Down Under primer: What to know about Cal-Hawaii in Australia

ByThomas Neumann ESPN logo
Friday, August 26, 2016

Are you ready for some gridiron, mate?

California and Hawaii are already set to kick off the 2016 season in Sydney -- six days before the rest of the college football world -- in the first American football event of the millennium in Australia.

The game kicks off Saturday at noon in Sydney -- which is 10 p.m. ET Friday; 7 p.m. PT; 4 p.m. in Honolulu; and 3 p.m. Saturday in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The broadcast information is much simpler -- the game will be televised by ESPN and available for streaming on the ESPN app.

Here's a mega-primer for the Cal-Hawaii season opener for observers in Australia and America alike:

Quick overview

The Golden Bears and Rainbow Warriors will square off at ANZ Stadium in a game billed as the Sydney Cup. Organizers are expecting a crowd of at least 65,000 at the venue originally constructed for the 2000 Olympics.

Cal is coming off an 8-5 season but must move on without quarterback Jared Goff, who was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Sonny Dykes, starting his fourth year as Cal's head coach, will tap Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb in his place. Cal lost its top six receivers from last season but returns four starting offensive linemen and its top three rushers. On defense, the Bears return only one player who started every game in 2015 -- cornerback Darius Allensworth.

After a disappointing 3-10 season in 2015, Hawaii is starting anew with former Warriors quarterback Nick Rolovich arriving as a rookie head coach. His quarterback, Ikaika Woolsey, is a fifth-year senior who grew up just a few towns away from Cal's Berkeley campus. Hawaii also returns running back Paul Harris, who rushed for 1,143 yards last season, and its top three receivers from 2015. With 23 career starts, linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams is the Warriors' most experienced defender.

Meantime, in addition to enjoying international coverage of their programs, both coaches point to the intangibles of playing overseas that will benefit their teams beyond this game.

"When you take a trip like this, it can make your team much tighter," Dykes said. "Guys who normally don't hang around each other spend time together and get to know each other and form friendships that last forever."

Said Rolovich, "It's something [our players] are going to tell their grandkids about. That's what college football, I think, is all about -- those memories, those experiences and those lessons in life that you get."

Cal is a 20-point favorite over Hawaii on the Las Vegas betting line.

How Cal got here

About 18 months ago, Cal was approached by a sport events promoter with the idea of partnering with another Power 5 conference school to stage a game in Australia. The Bears considered a number of opponents and dates, but ultimately there wasn't a logical fit, said Chris Pezman, Cal's associate athletic director for facilities, operations and events.

Enter Hawaii, from the Mountain West Conference, which has an NCAA exemption to play 13 regular-season games. When a waiver to approve the "Week 0" game was officially approved last November, the Sydney Cup was announced.

Cal is racking up 7,432 air miles each way on this trip, but the Bears will then get a week off before traveling for a Sept. 10 road game at San Diego State. You can read in detail about how Cal planned and traveled for the game here.

Last year, the Cal men's basketball team traveled to Australia for a summer tour, and head coach Cuonzo Martin advised the football staff about how to acclimate quickly to the 17-hour time change.

"What we learned from Coach Martin is to try to keep the kids as active as possible that first day," Pezman said. "Essentially, you throw out the date change once you cross the international date line, and Sydney is seven hours behind us. So you push yourself that first day, and that will be the best night's sleep you have."

That meant the Bears joggedand stretched on the plane during the 15-hour flight. Upon landing in Sydney, they went directly from the airport to the practice field Monday morning. Eventually, players got some free time to sightsee, relax and simply be tourists. Many climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and took a dip in the chilly South Pacific -- it's winter Down Under, after all.

We good, coach?

Dykes initially had some reservations about taking such a big trip during a time of year when practice and preparation is paramount. But his father, former longtime Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, helped convince his son that the benefits outweigh the negatives. The elder Dykes had taken the Red Raiders in 1987 to play Oklahoma State in Tokyo.

"I actually talked to him quite a bit when the possibility first presented itself," Sonny Dykes said. "He said, 30 years later, he runs into former players all the time, and the first thing they bring up is that trip and just how much fun they had and how much they enjoyed the experience."

Even with an expected seven-figure payday to be had, Cal athletic director Mike Williams said the Bears wouldn't have made the trip without Dykes' blessing.

"We worked with Sonny every step of the way on this," Williams said. "There was no way we were going to do this without his complete support and complete engagement."

How Hawaii got here

Hawaii didn't have to travel as far as the Bears to Sydney. The Warriors traveled 5,083 miles one way -- a 10-hour flight -- and arrived Sunday.

Like Cal's players, the Warriors were able to enjoy some of the Sydney sights in between practices. They swapped jerseys with the AFL's Greater Western Sydney Giants, attended a National Rugby League match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Cronulla Sharks and visited the Taronga Zoo.

At a rainy, chilly practice Thursday, the Warriors enjoyed a team-building exercise at the expense of their coach. Rolovich was using an umbrella that was given to him by a staffer at the practice facility, and some players teased him for using it. Before long, they had brazenly tackled the rookie coach and wrestled him into the mud.

"The coup began as soon as that umbrella unfolded," Rolovich said. "It was like a bunch of jungle cats. I saw it starting to happen and said, 'I've got my phone in my pocket; you guys can't do it.' Next thing I know, full nelson, phone out of my pocket, mud in the face, smiles all around."

Beast Mode is here!

Cal welcomed elder statesman Marshawn Lynch as a special guest for practices this week.

Lynch, 30, retired from the NFL in February, capping a nine-season career in which he was named to five Pro Bowls. While his former Seattle Seahawks teammates are preparing for the NFL season, Lynch couldn't resist putting on pads and running a few plays with the Golden Bears, for whom he played from 2004-06.

