5 Observations from College Football’s Sydney Cup Opener
Written by ESPN 99.1's Christian Zylstra
College football is back.
Well, it was for a day. The full slate of games remain days away, but the Sydney College Cup in Australia gave college football fans an appetizer to hold our appetites over until next weekend.
In a fairly one-sided contest, California overcame a pesky Hawaii team and coasted to a 51-31 victory in the 2016 regular season opener for both sides.
While you can’t predict a team’s entire season outcome after one game, here are five observations I came away with from Friday’s college football opener:
1. Davis Webb isn’t Jared Goff, and that’s okay. Replacing the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft was going to be an impossible task for Cal. Jared Goff brought talent and leadership levels that aren’t replaced over night, but the Golden Bears had to start somewhere. Enter Davis Webb.
Webb started slowly against Hawaii. In his first start since 2014, the graduate transfer from Texas Tech was bound to struggle early. But, thanks to a steady touch and a weak Hawaii secondary, Webb was hitting his stride by the 2nd quarter.
My highlight from Webb’s strong outing had nothing to do with his 441 passing yards or four passing TDs. Webb’s shining moment came with 13 seconds remaining in the first half. From three yards out, Webb took the snap out of the shotgun, ran right, faked the pitch to RB Vic Enwere and lowered the should on a Hawaii defender. Webb plowed through those three yards into the end zone and exhibited a toughness that only comes from time in the weight room and experience on the field.
He isn’t Jared Goff, but that doesn’t mean he can’t guide Cal to another successful regular season campaign.
2. Cal will have to fight to make a bowl game. To say the game was over from the start is a bit of an exaggeration. In a game that was once 14-14, Hawaii made Cal work for its season-opening win. And while Cal’s offense racked up 51 points on a shaky Hawaii defense, Cal’s defense gave up 31 points, and it could’ve been worse.
You can’t expect the first game to go without a hitch, but Cal’s defense missed numerous assignments and tackles throughout the course of the game. Cal had no business allowing 31 points to the 118th-ranked scoring offense from last season.
Mix what could be season-long defensive struggles and a tough Pac-12 schedule and you get a battle for 6-6. The Golden Bears will likely be favored in five or fewer games all season.
3. Hawaii needs to play perfect football to upset the big boys. Five turnovers won’t cut it against Power 5 opponents. When you’re coming off of a 3-10 season, you know the challenges that lie ahead. For Hawaii, it’s taking care of the ball.
Most of the Rainbow Warrior turnovers were mental mistakes. Yes, Cal forced four fumbles, but when a kick returner is flailing his arms away from his body while running into a crowd, it doesn’t take much contact to knock the ball loose. And when you aren’t forcing turnovers, each wasted possession hurts even worse.
4. Hawaii should’ve worn their 2015 retro rainbow uniforms. I mean it shouldn’t even be a question. They are the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, and they have a set of retro uniforms nobody in college football can pull off.
5. College football should stay in North America. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Week 1 neutral site matchups. There’s just no way to recreate the atmosphere and energy of playing on a college campus, and you lose that atmosphere and electricity at neutral sites.
I’m even less of a fan of playing halfway across the globe. Not only is the energy lacking, but also the stadiums aren’t filled to capacity. Apart from hearing the crowd quietly chant, “block that kick” on a couple of instances Friday night, the crowd was largely silent.
Part of college football’s spectacular nature includes the raucous crowds. If I can’t hear the crowd cheering or booing, there might as well be nobody in the stands.