Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
The breakthrough came deep into the night, when all hope had been lost. Cole McDonald was putting the finishing touches on a school project sometime around 1 a.m. when his phone rang. A number bearing an 808 area code appeared on his screen.
It was the eve of national signing day in February 2016, and McDonald, then a senior quarterback at Sonora High School in La Habra, California, a small school 45 minutes east of Los Angeles, had made up his mind. With zero Division I scholarship offers, McDonald had emotionally committed to playing the following season for a junior college.
He would prove himself there, he told himself. It made sense at the time, in part because he didn’t have much of a choice.
On the other end of the phone line, 2,500 miles away, was the voice of Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich. The conversation was casual at first—a mix of small talk and football conversation. Then, after getting to know one another, Rolovich did something that would change McDonald’s life: He offered him a scholarship and a football home.
“I knew the team had a poor record, I didn’t know a single person on the roster, and I hadn’t even made a trip out there,” McDonald said earlier this week, hours before jumping on a 13-hour flight for his team’s game at Army this Saturday. “And I committed right away. I signed my letter of intent, and that was that. I was going there to succeed and help bring that program back to life.”
Fast forward two-and-a-half years, and McDonald is doing things most quarterbacks couldn’t do in a video game.
Through Hawaii’s first three games and his first three starts at the collegiate level, McDonald has accounted for 15 touchdowns and thrown zero interceptions. His 13 passing touchdowns and 1,165 yards are tops in the nation—this from a player who came into this season with a grand total of nine pass attempts in college.
Hawaii has played a game more than most schools at this point in the season, but it doesn’t make this startling, out-of-nowhere production any less remarkable.
Hawaii also is 3-0 for the first time since 2007, doing so despite massive underdog status in its first two games of the year, against Colorado State and Navy. They are rapidly and unexpectedly looking like the Rainbow Warriors of old: offense-centric and wildly productive, especially at quarterback.
McDonald arrived in 2016 as a project. His freshman year was spent adapting to life on the island—the magnificent views, the laid-back lifestyle and the occasional bout of homesickness early on. Little was expected of a 2-star quarterback 247Sports ranked as its No. 2,258 recruit nationwide and No. 248 in the state of California.
During his senior year at Sonora High School, McDonald was productive but did not post blistering numbers. He threw for more than 2,000 yards, ran for more than 1,000 and scored 29 touchdowns.
Division II schools showed some interest. So did JUCOs. Alabama A&M made him an offer—his biggest before Hawaii came in at the 11th hour. But there was little buzz about the 6’4,” 205-pound quarterback.
“It was kind of hard to just get my recruiting started,” McDonald said. “Really, it never started for me. All I needed was one shot.”
Things are different now, even beyond the sudden success. McDonald ditched his clean-cut California quarterback look for something new when he arrived at Hawaii. It started with bleach-blond hair that he eventually grew out into a mullet.
“I was letting it flow out the back of the helmet,” McDonald said. “I was feeling it.”
But during his sophomore year, he grew close with former Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, and McDonald’s look once again evolved. For the past nine months, he has been growing dreadlocks in honor of his friend and mentor.
Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
“The look definitely took some by surprise,” McDonald said. “This 6’4″ white guy with blue eyes and loose dreads. I’ve definitely got that, and I love it.”
The new look and the big stats have are a start, but McDonald isn’t resting on them. He knows he has to keep the changes coming.
“I’ve always been the guy to press myself,” he says. “And I feel like how I am playing now is the standard for me.”
On Saturday, that standard will be tested against Army. Hawaii, perhaps appropriately, is once again an underdog, per OddsShark.
An open apology to Herm Edwards
I’m going to be completely honest here. When Arizona State announced Herm Edwards as its next head coach—announcing a move toward a cryptic, NFL-like model—I was bewildered.
Jokes were had. Doom was broadcast. Social media burned the news to the ground, as it often does when something unexpected transpires. Edwards had been out of football for a decade and hadn’t worked at a university in 30 years.
But after Arizona State upset Michigan State this past weekend, I need to walk this one back. That is not to say this hire will work out in the long run. It has been a grand total of two games, and most coaching hires ultimately fail over time.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
But so far, Edwards’ team is looking more than just competent. The Sun Devils currently lead the nation in sacks and will enter the weekend at No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Even in the infancy of a season, that is significant when you consider how the school struggled to find itself over the past few years.
Will it last? I have no idea. But things will be better under Edwards than they have been, and the hire suddenly doesn’t feel inexplicable or outrageous. Different, sure. And that is what I love about this, the more it sets in. ASU did something completely unexpected, breaking free of a hiring process that can feel predictable at times. And right now, heading into a Week 3 game against San Diego State, it has broken the school out of a rut that saw it go 18-20 over the past three seasons.