"He came out to practice [Tuesday], watched practice, actually suited out and took a couple reps as the scout team running back," said Dykes.

Dykes said Cal players enjoyed having Lynch participate and that the former Golden Bears star plays a role as mentor and ambassador for the program.

"He's been really great with our players and has interacted with their families," Dykes said. "He loves young people and trying to have an impact on them. He does a lot of things that people don't know about behind the scenes. We're lucky to have him around."

Later in the week, Lynch joined the Rabbitohs for an informal workout:

No word on whether Lynch will be permitted to drive the injury cart. Even if the game turns out to be forgettable, that would be something for Australians to remember.

Rainbow Warriors are road warriors

After playing Cal, the Warriors will barely have time to blink before getting ready to play next week at Michigan. By the time they get home from that game, they will have traveled 19,112 air miles.

"First, I told the boys we were stopping off and doing a layover in Dubai," Rolovich joked. "They got all excited, but they must not be very good in geography class."

Fortunately for the Warriors, they get 24 hours back when they cross the international date line on the way home from Sydney. They also are chartering a plane for the trip from Honolulu to Michigan, a rare expense for a team that usually flies commercially.

"This is 'Back to the Future' flux capacitor stuff," said Rolovich. "We're gaining a day. So we'll get back to Honolulu before we would finish a home game. So I try to look at those two positives. Will it be easy? Probably not. But it's better than losing a day, and it's better than flying commercial."

In total, the Warriors are slated to travel 46,568 miles by air this season.

Previous American football games in Australia

This will be the fourth time a major college or NFL game has been contested Down Under. Here are the others:

1985 -- Wyoming 23, Texas-El Paso 21: Hey Australia, want to watch the two worst teams in the Western Athletic Conference? That's what happened as Wyoming bounced back from a 14-point deficit to beat Texas-El Paso in the season finale for both teams. The announced attendance was 19,107 at VFL Park in Melbourne, a venue that held more than 75,000 fans. Both schools were coached by lame ducks -- Wyoming's Al Kincaid and UTEP's Bill Yung had already been informed they would be fired.

1987 -- Brigham Young 30, Colorado State 26: In the final regular-season game for both teams, bowl-bound BYU got an unexpected challenge from the Rams, who won only once that year. The game attracted an announced crowd of 7,652 to Princes Park, a Melbourne stadium with a capacity of 32,000. Here's a snippet of what The Associated Press wrote afterward: "Promoters said the game, which received scant media coverage, was a financial disaster. They did not release any figures nor did they indicate if plans to make the Bowl a yearly event would be affected."

1999 -- Denver Broncos 20, San Diego Chargers 17: In the only NFL game ever staged on Australian soil, a reported crowd of 73,811 watched the defending Super Bowl champions win the American Bowl preseason opener at Stadium Australia -- now known as ANZ Stadium. Some observers estimated the attendance at closer to 60,000 and noted the use of artificial crowd noise. Broncos quarterback Chris Miller completed 11 of 13 passes and led the game-winning drive. Chargers quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who had been spotted attending a performance of "Macbeth" earlier in the week, was 6-of-8 passing for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Aussies who played football at Hawaii, Cal

Former Hawaii defensive end Colin Scotts became the first Australian selected in the NFL draft when the St. Louis Cardinals took him in the third round in 1987. He was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection in 1986. Scotts played in seven games for the Cardinals in 1987 and was credited with three quarterback sacks. He later joined the Houston Oilers but didn't appear in a regular-season game.

Mat McBriar punted for Hawaii from 2000-02 and went on to play 11 NFL seasons with Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Diego. He led the league in yards per punt in 2006 and 2010 with the Cowboys and was named to the Pro Bowl both seasons.

Other Australians to suit up for Hawaii include offensive linemen Paul Manera (1989-91), Adrian Thomas (2007-10) and Blake Muir (2012), punter Alex Dunnachie (2009-12), and the versatile Scott Harding (2011-14), who played wide receiver and punter and also returned kicks.

Former Cal punter David Lonie, a Sydney native, was under contract with Washington and Green Bay in 2006 and 2007, respectively, but never played in a regular-season game.

Hawaii freshman defensive lineman Maxwell Hendrie is the only Aussie currently on either roster, but he's unlikely to play in this game. Hendrie is a Sydney native who played rugby at The Scots College, the same school that produced Scotts.

Taste of America

In a nod to the excess of arena concessions in the United States, ANZ Stadium is offering a number of American-themed food choices. A sampling:

Two-foot-long hot dogs.

Cal Bear burger with beef patties, lettuce, tomato, bacon, caramelized onions, pickles and cheese.

Hawaii chicken burger with tomato, pineapple, cheese, bacon, lettuce and chili.

Cape Byron Angus beef brisket roll -- slow-cooked Texas style for 12 hours and served on a milk bun with dry slaw and tangy barbecue sauce.

Cinnamon churros with chocolate sauce.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

History lesson

This will be the fifth time Cal and Hawaii have squared off in football. The previous matchups:

Sept. 17, 1994: Hawaii 21, Cal 7 (at Berkeley)

Nov. 7, 1993: Cal 42, Hawaii 18 (at Honolulu)

Nov. 30, 1968: Cal 17, Hawaii 12 (at Honolulu)

Jan. 1, 1935: Hawaii 14, Cal 0 (at Honolulu)

Interestingly, former Hawaii player Keith Gilbertson was the head coach at Cal during the 1993 and '94 games. Cal has played abroad once before, tying Washington State 17-17 in Tokyo in 1987. This will be the first game outside the United States in Hawaii football history.