We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.
South Dakota Coyotes, Saturday, Aug. 30
Coach: Joe Glenn (5-18), third year
2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Missouri Valley
Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense
Offensive headliner: Trevor Bouma is back after rushing for 781 yards and three touchdowns on 164 attempts last season. He’ll be the offense's focal point.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Auston Johnson was one of the top tacklers last season, recording 69 stops, including 10.5 for a loss and seven sacks.
The skinny: Glenn, formerly of Wyoming, among other stops, was pulled out of retirement to coach his alma mater. After a one-win season in 2012 (winless in conference), the Coyotes upped their total wins to four. It’s still a rebuilding process, but there is some good athleticism with guys like Kevin Earl and Jasper Sanders, who have moved between several offensive skill positions as Glenn tries to put all of the pieces together.
Michigan State Spartans, Saturday, Sept. 6
Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29), eighth year
2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Connor Cook burst on to the scene last year during Michigan State’s Rose Bowl run, tossing 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Defensive headliner: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year after posting 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He also forced four fumbles and tied for the FBS lead with three defensive touchdowns.
The skinny: The Spartans' heralded defense from 2013 must replace two of their greatest linebackers: Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Offensively, 99 percent of their 2013 rushing yards are back, including Jeremy Langford, who led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. It’s not the same team from last year, but it’s still a very, very good one that should compete for the Big Ten title.
Wyoming Cowboys, Saturday, Sept. 13
Coach: Craig Bohl, first year
2013 record:5-7, 3-5 Mountain West
Returning starters: Six offense, nine defense
Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Dominic Rufran is back after hauling in 75 catches for 960 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He posted four 100-yard receiving games last seasons.
Defensive headliner: Junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-Conference pick last season after leading all Mountain West defensive linemen with an average of 7.4 tackles per game. He also tallied 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
The skinny: The Pokes are starting anew with Bohl following two bowl appearances in five years under former coach Dave Christensen (now the Utah offensive coordinator). Bohl had tremendous success at the FCS level, leading North Dakota State to the last three consecutive FCS national championships and he was honored as national coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. His Bison teams were 7-3 against FBS teams and he was an assistant on Nebraska’s 1995 and 1997 national championship teams. No doubt, he’s got coaching chops. But it might take some time to build up the Cowboys.
Thoughts: With annual sky-high expectations, anything short of a 3-0 start to the year for the Oregon Ducks would be a major disappointment. Second year head coach Mark Helfrich has already been a victim of expectations after the Ducks failed to qualify for a BCS game last season. And with Marcus Mariota returning to lead the offense, the feeling in Eugene is playoff or bust. The Ducks get all three of these games at home, so that will help. There’s no real threat with South Dakota or Wyoming. If by some act of Zeus the Ducks do lose one of those games, then we’ve all seriously overestimated the Ducks and what they are capable of this year. The Michigan State game, obviously, is the big one. It’s being touted as the top nonconference game of the 2014 season with massive playoff implications. A 3-0 start for the Ducks means they are in the thick of the playoff hunt heading into the conference opener at Washington State. Anything less would be met with a hail of criticism.