I hope that holds true, and Edwards personally digs up our jokes (there were many) and posts them around campus. It’s not supposed to look this way when television analysts return to a profession a few decades later.
With all that said, before any regression can take place, I have one thing to say:
My bad, Herm. I apologize. Keep doing your thing. Right now, the joke’s on us.
Five games to watch this weekend
Here’s what you should watch this weekend, in tweet-length form (all times Eastern):
No. 1 Alabama at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7 p.m.): The good news for Ole Miss is that it scored 76 points last week. The bad news is it gave up 41 to Southern Illinois, along with more than 600 yards of offense. The Grove has produced magic in this matchup before, but this one might require the highest powers of football wizardry.
Steve Conner/Associated Press
No. 17 Boise State at No. 24 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): Boise State ran up an 810-yard bar tab against UConn last weekend, which should have Oklahoma State mighty concerned. Yes, it was UConn. Yes, this is a step up in class. But don’t be surprised if the Broncos make things weird here. (Locks spoiler, nudge, nudge.)
No. 22 USC at Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m.): I can’t help but let my nostalgic excitement take over, even if both programs are shells of what they were when they played the greatest game of our lifetime in 2006. This one isn’t so much about title aspirations. It’s actually kind of desperate, and I mean that in the best way possible.
No. 12 LSU at No. 7 Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): The trenches of this game are going to look like a glorious wreck, and if defensive line play is your passion, then please carve out your Saturday afternoon to take this one in. Whether LSU can muster enough offense is another story entirely.
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 15 TCU (Saturday, 8 p.m.): If he can go to Arlington, Texas and play well against a quality team, this will be the game that kickstarts the “Dwayne Haskins for Heisman” chants in earnest. At the moment, he looks like one of the best football players in America, albeit against weaker opponents. That changes on Saturday.
What else to watch for this weekend
First, the weather is shaking up Week 3: There are more important things than college football. That shouldn’t have to be said when it comes to Category 3 hurricanes making landfall, but let’s say it anyway. As well as impacting those other, bigger things, though, Hurricane Florence has already put a massive dent in the college football slate, forcing cancellations and a scramble to reschedule games. The reality is that many of these games probably won’t be made up.
I love college football more than I love most people on this earth, but there should be absolutely zero complaints about scheduling or about how schools handle an impossible situation.
More than anything, please stay safe, y’all.
Second, the game that is so bad it’s brilliant: This Saturday, Kansas and Rutgers will play a football game. It’s an out-of-conference matchup between two programs that have won a grand total of 15 games (two this season) over the past three-plus years. Rutgers, by the way, has done the heavy lifting there.
Fittingly, the game will kick off at noon. It will probably not be particularly well played. If you’re wondering why you should watch this, I don’t have much ammunition here other than the fact that it’s college football. Done.
Oh, and one of these two will enter Week 4 with a winning record. Unless they tie, which would be the most Kansas-Rutgers moment ever.
Sam Craft/Associated Press
Third, the evolution of Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond: Of all the individual performances in Week 2, none were more eye-popping than Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and his 430 passing yards against Clemson, a defensive loaded with future NFL players.
This week, the Aggies draw Louisiana-Monroe. Not exactly Clemson, but a formidable, unbeaten opponent nonetheless. Regardless of opposition, it will be fascinating to see Mond develop under new head coach Jimbo Fisher—something he appears to be doing rapidly.
Gambling locks (OK…picks) of the week
Last week: 1-4 (gross)
Season to date: 3-7 (I don’t even need to say it)
The good news is that I picked Arizona State to win outright in an upset over Michigan State. The bad news is that was the only game I picked correctly, which included taking Pittsburgh (+8.5) against Penn State—a game that ended in a 51-6 Penn State win. Say it once more with me: gross.
I cannot blame you for fading these picks at the moment. Fade away, friends. But they will turn at some point; this much I know. Hopefully. Anyway, the picks, which will be based off of the Westgate odds on OddsShark, have to happen no matter what:
Kansas (-2.5) vs. Rutgers: What do you do when you’re on a cold streak? You bet on Kansas football. Tell my family members I love them.
Purdue (+6) vs. Missouri: Another contrarian pick to get us on track. Look for an exciting, points-centric Purdue cover.
Toledo (+10.5) vs. Miami: Don’t sleep on this game; this is a really tricky spot for Miami against a quality offense.
Texas (-3.5) vs. USC: Texas hasn’t looked great. USC has. On this day, Texas looks a touchdown better anyway.
San Diego State (+5.5) vs. Arizona State: We love you, Herm. We do. But this is a prime letdown scenario, and we say the Sun Devils win this with another field goal.
Bonus, erase-the-deficit lock: Boise State (+2.5) vs. Oklahoma State: I just feel like the Broncos are the better overall team at this moment in time. Simple as that.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.