Records don’t matter when a college football team flies to Hawaii to take on the Rainbow Warriors.
Games there present unique challenges, even this season when there won’t be fans in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To fly home with its fifth victory of the season and national ranking intact, as Fresno State hopes to do this weekend, the Bulldogs will have to overcome many of these challenges.
I love Hawaii and Hawaii loves the people who visit — unless you play for the team lined up against the Rainbow Warriors.
The minute you get off the plane, the whole island turns against you. Everyone wants you to lose. On game days, the buses taking teams to the stadium mysteriously get stuck in traffic. Or the bus has a tire that may — or may not — be flat and takes an hour to fix.
My senior year at Fresno State, we arrived way late to the stadium, sprinted in, and got dressed. Then we sprinted to the field with barely enough time for warmups. At halftime, Pat Hill was so mad, he punched his hand straight through a chalkboard.
Hardest Hits I Took Were Against Hawaii, not in NFL
I was sacked 267 times in my NFL career. But the hardest hits I ever took were administered in Hawaii. In those days, their players knew how to finish tackles, put you into the earth and take you back to where you came. Yes, the rules are different now. However, Hawaii’s players still get their bone-jarring licks in.
It’s hard to say how the absence of fans will affect Fresno State’s performance. Certainly, it will be strange for the Bulldogs after playing before boisterous crowds at Oregon, UCLA, and at home.
My brother Derek played in empty NFL stadiums last year, and he says it just was a different feeling from the quarterback’s standpoint. It’s so quiet you can hear what the coaches are saying, you hear every defender.
From my own experience, I know that a loud crowd requires you to get so locked in mentally that it helps you play better.
A final thought on the Bulldogs. Early in the season, they were the hunters. Now, with their win over UCLA and No. 18 ranking, they are being hunted. They’ll get every team’s best shot. Just like UNLV gave them last week.
- Brady-Belichick Must-See TV
- Big NFL Weekend in LA
- Top 5/Bottom 5
Brady vs. Belichick Is Must-See TV
Even though they achieved great success, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had a toxic relationship. There had to be a separation and, when it came, Tampa Bay pulled off the greatest free-agent signing in NFL history, outside of Peyton Manning going to Denver.
This matchup offers drama, intrigue, and an outcome — regardless of the final score — that forever will be part of the Brady-Belichick debate.
You can bet that Brady has looked forward to returning to New England and hearing the cheers of Patriots fans since the moment he signed with Tampa Bay. Given how last season turned out — Brady wins another Super Bowl, Patriots miss the playoffs — I expect fans will be more pro-Brady than pro-Belichick.
Besides having a more talented team, the Bucs have a huge advantage. Brady knows everything about Belichick and the Patriots. It’s like Brady has every answer to the test, and he’s shared them with Tampa Bay coaches and players.
Tampa Bay is nearly impossible to run the ball against, so Mac Jones will have to use quick passes as the Patriots’ running game. I don’t see it happening, but if Jones pulls off a victory, it will be a signature moment in his Patriots’ career.
Big Games in LA
Seven years ago, Los Angeles didn’t have an NFL team. Now it has the Rams, the Chargers, and SoFi Stadium. If not for Brady-Belichick, all eyes would be on the City of Angels this weekend.
On Sunday, the Rams host Arizona in an early season showdown of unbeaten NFC West teams. Monday night, it’s 3-0 Las Vegas at the 2-1 Chargers in a matchup of AFC West rivals.
There are no holes in the Rams, not with that defense and Matt Stafford throwing the football all over the yard. The acquisition of DeSean Jackson is significant as he has the ability to beat defenders straight down the field with his speed. His 75-yard TD catch against Tampa Bay was the ninth of his career at least 75 yards long.
With Kyler Murray, the Cardinals are explosive on offense, and their pass rush will test Stafford. However, the Cardinals’ defensive secondary is a question mark, and the Rams can cover DeAndre Hopkins with Jalen Ramsey.
Even though the Raiders will officially be the visitors against the Chargers, their fans will make this feel like a home game. As of midweek, Raiders fans had purchased 74% of the tickets sold.
One point in the Chargers’ favor on Monday night is that safety Derwin James is one of the few guys who can effectively cover Raiders’ tight end Darren Waller. On the other side, Raiders’ corner Casey Hayward, a former Charger, is capable of slowing Chargers’ wideout Keenan Allen.
These should be two great games in an amazing stadium.
1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0) — Sean McVay has made it clear that it’s Super Bowl or bust. The Rams cleared an early hurdle with a win over Tampa Bay that was more decisive than the 34-24 score. (Last week: No. 3)
2. Tampa Bay (2-1) — The NFL’s best team beat the NFL’s second-best team last Sunday. My only concern is the Bucs’ inability to establish their running game. It’s not good when Tom Brady is your leading rusher, as was the case against the Rams. (Last week: No. 1)
3. Kansas City (1-2) — After giving up 95 points in three games, the Chiefs are last in the AFC West but third in my rankings. That’s because “In Mahomes I Trust.” (Last week: No. 2)
4. Las Vegas (3-0) — Another week, another gut-check win for the Raiders against a stout defense in overtime. Crazy stat of the week: Derek Carr is on pace to throw for 6,800 yards. (Last week: No. 4)
5. Buffalo (2-1) — Josh Allen again looks like the MVP candidate we thought he was. That’s bad news for AFC East rivals, which so far appear less than formidable. (Last week: unranked)
Fell out: Baltimore (2-1)
28. Atlanta (1-2) — The Falcons picked up their first win and spoiled Eli Manning’s jersey retirement ceremony in New York. But winning ugly against the Giants on a last-second field goal isn’t a foundation for success in the stacked NFC South. (Last week: No. 30)
29. Chicago (1-2) — The Bears have no business playing as poorly as they do. But with Matt Nagy befuddled about what to do at quarterback and the offensive line a mess, it’ll be a long season in the Windy City. (Last week: unranked)
30. Houston (1-2) — The Texans want three first-round picks and other assets for QB DeShaun Watson, who is sidelined by sexual abuse allegations. Until he’s traded, Watson’s status overshadows everything the Texans do. Good luck winning in that atmosphere. (Last week: No. 29)
31. New York Jets (0-3) — They’ve scored 20 points in three games, and don’t figure to have the ball for more than 20 minutes Sunday with Derrick Henry coming to town. (Last week: No. 31)
32. Jacksonville (0-3) — Urban Meyer told a reporter that the NFL is like playing Alabama every week. Maybe if the Jaguars were relegated to the SEC, they could get a win. (Last week: No. 32)
Escaped the Bottom 5: Detroit (0-3)
About the Author
David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 overall draft pick, and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with GV Wire’s Bill McEwen. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Healthcare.