Hawaii vs. UCLA Predictions & Game Preview
When: Saturday August 28
Start Time: 3.30pm ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
TV Channel: ESPN
Hawaii vs. UCLA Predictions & Betting Picks
The Hawaii Warriors will look to build off a winning 5-4 season in 2020 in the first year under head coach Todd Graham. The UCLA Bruins will be looking to do the same and take another step forward after a 3-4 season last year in Chip Kelly’s 4th season at the helm making this a very interesting and important non-conference clash for both teams to open the 2021 season.
Hawaii brings back 18 starters including 11 on a defense that allowed a respectable 27.6 points per game last season and 14.9 yards per point which were both ranked in the upper half of the FBS on the defensive side of the football in those categories. The Warriors have their top pass rusher and two defensive line starters back on this year’s team, all 3 starting linebackers returning along with both starting safeties and both starting CB’s in the secondary. The stop unit has the pieces in place to improve on last year’s numbers.
The offense is led by senior QB Chevan Cordeiro who is a dual threat QB that has great athleticism and mobility but also can stretch the field and test opposing pass defenses with a very strong arm. Hawaii’s offensive line brings back four starters as the left right and right side at both the tackle and guard positions have the same starters intact. Hawaii does have a new starting center in Eliki Tanuvasa which could be an adjustment period but besides that, the OL is a solid and experienced group. Hawaii has two senior wide receivers in Calvin Turner and Jared Smart and a talented RB Dae Dae Hunter.
UCLA has heightened expectations entering the 2021 season hanks to 20 returning starters including 4th year starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He’ll have plenty of of terrific skill position weapons to work with like RB Zach Charbonnet, WR’s Chase Cota and Kyle Philips as well as an outstanding TE Greg Dulcich who led the Bruins in receptions in 2020. All five offensive line starters are back for UCLA and all of them are upperclassmen. The UCLA offense has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the PAC-12. The biggest area of concern is the defense which is what held the Bruins back from having a better season than they did a year ago which yielded 38+ points in their four losses. The good news is this should be the best defense the Bruins have put on the field in the Chip Kelly era. They have 10 starters back on defense including their entire secondary from last season with four seniors on it.
UCLA has the team to be improved and wind up an upper echelon PAC-12 squad in 2021 but the Bruins are now in the role of not only being expected to win but win by margin and the Bruins have a woeful 2-7 ATS record as favorites in the last three seasons since 2018. Complicating the situation even further for the Bruins is that they have a massive showdown on deck next weekend against LSU as the Tigers will visit the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for a big non-conference clash which means they could ease up with a big lead in the latter portions of this game and leave the backdoor open for Hawaii in this game. The current line is now UCLA -18 with the Bruins and they opened as low as -9 months ago. I agree with the betting market sentiment that UCLA is a much improved group this season but Hawaii should be better as well in Todd Graham’s second season with a very experienced and talented QB leading the offense and a defense with plenty of returning production that is likely to build on the solid showing they had in their resounding bowl win against Houston to end last season.
Hawaii has been very good in season openers the last few years going a perfect 3-0 SU and ATS in their first game of the season since 2018 winning all three games outright as underdogs against Colorado State in 2018, Arizona in 2019 and Fresno State in 2020. At this current price of +18, I recommend Hawaii to do enough to hang within this number which to me is now a bit inflated on the home favorite. I also like this game to stay under the total of 68.5 as the total. Yes these two teams have very capable and at times explosive offenses and they both want to play an uptempo style of offense but that is factored into the total which is a bit too high for my liking given the vast improvement we should see in 2021 from both Hawaii and UCLA on the defensive side of the football.