- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.
Eastern Washington, Aug. 31
Coach: Beau Baldwin (44-19), sixth year
2012 record: 11-3, 7-1 Big Sky
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Vernon Adams was last season's FCS Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American. In a two-quarterback system, he completed 60.4 percent of his throws with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
Defensive headliner: An FCS All-American last year, cornerback T.J. Lee posted 90 tackles with 11 pass breakups. He also had 2.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and an interception.
The skinny: This is not a team to be taken lightly. It pushed Washington State last season and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, finishing ranked fourth nationally among all FCS schools. Adams is a playmaker and, as a team, the Eagles set a school mark for passing yards in 2012 with 4,469. It's still an FCS school, but the Eagles are certainly an upgrade over Nicholls State.
Hawaii, Sept. 7
Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
Offensive headliner: The offensive line returns four of five starters from last season -- and we all know continuity on the line is huge -- so Ben Clarke, Dave Lefotu, Mike Milovale and Chauncy Winchester-Makainai get the nod as a single unit.
Defensive headliner: Defensive back Marrell Jackson was the co-leader in tackles last year with 56, also defending five passes and forcing a pair of fumbles.
The skinny: Hawaii has a nice core returning -- quarterback, running back, a couple of wide receivers and four of five offensive linemen. Defensively, half of the line and the entire starting linebacking corps returns. They lose punter Alex Dunnachie, an All-America honorable mention. But if Chow's offense shows improvement from last year -- when it ranked 100th in scoring at 21.2 points per game -- then maybe there will be fewer punts?
at San Diego State, Sept. 21
Coach: Rocky Long (17-9), third year
2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense
Offensive headliner: Running back Adam Muema was quietly one of the top rushers in the country last year, going for 1,458 yards with 16 touchdowns.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Fely was second on the team with 90 stops last year and posted a team-high seven sacks with 11.5 tackles for a loss.
The skinny: What Brady Hoke started, Long has continued. The Aztecs set a team rushing record last season, piling up 2,869 yards while grabbing a share of the league title. They lose a pair of talented corners, Josh Wade and Leon McFadden, and tight end Gavin Escobar. But the defensive front seven is nasty, and Muema is the real deal and should continue to flourish as Bob Toledo takes over the offense for the departed Andy Ludwig.
Thoughts: The Beavers aren't without questions heading into 2013. Chief among them is the quarterback spot. But we think we have a pretty good feel for who this team is going to be, regardless of whether Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion gets the nod. So the first two games should be about the starter growing (or re-growing) into his role while continuing to develop a reliable receiver opposite Brandin Cooks. By Week 4 (the Beavers have a league game against Utah before SDSU), most of the questions should be answered. Just in time to face a San Diego State team that has enjoyed some success over the past three years. No team should ever be taken lightly -- and this game in particular could prove challenging. Plus, Qualcomm Stadium was never that kind to Mike Riley. With all that said, the Beavers clearly have the talent to go 3-0 in nonconference play and 4-0 the first month of the season.