Today we start a new series looking at each team’s nonconference opponents in 2014.
UNLV, Friday, Aug. 29
Coach: Bobby Hauck (13-38), fifth year
2013 record: 7-6, 5-3 Mountain West
Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Devante Davis caught 87 balls for 1,290 yards and a school-record 14 touchdowns last season.
Defensive headliner: Safety Peni Vea had 108 tackles and two interceptions last season.
The skinny: The Rebels return four of five starters on the offensive line (much like the Wildcats), but are still undecided on a starting quarterback (much like the Wildcats). Quarterbacks Nick Sherry and Blake Decker are battling to replace Caleb Herring, and the Rebels must replace their all-time leading rusher in Tim Cornett (much like the Wildcats and Ka’Deem Carey). For all the similarities, let's not forget Arizona blew out the Rebels 58-13 last year in Vegas.
At UTSA, Thursday, Sept. 4
Coach: Larry Coker (19-15), fourth year
2013 record: 7-5, Conference USA
Returning starters: nine offense, 10 defense
Offensive headliner: Running back David Glasco II returns as the leading rusher from last season after posting 496 yards and five touchdowns on 95 carries.
Defensive headliner: Safety Triston Wade is back after posting a team-high 94 tackles with a pair of interceptions and five breakups.
The skinny: The Roadrunners are done with their transition and are now a full-fledged NCAA Division I FBS team and eligible for postseason play. They closed last year on a five-game winning streak, but have to replace quarterback Eric Soza, the only quarterback UTSA has known since its inception. Look for UTSA to be in contention for the CON-USA title.
Nevada, Sept. 13
Coach: Brian Polian (4-8), second year.
2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West
Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who threw for 13 touchdowns last year (to just three interceptions) while also rushing for 621 yards and eight scores. If he played on a higher-profile team, he’d probably get some Heisman buzz.
Defensive headliner: Senior defensive end Brock Hekking has posted 24.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks over the past two seasons.
The skinny: The Wolf Pack struggled in the second half of last season, dropping tight games to San Diego State, UNLV and BYU, snapping a streak of eight straight bowl appearances. But with Fajardo at the helm, they are always a threat to score. Polian tabbed Scott Boone, a longtime and very successful FCS coordinator, to fix a defense that ranked 102nd nationally in 2013 (34.4 points per game).
Thoughts: It’s tougher than last season, mainly because all three of these teams figure to be better than last year. The Rebels finally found the postseason under Hauck (losing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to North Texas) and UTSA, which would have been bowl eligible if not for its NCAA transition, has a ton of continuity. No doubt, Rich Rodriguez remembers what Fajardo and Nevada are capable of from the 2012 New Mexico Bowl. With all of that said, Arizona should be considered a favorite in all three games. They have a better offensive arsenal, a secondary that is very strong and two of those three games are at home. Anything less than 3-0 would be considered surprising. Anything less than 2-1 would evoke this.