We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.
Colorado State, Friday, Aug. 29 (in Denver)
Coach: Jim McElwain (12-14), third year
2013 record: 8-6, 5-3 Mountain West
Returning starters: six offense, seven defense
Offensive headliner: LT Ty Sambrailo has started 37 games (tied for most on the team) and is getting a lot of preseason love and hype. A lot of folks think he’s got a bright NFL future.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Max Morgan returns after totaling 134 stops last year, the most by a CSU player since 1996. He’s a captain and regarded as a coach on the field.
The skinny: Quarterback Garrett Grayson needs 1,959 yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer. He’s a veteran, the Mountain West’s top returning passer, and he has two receivers and Mackey watch list tight end coming back. On the flip side is a talented linebacking corps and a veteran secondary. This is not a Rams team to be taken lightly. (And no, Washington State fans, I won’t bring up the New Mexico Bowl again. Oops, I guess I just did).
At Massachusetts, Saturday, Sept. 6
Coach: Mark Whipple (49-26 from 1998-2003), seventh season
2013 record: 1-11, 1-7 Mid-American
Returning starters: seven offense, six defense
Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe hauled in 61 catches for 680 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Defensive headliner: Linebacker Stanley Andre returns after posting 111 tackles, including six for a loss and a sack to go with one forced fumble.
The skinny: Whipple was hired in January to the post he held from 1998-2003, when he guided UMass to an NCAA I-AA national championship and two other postseason appearances. In between he had stops with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Miami. UMass opened upgraded facilities and Whipple will return them to the pro-style system that helped them earn three A-10 titles when he was there before.
Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 20
Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third year
2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
Returning starters: Seven on offense, six on defense
Offensive headliner: Running back Joey Iosefa led the team with 590 yards and five touchdowns last season. And he’ll be running behind a line that returns four starters.
Defensive headliner: Defensive back Ne'Quan Phillips returns after earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season, where he had 64 total tackles while nabbing a pair of interceptions and breaking up six passes.
The skinny: Things have not gone well for the Warriors since Chow has come aboard. They have just two wins over FBS teams in two seasons, and were winless all of last year up until the season finale, when they pulled off a 49-42 win over Army. They have to replace quarterback Sean Schroeder, who tossed 28 touchdowns and 2,960 yards last year. But the continuity on the line will be a plus.
Thoughts: It’s not unreasonable, Colorado fans, to feel like your team should be 3-0 in nonconference play. These are three winnable games. Colorado State is going to be a good early season test. Throw in the rivalry factor and you have an emotional game to kick off the season. That’s why we tapped it for our Week 1 Ultimate Road Trip. It’s going to be a good one. Massachusetts is in rebuilding mode and Hawaii is yet to get off the mat. The Buffs are in Year 2 of the Mike MacIntyre system. And they showed some fight in Year 1. The expectations become a little more serious now. No one expects Colorado to compete for the South title yet. But beating a pair of Mountain West teams and a MAC team that went 1-11 last year shouldn’t be too much to ask for. If Colorado goes 2-1 in nonconference, that wouldn’t be devastating. But anything less than that would be surprising. And 3-0 shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation.