Opening weekend for the 2016 college football season has been widely hailed as the best in the game’s history.
California versus Hawaii was not the reason for that.
Nevertheless, Friday night marked a holiday for college football fans across the country – and globe, evidently – as Cal and Hawaii played in Australia in front of more than 60,000 fans. It wasn’t Alabama-USC or Oklahoma-Houston or Georgia-North Carolina, but it was football, and football should be celebrated.
Cal will be celebrating – even if the Bears are doing so half a world away.
It was an auspicious start for the Bears, a 51-31 drubbing of Hawaii, proving that, even in the post-Jared Goff era, Cal will find a way to put up points. Davis Webb, after spending three topsy-turvy, injury-filled years at Texas Tech, filled in and then some for Cal, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another, showing shades of the quarterback who set a slew of Big 12 freshman records in his first season at Texas Tech.
If one thing was made clear on Friday night, it’s that Webb will not be the problem for Cal this year. He completed 38 of his 54 passes for 441 yards and established Chad Hansen as his favorite target this season, hooking up for 14 completions, 160 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
“As soon as Davis showed up at Cal, we just had a connection,” Hansen said afterwards. “I think being together, day in and day out, really helps that quarterback-wide receiver connection.”
As convincing as the win was – it is difficult to argue against 51 points in a season opener after losing the most productive player in school history – Cal fans would do well to keep their enthusiasm in check.
Here’s why: Hawaii scored 31 points. Hawaii scored more than 30 exactly once in 2015, putting up 47 on UC Davis, which would be roughly the equivalent of a Colorado scoring 47 on South Dakota State – it’s not much of an accomplishment. California has never been a defensive fortress on the football field, but it’s concerning that Hawaii, a program with seven wins over the last two years, had scored two touchdowns in hardly more than 10 minutes of action.
At this point last year, California looked quite strong, opening with a 73-14 win over Grambling State, which preceded four more wins over mediocre teams before getting into the meat of the schedule, where it promptly collapsed. If the defense doesn’t shore itself up quickly, it won’t take until the sixth game of the season for the collapse to happen.
An upstart San Diego State team looms, along with Texas, who is capable of beating playoff-caliber opponents. Then it’s on to the heart of the Pac-12 schedule, where far more formidable offenses than Hawaii await.
Fifty-one points was an excellent showing for the California offense, to be sure. A 20-point win is something to be pleased with. It’s an auspicious start, but an uneasy one for the defense.
For Cal fans thrilled about the team’s offense, just know this: Other teams are thrilled about Cal’s defense.