The SEC has its fair share of notable non-conference games for 2022.
One may think of the Week 2 matchup between Alabama and Texas. One may look ahead to Auburn hosting Penn State at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 17. Or, one may just be counting down the days until the start of the college football season and thinking that Week 0 just can’t get here soon enough.
The opening week features just a small slate of games, but there are some very unusual matchups. They are also in unusual locations.
Northwestern and Nebraska play every year as Big Ten Conference foes. However, this game will be held in Dublin, Ireland. In the Group of 5, Connecticut takes a long flight to take on Utah State.
But perhaps the most interesting game of the week kicks off at 10:30 p.m. ET on Aug. 27. That is when the men of Nashville in the Vanderbilt Commodores take the 11-hour flight to Honolulu to take on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
This will be the first game of 2022 for an SEC school. Will it find a way to come back to the mainland with a victory?
The 2021 season was not kind to Vanderbilt as the Commodores went just 2-10 in the first year of a rebuild for head coach Clark Lea. Lea was given the task of delivering Vanderbilt its first winning season since 2013. It began with a 20-point loss to an FCS team in East Tennessee State.
Looking back, East Tennessee State had an incredible season, so it was not as bad as initially thought. Despite going winless in SEC play, Vanderbilt managed to collect wins over Colorado State and Connecticut. Overall, there is a lot to improve on for the Commodores.
They have several returning starters, including quarterback Mike Wright. This should be an improved team in the SEC East in 2022. However, the loss of defensive coordinator Jesse Minter could prove detrimental early in the season.
The Vandy offense should be much improved with experience at quarterback. Lea has a full season under his belt in Nashville and should be able to get this team its first SEC win since 2019. Despite a rough start, Lea has the support of the Vanderbilt fan base.
The 2021 season was full of ups and downs for Hawaii. Things began with a brutal national TV loss at UCLA. Following a 1-3 start, however, the Rainbow Warriors were a different team.
Hawaii knocked off a ranked Fresno State team and hung tough with San Diego State en route to a 6-7 finish. Its Hawaii Bowl matchup with Memphis, however, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
This offseason began as a nightmare. For a program that already has recruiting difficulties, there was a mass exodus of players. Head coach Todd Graham resigned on Jan. 14 following allegations of mistreatment of players.
The administration turned to Timmy Chang to take the program back to its Air Raid glory days. Chang was a record-breaking passer during his playing career with the Rainbow Warriors and completed his career as college football’s all-time leader in passing yards.
The offseason has been quiet as Chang has the program focused on football once again. Hawaii recently announced its was building a new football stadium to be completed in the coming years. After a tumultuous start to the offseason, momentum seems to be heading back in a positive direction as the Rainbow Warriors look to become a force in the Mountain West.
The Week 0 matchup in Honolulu should be fun and entertaining as the two young head coaches will try to turn their programs around. For Vanderbilt, the key will be containing the pass. The question will be how affected it is by the long flight.
For Hawaii, it must find a way to come up with stops after all the defensive losses via the transfer portal. With Hawaii’s attrition and Vanderbilt having to face an Air Raid offense, points could be aplenty in this one.
While the fan base in Nashville has been quick to embrace Lea, those in Honolulu have or will do likewise for Chang. Depending on how the opener goes, it may not take long.
Hosting a struggling SEC program that just took an 11-hour flight could be a recipe for success for the Rainbow Warriors. They will make a return trip to Nashville in 2023.
The length of the trip, buzz for the start of the Chang era and Hawaii’s air-it-out approach will all be factors on the final Saturday in August. Ultimately, the tempo and Air Raid attack will be too much for the Commodores to keep pace with. A late night for Vanderbilt will be a long night of partying for those on the Hawaiian islands.
Prediction: Hawaii 52, Vanderbilt 45
Photo credit: Jay Metzger/Hawaii Athletics