- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.
Weber State, Thursday, Aug. 28
Coach: Jay Hill, first year
2013 record: 2-10, 1-7 Big Sky
Returning starters: Seven offense, seven defense
Offensive headliner: Running back Bo Bolen, who led the Wildcats in rushing last year, carried 123 times for 549 yards and five touchdowns. He's also a special teams threat, returning 11 kicks for 292 yards and a touchdown.
Defensive headliner: Defensive back Deon'tae Florence is the only member of the Wildcats to land on the preseason All-Big Sky team. He posted four interceptions and eight pass breakups last year.
The skinny: New coach Jay Hill cut his teeth for 13 seasons at Utah, working under Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and the last nine under Kyle Whittingham. The program has struggled of late. But getting a coach like Hill, who knows the recruiting landscape with Utah, BYU and Utah State all pulling for players, should provide a boost. And since he worked with Whittingham, you know he loves defense.
At New Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 6
Coach: Bob Davie (7-18), third year
2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
Returning starters: Six offense, six defense
Offensive headliner: There are still a lot of positions up for grabs. But wide receiver Jeric Megnant (19 catches, 294 yards, one touchdown) headlines a receiving corps that has experience.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Dakota Cox was a freshman All-American last season and posted 99 tackles, becoming the first Lobos freshman to lead the team in tackles since 1994.
The skinny: Lots of questions unanswered and holes to fill for the Lobos on offense. There are options at quarterback, but the team must replace aptly-named running back Kasey Carrier. The strength as of now rests on the defensive side of the ball. Besides Cox, there is talent there with defensive end Brett Bowers and safety David Guthrie.
Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 8
Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
2013 record: 9-4 Independent
Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Everett Golson returns after missing the entire 2013 season.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jaylon Smith, recently named to the Butkus watchlist, tallied 67 stops last year with 6.5 tackles for a loss and an interception.
The skinny: The Irish will face the Pac-12 three times this year. The rivalries with USC and Stanford are always great, but this year's ASU game has a fascinating sidebar after Notre Dame tried to pull out of its trip to Tempe. The Sun Devils will be looking for revenge from last year's loss, and the home fans probably won't be too welcoming. The fact that both of these teams could be ranked come November also adds a fun twist.
Thoughts: The only real threat here is Notre Dame. New Mexico has beaten just seven FBS teams over the last three seasons and Weber State, operating under a new coach and staff, should be little more than a warmup for the Sun Devils as they try to pull their defense together. The good news is the Sun Devils and Irish don't meet until Week 11. By that time (Todd Graham and Co. hope), the defense will be playing like a well-oiled machine, not a collection of nine new starters. Several Sun Devils have admitted that last year's game against Notre Dame was one that got away. With what should be a raucous home crowd and an offense that could be extremely explosive, a better showing is expected. Best case scenario, obviously, is 3-0. It would be nice if both of these teams were ranked come November to add sizzle to the matchup. But even if they aren't, there are enough icy feelings between these programs to make this game more than intriguing. A 2-1 nonconference mark with a loss to Notre Dame wouldn't be horrific. But anything less would.
You can see the rest of the nonconference primers here.
1dCraig Haubert and Tom Luginbill