Time to get the college football season under way Down Under
SYDNEY (AP) Hawaii players sped through early-morning drills with traditional island music emanating from a single speaker in one of the end zones. Across town, California held a final, closed workout except for the curious eyes of a half-dozen or so Sydney police officers wondering what all the fuss was about.
It was fine-tuning day Friday for Cal and Hawaii as the Golden Bears and Rainbow Warriors prepared for Saturday's season-opening game of the U.S. college football season at Sydney's Olympic stadium.
The rain that played havoc with training schedules on Thursday was gone, giving way to a sunny, cool morning at Olympic Park where Hawaii held their final session in the shadow of the stadium that was the centerpiece of the 2000 Olympics.
Ten-yard lines were laid down in chalk on the training field at the University of New South Wales just before the Cal players and team officials arrived in four buses from their downtown hotel.
The sunny weather on the last weekend of winter in the southern hemisphere was expected to hold for Saturday's midday start local time, allowing the game to be televised live in prime time on Friday evening in the U.S. - and Friday afternoon in Hawaii.
Here are some other things to know about the season opener:
WHY AUSTRALIA?: Officially known as the College Football Sydney Cup, the game was brought to Sydney by tourism officials anxious to again showcase the city and its regional attractions. Football officials hope it'll help create an interest in gridiron, but it's a crowded market. Officially there are four main varieties of ''football'' in Australia - Australian Rules, rugby league, rugby union and soccer. Australians love the NFL - at least on television - but whether American football live will ever catch on remains to be seen. Organizers two weeks ago said they were expecting a crowd in excess of 65,000, but on Friday an event official said only 45,000 had been sold. Last Saturday at the same stadium, traditional rugby rivals Australia and New Zealand attracted a crowd of 65,328. It's the first college football game played in Sydney, but an NFL preseason game in 1999 between Denver and San Diego - the Broncos won 20-17 - had 73,000 in the stands.
THE COACHES: Sonny Dykes is the man from Cal. The Pac-12 team's eight wins last year in the third season with Dykes as head coach was the school's most victories since 2009. It capped the season with a win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, its first postseason victory since 2008 in its first bowl appearance since 2011. Former Rainbow Warriors quarterback Nick Rolovich is the new head coach for Hawaii and will try to improve on the team's 3-10 record from last season, including 0-8 in its Mountain West conference. Told on Friday that betting agencies were making Cal a 20-point favorite, Rolovich quipped: ''It's a funny-shaped ball, it can bounce different ways.''
HELMET TRIBUTE: On Saturday and all season , Hawaii players will wear the initials ''KMT'' on the back of their helmets to honor U.S. Representative (Kyle) Mark Takai, a Hawaii congressman and former all-American swimmer from the university who died in July of pancreatic cancer at the age of 49. ''There was maybe no one more who was a supporter of the athletic department,'' Rolovich said Friday. ''We asked the family it if was OK, and they felt it would be a nice tribute.''
THE QUARTERBACKS: Cal's starter Davis Webb has big shoes to fill, replacing Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams. A graduate transfer from Texas Tech, Webb played in 23 games with 14 starts over three seasons and had career totals of 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns for TTU. ''His work ethic has been unparalleled,'' Dykes said after selecting Webb as the starter on the fourth day of training camp. Webb returns the favor: This ''is what a championship culture looks like, and that is what coach Dykes is developing here.'' California-born Ikaika Woolsey beat out three other Hawaii quarterbacks. Now in his senior year, he has had 19 starts for the Rainbow Warriors.
THE INTERNATIONALS: First-year running back Genta Ito is from Inabe, Japan and moved to Hawaii after attending Santa Monica College in California for two years. Hawaii has a strong slate of running backs, so he's unlikely to get a start on Saturday but could feature on the special teams. Hawaii also has Sydney-born Max Hendrie, a defensive end. New recruit Ben Scruton is another Aussie who could see some action.