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Hawaii Football: 2018 Rainbow Warriors Preview and Prediction

Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii Football

Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii Football

After seven seasons without a winning record, Hawaii returns to its run-and-shoot roots for the first time since 2011 in an attempt to change its lagging fortunes. The offense that June Jones made popular in the islands from 1999-2007 is the most significant in a series of changes implemented by coach Nick Rolovich.

Previewing Hawaii Football's Offense for 2018

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Boise State Football/2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

Finding a quarterback to run the new offense quickly became Job 1 when two-year starter Dru Brown announced plans to enroll at Oklahoma State as a graduate transfer. Sophomore Cole McDonald is the only quarterback on the roster to have thrown a pass for UH, and he launched just nine of them in 2017 in a mop-up role.

He will face competition from freshman Chevan Cordeiro, who was an all-state selection at Honolulu's powerhouse Saint Louis School running the run-and-shoot, as well as squad members Kyle Gallup and Justin Uahinui, freshman Jeremy Moussa and transfer Kolney Cassel, who has played at Sacramento State and SMU.

Dylan Collie, the team's leading receiver, transferred to BYU. The recovery of John Ursua, who was among the nation's leaders in receptions until suffering a season-ending knee injury in mid-October, is a must, as is rebuilding an offensive line that lost its left side and much of its depth. Its most experienced performer, center Asotui Eli, could find himself at left tackle as the Rainbow Warriors seek flexibility. 

If that isn't enough of a challenge, Hawaii must also replace Diocemy Saint Juste, who set the school single-season rushing record (1,510 yards) in 2017. Sophomore Freddie Holly III's nine rushing attempts are the most by any returning running back, but he must polish his pass protection. Hekili Keliliki, Kaiwi Chung and Dayton Furuta will battle for the power role.

Previewing Hawaii Football's Defense for 2018

After ranking 105th or worse nationally in six major defensive categories, the defense got a thorough shaking up. Defensive coordinator Corey Batoon, who was at Florida Atlantic last season, is among three new assistants on that side of the ball.

He'll have a strong linebacker unit anchored by Jahlani Tavai, a second-team All-Mountain West selection who topped UH with 124 tackles, including 5.5 sacks. Solomon Matautia had 85 tackles and led the team with three interceptions. Jeremiah Pritchard had 6.5 tackles for a loss.

The defensive line will audition at least seven recruits -- five of them from the junior college ranks -- including Tavai's brother, Justice. 

Rojesterman Farris II and Eugene Ford are solid corners, but the safety positions have to be rebuilt with newcomers and some shifting. Ikem Okeke is one of the more promising moves, coming over from linebacker.

Previewing Hawaii Football's Specialists for 2018

An area that had been the most steady in previous years took a step back last season. Hawaii made only 4-of-9 field goals, and three of the four makes were in one game. The search for a placekicker could go on until the opener. Viane Moala, a 6'7" defensive end who blocked two kicks last season, transferred to Utah.

Final Analysis

The changes have been sweeping for a team that has six new assistant coaches, including defensive and special teams coordinators, and will see Rolovich call the offensive plays. The schedule gets more manageable, with no Power 5 foes for the first time in 16 years. But producing the first winning season since the 10-4 Western Athletic Conference tri-champions of 2010 still figures to be an uphill battle.

College Football Rankings: Hawaii