We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.
Boise State, Aug. 31
Coach: Chris Petersen (84-8), eighth year
2012 record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West
Returning starters: five offense, four defense
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Joe Southwick returns after completing 66.8 percent of his throws last year with 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He threw for 2,730 yards and averaged 210 per game.
Defensive headliner: Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence earned first-team all-league honors after posting a team-high 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks to go with 48 tackles.
The skinny: The Broncos will probably start the year ranked -- and they've earned that right. They have consistently been a Top 25 program and the elite team among non-BCS conference schools. They've gone 5-0 against the league's teams (including Utah in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, prior to the Utes joining the conference) since 2008. Their last loss to a Pac-12 team was at Washington in 2007. And in case anyone needs reminding, this is a rematch of last year's Las Vegas Bowl, which the Broncos won 28-26 on a late field goal.
at Illinois (in Chicago), Sept. 14
Coach: Tim Beckman (2-10), second year
2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten
Returning starters: eight offense, four defense
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns as a four-year starter after an injury-plagued 2012. A high ankle sprain limited him for the majority of the season and as a result, he had just four touchdowns to eight interceptions with a 60.6 completion percentage in 10 games.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jonathan Brown is an all-conference candidate after posting 59 tackles last year with 2.5 sacks and a team-high 9.5 tackles for a loss.
The skinny: Much of what Illinois wants to do on offense revolves around Scheelhaase's ability to move. And with an ankle injury limiting him last season, the offense suffered, averaging a minuscule 16.7 points per game. With him healthy, and a lot of returning players around him on offense, expect Illinois to be improved in that department.
Idaho State, Sept. 21
Coach: Mike Kramer
2012 record: 1-10, 0-8 Big Sky
Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
Offensive headliner: Justin Arias, a redshirt junior, moves into the starting quarterback role. He has two capable receivers to throw to in Cameron Richmond and Luke Austin, who combined for 1,405 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Defensive headliner: Sophomore defensive back Taison Manu was a freshman All-American last season after posting 77 tackles (tied for second on the team) an d4.5 tackles for a loss.
The skinny: Give the Bengals credit. They've scheduled two FBS teams every year since 2008, including the likes of ASU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska and BYU. This season they go to Washington and again at Provo, Utah. Granted, they've lost all those games, usually by a wide margin, but they at least aren't afraid to be ambitious in their scheduling. Last year they set a conference record for most passing attempts and completions. Though they allowed almost 54 points per game in 2012.
Thoughts: The big one here, obviously, is Boise State. Illinois should be better than last season, but so should the Huskies, and despite Washington's road woes, this should be categorized as a winnable game. The Boise State game means a heck of a lot to Washington's season. Obviously, it will be an electric atmosphere with the opening of remodeled Husky Stadium. As we've written a couple of times before, in the Ultimate Road Trip and Most Important Game series, what a victory could do for the Huskies on the national landscape. Accepting that Boise State will likely be a Top 25 team to start the season, a win likely puts Washington in the rankings -- where they'll stay, and likely climb as others around them lose -- heading into conference play. After Arizona, it's three straight against Stanford, Oregon and ASU. Heading into that stretch ranked and 3-0 would bring the fan base to a tizzy. A loss, however, stunts momentum, and victories over Illinois and Idaho State would be met with more of a "meh." If the Huskies want to be nationally relevant and show they are ready to take the next step, beating Boise would be a good place to start.