Week Zero Preview: Hawaii at UCLA

UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a 40/20 career TD-INT ratio with seven rushing TDs.

Updated on Thursday, 8/26/21, at 10:22 a.m. Eastern.

There are seven games scheduled for Week Zero to start the college football season on Aug. 28. Two are FCS games, another pits San Jose St. against an FCS foe and four other contests are currently lined.

One of those is UCLA vs. Hawaii at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. As of Aug. 10, most betting shops had the Bruins installed as 17-point home favorites. The total was 69.5 points at PointsBet, while DraftKings had the tally at 70. The Rainbow Warriors were +550 on the money line.

UPDATED LINE: As of Thursday (8/26), most spots had UCLA listed as a 17.5-point home favorite with a total of 68.5. A few spots — BetMGM and DraftKings — had the Bruins at -18. DraftKings had UCLA at even money with bettors able to get Hawaii +18 for a -120 price. The Rainbow Warriors were +600 to win outright at most shops, but FanDuel had them at +710 on the money line.

UCLA finished last year with a 3-4 straight-up record and a 4-3 against-the-spread mark. The Bruins won a pair of home games by double-digit margins over California (34-10) and Arizona (27-10), and they won 25-18 at Arizona St.

Chip Kelly’s team lost four one-possession games, including a 48-47 double-overtime home loss to Stanford in the regular-season finale. The narrow defeat caused the Bruins to miss the postseason for the third straight season since Kelly took over for Jim Mora Jr. in 2018.

On Kelly’s watch, UCLA has limped to a 10-21 SU record and a 14-17 ATS mark. The Bruins have lost 13 games by margins of nine points or more.

UCLA returns 20 starters, 10 apiece on each side of the ball. It lost just seven lettermen and welcomes in eight transfers. Five of the eight incoming transfers are from Power-Five programs and two are from Notre Dame. The Bruins’ recruiting class was ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 31st nationally. They landed a trio of four-star recruits.

Fourth-year junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been the starter since Kelly arrived. In three seasons, ‘DTR’ has completed 418-of-694 throws (60.2%) for 5,132 yards with a 40/20 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also has 572 rushing yards and seven TDs.

In 2020, DTR ran for 306 yards and three TDs while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He completed a career-best 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs compared to four interceptions.

After averaging only 24.6 and 26.7 points per game in Kelly’s first two seasons, the UCLA offense scored at a 35.4 PPG clip last year. The entire offensive line returns and this group has a combined 73 career starts.

Fourth-year sophomore tight end Greg Dulcich was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2020 when he caught 26 balls for 517 yards and five TDs. WR Kyle Phillips added 38 catches for 370 yards and two TDs.

Senior RB Brittain Brown, a transfer from Duke, shined in his first season with the Bruins last year. Brown ran for 543 yards and four TDs, averaging 6.6 YPC. He also had six receptions for 84 yards and one TD.

UCLA’s defense was improved in 2020, but it still has some work to do. The Bruins allowed 34.1 and 34.8 PPG in 2018 and ’19, respectively. They gave up 30.7 PPG last season.

Hawaii finished 5-4 SU and 4-5 ATS in Todd Graham’s first season at the helm after taking over for Nick Rolovich, who left to take the Washington St. job after producing a 10-win season in 2019. The Rainbow Warriors capped last year with a 28-14 win over Houston as an eight-point underdog in the New Mexico Bowl.

Hawaii returns seven starters on offense and 11 on defense. The Rainbow Warriors lost 19 lettermen, but they’ve added five Power-Five transfers and 12 incoming freshmen (nine three-star recruits).

Hawaii’s offense is led by fourth-year sophomore QB Chevan Cordeiro, who completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,083 yards with a 14/6 TD-INT ratio last season. He also ran for a team-high 483 yards and six TDs, averaging 4.2 YPC. Cordeiro gained 684 yards on the ground before subtracting sack yardage.

From 2018-2020, Cordeiro has started 13 times in 25 games. He’s connected on 61.0 percent of his throws for 3,374 career passing yards with a 28/11 TD-INT ratio. Cordeiro also has 741 career rushing yards and 10 TDs.

Senior RB Calvin Turner earned second-team All-Mountain-West honors last season when he ran for 331 yards and four TDs while averaging 5.5 YPC. He also had 33 catches for a team-best 546 receiving yards and six TDs. Turner is a second-team All-MWC selection in Phil Steele’s preseason magazine.

WR Jared Smart will be Cordeiro’s favorite target. Smart snagged 36 receptions for 320 yards and one TD in 2020.

Hawaii had its best defense since 2014 last year, giving up only an average of 27.6 PPG. With all of its key players back and the addition of three transfers who might become starters in CB Hugh Nelson (Georgia), DT Pita Tonga (Utah) and safety Arnold Azunna (Iowa St.), this unit should be even better in 2021.

Third-year sophomore LB Darius Muasau was a first-team All-MWC pick last year when he produced 104 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, seven QB hurries, 4.5 sacks, one interception and one pass broken up.

Senior CB Cortez Davis and junior safety Khoury Bethley were second-team All-MWC choices in 2020. Both players are first-team All-MWC picks for 2021 in Steele’s mag. Davis contributed 30 tackles, four TFL’s, two forced fumbles, two QB hurries, one PBU and one sack last season, while Bethley registered 70 tackles, nine TFL’s, six PBU, three sacks and a pair of QB hurries.

Hawaii went 4-2 ATS with three outright wins in six games as an underdog in Graham’s first season. Since 2016, the Rainbow Warriors are 7-12-2 ATS with five outright wins in 21 games as double-digit underdogs.

UCLA has been a double-digit favorite only three times during Kelly’s tenure, going 1-2 ATS with an outright loss to Cincinnati in the 2018 opener.

This will be the fourth meeting between these schools. In 2017, UCLA beat Hawaii 56-23 to cover the spread as a 24-point home ‘chalk.’

Hawaii faced three Pac-12 foes in 2019. The Rainbow Warriors opened the season with back-to-back home wins over Arizona (45-38 as 11-point underdogs) and Oregon St. (31-28 as six-point favorites), but they lost 52-20 at 23rd-ranked Washington as 21.5-point road underdogs in Week 3.

We’re only 18 days away from kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

PREDICTION: For now, this game is a likely pass for me. Translation: I’ll be watching closely and looking for in-game opportunities that look attractive. Thompson-Robinson hasn’t been available for UCLA’s first several practices, so that’s a situation to monitor. Kelly hasn’t told the media a specific reason for ‘DTR’s absence yet, but it isn’t believed to be a big deal. I suspect he’s been absent due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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