Hawaii football: Cole McDonald’s Hawaii Bowl MVP showing adds to resume, but is just one factor in weighing pro future

Cole McDonald raised his arms after throwing the game-winning touchdown to Nick Mardner in the fourth quarter of the SoFi Hawaii Bowl. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

It was a question that had to be asked.

After an MVP performance in the Hawaii Bowl that included a game-winning drive in the final two minutes, had UH quarterback Cole McDonald changed his mind about making himself available for the NFL Draft?

On Oct. 29, McDonald had this to say: “I intend to stay in school and come back next year.”

Back then, he was in the middle of a second-consecutive monster season, stats-wise, including third in FBS passing yardage. Now he has completed said monster season. Again.

When I asked if his thoughts had changed, it was in the bowels of Aloha Stadium, at the post-game press conference moments after McDonald had delivered a good dose of Christmas cheer to UH fans. In the final game of the fourth-year junior’s season, McDonald completed 28 of 46 passes for 493 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for one in the 38-34 victory over BYU.

The fact that McDonald directed a game-winning drive in the final two minutes — including an on-the-money TD pass — won’t be lost on those evaluating his professional readiness.

Here’s what the soft-spoken McDonald had to say: “I going to talk it over with my family and really just pray about it, and ask for guidance from my mentors and past coaches. I honestly can’t tell you what I’m going to do, like I don’t even know. And it’s probably one of the toughest decisions of my life. I’m just going to pray about it, and that’s about it.”

There are many, many other factors to consider (one being that he is a semester away from his degree in accounting), both for McDonald and NFL teams that might think about drafting him.

Here are a few more of those factors: Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Jacob Eason, Jordan Love and Steve Montez.

They are all quarterbacks who will certainly or probably be available in the 2020 Draft. McDonald measures up well with many of them in things like prototype NFL size and arm strength, and McDonald is as fleet of foot or faster than most of them. But most of the others have proven themselves on bigger stages than the Hawaii Bowl, and have performed with more consistency.

Would the 2021 Draft be better for McDonald? Would another year of college experience be worth the risk of serious injury? That’s very difficult, if not impossible, to determine with the information available right now. It’s going to be a while before he is given even a rough idea of what round he might be chosen in during the 2020 Draft, much less the one in 2021.

While no two situations are identical, McDonald might want to consider what happened in the case of his fellow Rainbow Warriors quarterback, Colt Brennan, more than a decade ago.

After a superb junior season in 2006, Brennan was projected to go late in the first round or early in the second in the upcoming draft. He will always be considered a hero to UH fans for choosing instead to coming back for his senior year and leading the Warriors to a 12-0 regular season.

However, despite finishing third in the 2007 Heisman Trophy voting, Brennan’s stock dropped significantly and he was not picked until the sixth round, by the Washington Redskins. He never played a down in a regular-season NFL game.

With the other quarterbacks who figure to be available in the ’20 Draft, it’s very unlikely McDonald will be put in the situation of having to decide on millions of dollars in bonus money or returning to college.

But still, his stellar Hawaii Bowl performance on Christmas Eve is an overall plus as part of any evaluation of his current draft-readiness. Combined with other factors, it could signal that the time is right for McDonald to go pro rather than risk waiting another year.


  1. H-Man December 25, 2019 9:13 am

    Certainly yesterday’s game helped improve his stock. If there’s “millions$$$” waiting for him, declare for the draft. If not, stay in school and get that accounting degree.

  2. former D1 qb December 25, 2019 9:20 am

    “McDonald measures up well with many of them in things like prototype NFL size and arm strength, and McDonald is as fleet of foot or faster than most of them.”

    that’s about where the comparison ends. cole doesn’t have millions waiting for him in the draft. he might be a 6th round pick at best. i like the guy but he needs to come back for his senior season

  3. Warriortcat December 25, 2019 9:58 am

    Hard decision for McDonald, a lot of proven QBs this draft, consistency is Cole’s drawback. That said, I think he can be NFL quality with the right team, coaching. I know would be great to have him back one more year in Hawaii but think he’s better than Brennan and would be playing Sundays, the right Team/coaching can fix his consistency and the $$$$$$ will come.

  4. haka December 25, 2019 1:47 pm

    Cole should come back, finish school and play his senior year. As good as he is, he is not ready for the NFL. Injuries can happen anytime. He will have an even better team to captain and will increase his chances of sticking with an NFL team. He should not get ahead of himself in my opinion.

