Cheerleaders, surfboards, marching bands and Marshawn Lynch – the big show is coming down under and there are only 3 sleeps until history is made. The big guns have been out and about during the week with players making appearances on drive radio, television studios and events around town as American football makes waves. No expense has been spared as the College Football season kicks off at ANZ Stadium this Saturday at 12pm AEST.
The game itself will pit the Golden Bears from the University of California against the Rainbow Warriors from the University of Hawaii. Since the announcement was made back in November of 2015, both organisations are reportedly set to pocket around $1 million each for their participation in the opening game as the College game looks to tap into what the NFL and NBA have done to branch out to global supporters.
But College football is a different animal to the National Football League. Followed as something akin to a ritual, fans up and down the USA turn up every Saturday with face paint at tailgate events beforehand as the party rolls deep into the evening. They don’t barrack wildly for professionals on multimillion dollar contracts, only a group of young amateurs biding their time to break through the ranks while doing their College proud. For this reason there is a greater sense of community and ownership at this level of the sport, making it a behemoth that consistently sells out stadiums as big or bigger than the NFL.
History and Credentials
The Berkley outfit in the Pac-12 NCAA Division had an average return of 8 wins and 5 defeats last season, unable to add to their 14 conference titles. Generations of fans have come and gone since they last lifted the National Championship way back in 1937 where they last won their 5th title following consecutive victories in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923. Head coach Sonny Dykes has been involved in College football coaching since the mid 1990s and currently sits on an overall record of 36-38. The 46-year old experienced success with Louisiana Tech in 2012 yet the poor ending to last season will put pressure on the coach and the team to get themselves at least into the top half of their conference. They will expect to turn over their modest opposition on Saturday but be surprised if they end up competing at the business end in 2016.
Put simply the Rainbow Warriors are the whipping boys of College Football. Although they enjoy healthy rivalries with Fresno State and BYU Cougars, the University of Hawaii side make the Cronulla Sharks look like a decorated sporting franchise. Having been established in 1909 the Warriors still have an empty trophy cabinet with zero National Championship titles – that comes to 107 years of disappointment. The team recorded 3 wins and 10 defeats last campaign and are expected to achieve a similar result in 2016. They play out of the Mountain West NCAA division and have just appointed former quarterback player and coach Nick Rolovich as head coach this season. He made an NFL roster with the Denver Broncos on two separate occasions, yet Rolovich has his work cut out to propel a football team that is out of sight and out of mind both figuratively and literally. Australian fans might well fall in love with this down-on-their-luck underdog and given what the coach and others inside the camp have told the media this week, the Warriors want Sydney to get behind the boys. With a colourful collection of fans and merchandise based off their rich Polynesian heritage, the Rainbow Warriors might not win the battle on the field but off it during this expedition down under.
Player to watch
Golden Bears: Davis Webb
With Jared Goff being taken by the LA Rams for the upcoming NFL season, Davis Webb will take the all important quarterback position for the Bears. The 21-year old caught the eye at Texas Tech, winning the 2013 Holiday Bowl MVP and standing at a cool 6ft 5, the athlete has been touted as an upcoming NFL star should he impress with his new team.
Rainbow Warriors: Max Hendrie
Perhaps we are a little biased, but it is impossible not to get swept up in an Australian on a scholarship making an appearance in College Football on local soil – the story is incredible. The former schoolboy rugby player will gear up on the Hawaii defensive line and with a mixture of size, strength and speed, coach Rolovich has a raw talent on his hands. Fingers crossed he can take this journey all the way.
The Warriors are well and truly a work in progress and their only hope will be adapting to Australian conditions better than their opponents. With a new coach implementing a new system, the Hawaii side will experiment without the burden of expectation while the Golden Bears press towards a playoff position. Mistakes will be made for a first fixture on foreign soil, but the event itself seeing upwards of 65-70,000 plus in the grandstands on a beautiful Sydney day will make it all worth while.
Prediction – Golden Bears 41 Rainbow Warriors 17