How to Watch:
TV: SEC Network
Time: 7:30 p.m. E.T., Saturday, Aug. 26
Online Streaming: WatchESPN
Odds: The Commodores are currently 18.5-point favorites at FanDuel sportsbook
Weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 88 degrees. Winds NNE 7 mph.
Clark Lea has made headlines on more than one occasion with his audacious aspirations to bring Vanderbilt to the forefront of college football. As bold as some of his claims has been, Vanderbilt is undeniably in a better position now with Lea as its head coach. Handed the reigns to a program in disarray in the middle of the pandemic, Lea started out with a 2-10 record in 2021. Last year, he improved on that record to 5-7, with two SEC victories. The Commodores are hoping for continued improvement in 2023, and should have an opportunity to start the season off strong with a convincing win over Hawaii. Last year, the Commodores trounced the Rainbow Warriors on the road, 63-10. Winning by a wider margin than that will be difficult, even at home, but expect Vandy to assert its dominance regardless of the final score.
Hawaii second-year coach Timmy Chang has the tall task of revitalizing a decadent program whose glory years continue to fade further and further away. Chang is an accomplished alumnus and will certainly receive a longer leash to turn the program around, but it’s a long road. Hawaii did go 7-1 against the spread in the final eight games of the season, indicating improvement despite a less attractive record. It’s too early to place expectations of wins over SEC teams, even if it is just Vanderbilt, on the Chang regime, but Hawaii fans are hoping the Rainbow Warriors put up a better fight this year than they did in 2022.
Vanderbilt could not stop opposing offenses through the air last year and still has questions hovering over its secondary going into 2023, particularly at the cornerback positions. Chang likes to air it out, and the Warriors return last year’s starting quarterback Brayden Schager. The Highland Park product struggled as a sophomore, but should show improvement in his second year in Chang’s system. Hawaii lacks playmakers on the outside, but has a nice running back in Tylan Hines. Vanderbilt has a deep linebacking core and solid safeties who likely will find success stopping the run. The key matchup will be Hawaii’s receivers vs. Vanderbilt’s corners.
Offensively, Vanderbilt is led by quarterback A.J. Swann. The Georgia native showed promise as a freshman, throwing for more than 1,200 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Will Sheppard had a breakout season at receiver with 60 catches for 776 yards and nine touchdowns and rates as one of the top pass-catchers in the SEC. While the offensive line returns four of the five starters from last year, the running back room is one of the weaker points on the team. There also are no proven playmakers at tight end, which could place a disproportionate amount of pressure on Swann and the receiving corps to move the ball for the Commodores.
Still, Vanderbilt is a stronger team in all of the key areas and only a magnificent game from Schager combined with a catastrophic performance from Swann could potentially yield an upset for Hawaii. I’m taking Vanderbilt, 42-27.