Year Zero concept and if anything this is probably a Year Negative One deal. Chang was a questionable hire based on his resume, but I don’t think it would make much of a difference in 2022 if you put Nick Saban in charge of this roster.

This is all a way of saying that this is a team that Vanderbilt, even in its current form, can beat, and while I don’t think Clark Lea is going to be judged on what happens this year, anything other than a 2-0 start would lead to a lot of negative thoughts in the fan base about where this is going.