  5. Mel December 25, 2019 6:47 pm

    I don’t think he can make it in the NFL as a starter but possibly a backup. That being said, I think he should turn pro now and take his chances in the draft. Remember Tom Brady was not drafted until the 9th round.

  6. Al Price December 25, 2019 8:28 pm

    Cole has the quick release. Reminds me of Dan Marino. Should remain in school, because we have a good team in 2020. I see them being crown Mountain West Champion!!!!

  7. Kev-1 December 25, 2019 9:50 pm

    Cole has a lot going for him in regard to his NFL prospects. But sorry, a quick release is not one of them. His delivery is actually one of the knocks against him. Perhaps it could be fixed. Scouts will love that he delivers from over the top, but the fact that his arm motion often starts from a low position may get him labeled a “project.”

    I have been pretty hard on his decision making and the fact that his balls often come out with the nose pointed to the ground. But I do think he’s got physical traits that scouts will like.

  8. Robbert Wong December 26, 2019 8:55 am

    This is silly. I am a HUGE UH Fan and a BIG Cole McDonald fan. He is a great football player and an even better human being. But he is on NO NFL Team’s draft board. He deserves a shot at the NFL and will get one- whether he’s drafted or not, but to even have this article and say he is mulling his decision to turn pro is silly. (It’s not his fault he doesn’t have high draft stock, it’s a combination of schedule, being in the MW, playing for Hawaii, getting no respect, etc.).

  9. Duster December 26, 2019 4:20 pm

    It may be heresy or blasphemous to die hard Warrior fans, but Cole could graduate in May and enroll as a grad transfer at a P5 school that will not have an incumbent starting QB or a game-tested QB in the wings. Dave listed a number of QBs who will likely be entering the NFL draft and what better than a 4,000 yard passer to step in? The bottom line to me is that it’s Cole’s life and taking care of his academic house affords him with options.

  10. sports for fun December 26, 2019 5:25 pm

    From ESPN article ranking all quarterbacks in this year’s bowl games:

    15. Cole McDonald, Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
    Year: Junior

    McDonald is one of the more difficult evaluations in college football right now. One, because Hawaii’s offense plays five-wide almost every snap and nothing like an NFL offense. Two, because he has much more arm talent than your typical small-school QB. Finally three, because he makes some of the ugliest decisions you’ll see in college football. His arm strength and accuracy will get him an NFL look, though.

    Bowl matchup: BYU in the SOFI Hawai’i Bowl

    Saw some of those “ugliest decisions” in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl. As good as Cole is, I think another year of playing college ball will help him improve on that decision making.

  11. pueo December 26, 2019 10:03 pm

    Agree that Cole needs another year of collegiate football. He has just completed his second year and has showed flashes of potential but has been yanked by Rolo dur

  12. H-Man December 27, 2019 3:15 pm

    Just tuned in to the Oka St – T A&M game. Drew Brown quarterbacking. Half-time now. I wonder if he’ll start the 2nd half?

  13. H-Man December 27, 2019 3:16 pm

    It’s been awhile. It’s Dru (I think).

  14. Kev-1 December 27, 2019 5:09 pm

    #9 … I never consided that scenario. That’s an interesting thought though, especially considering the critique provided in the ESPN article in #10. Probably not nad for his future if he could find the right opportunity.

  15. Hank December 28, 2019 5:53 pm

    The question is not whether he is NFL ready (he is not) … the question is whether a team is willing to take him and development him into one of their own. He has the physical and mental attributes. An NFL rookie who makes the team gets a minimum 480K next year. That’s more than needed for a semester at UH to finish his degree, without the risk of injury.

    There aren’t many guys who can play NFL QB in the world. Most of the starters in the NFL aren’t good enough to take their team to the Super Bowl. Is there a team out there willing to take a shot at Cole and see if he can develop into an NFL starter? I think so.

    I say he goes. Mahalo Cole.

  16. 19Champions December 29, 2019 9:25 am

    I agree with haka, Kev-1, Robbert Wong .. that Cole should not get ahead of himself here, instead be patient and smart! Like all other qualified QBs they all face a similar predicament but Cole’s situation calls for a pause. Evaluate and acess areas of improvement and take the “higher road” by finishing up his Senior year, propel is draft status even more, and getting his all important degree! FAITH baby!

  17. Kawika December 30, 2019 4:23 pm

    UW is looking for a new OC ($800k salary) and a replacement for QB Jacob Eason. All of their 4 star QBs on their roster haven’t taken a snap. Interesting.

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