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The Vanderbilt football team is an 11-hour flight away from its Nashville home to open its and the Southeastern Conference football season Saturday night at Hawaii on the CBS Sports Network.
Kickoff is at 10:30 p.m. eastern time at 9,346-seat Clarence T.C. Ching Complex – a temporary home for Hawaii as 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium, the former home of the NFL Pro Bowl, was condemned in 2020. A new 35,000-seat Aloha Stadium is being planned.
If there was a bridge from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii, it would be a 4,331-mile drive from Nashville to this game. Vanderbilt tends to be about that far away from the rest of the SEC in football, but for some reason the Commodores are favored by 10 points to beat Hawaii, which was 6-7 last season.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, was 2-10 last year under first-year coach Clark Lea and is 5-28 over the last three seasons. Hawaii went to three straight bowls from 2018-20. OK, two of those were the Hawaii Bowl and the other was the New Mexico Bowl. But it was 10-5 in 2019.
Hawaii also has had five double-digit win seasons since 2002 and has gone to 14 bowl games all-time. One of those was the Sugar Bowl in the 2007 season with quarterback Colt Brennan, who is third in NCAA history in touchdown passes in a season with 58 in 2006.
Vanderbilt has exactly zero 10-win seasons and has played in nine bowls with zero of those at the Sugar, which has long had a history with the SEC like Vanderbilt.
The Commodores are on the road – really on the road. Yet, they are supposed to win against a more veteran team that was better than it was last year and has been historically better. Yes, Hawaii has a first-year coach in Timmy Chang, but still.
Vanderbilt’s Lea – he of the “best program in the country in time” quote at the SEC Media Days last month – seems oddly comfortable in the favorite role.
“We’re expecting a fight. This is a proud program,” Lea said of Hawaii.
Wow. That’s what major brand football program coaches say the week they’re playing Vanderbilt or a directional school. Amazing thing to say when one considers Hawaii has much more to be proud of than, say, Vanderbilt.
Chang, by the way, used to hold the NCAA record for most career passing yards at 17,072 from his career as Hawaii’s quarterback from 2000-04 under Coach June Jones – a great offensive mind who was the Atlanta Falcons head coach from 1994-96. Houston’s Case Keenum passed Chang’s record in 2011 with 19,217 yards. Chang is in his first head coaching job after offensive assistant posts at Nevada and Jackson State.
“Again, you’ve got a prideful group that’s got an opportunity to play against an SEC team,” Lea waxed on. “There’s a lot of energy around on the island in support of the early build of his (Chang’s) program.”
Uh, Clark, you’re still pretty early in your “build” as well.
But, hey, maybe it’s the island air. Vanderbilt has been on the island since Monday. The team visited Pearl Harbor, went to the beach and hiked at Papahana Kuaola, where they also cooled off in a pond and played in a small waterfall.
It has been quite a trip, a bowl trip if you will – the first and last of the season.
“We want to be laser focused, but also have the chance to let our hair down, even though I don’t have that opportunity any longer,” said Lea, who is bald. “I think the change in scenery is a boost. I think it’s something our players are excited about. We expect Hawaii to come out swinging. It’ll be a fun way to start the season.”
I can’t see it being too fun for Vanderbilt.
And I can’t see Hawaii losing this game.
Aloha will mean a double-digit loss for the Commodores.