Pac-12: 2013 pac-12 non-conference

We conclude our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Washington State

at Auburn, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Gus Malzahn, first year
  • 2012 record: 3-8, 0-8 SEC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Tre Mason returns as a 1,000-yard rusher from last year, where he totaled 1,002 yards with eight touchdowns and 83.5 yards per game. Fun fact: He's the first non-QB to lead Auburn in total offense since Bo Jackson in 1985.
  • Defensive headliner: Senior Demetruce McNeal was second on the team last year with 90 tackles, including seven for a loss.
  • The skinny: Auburn ranked tied for last in the country last year with just two interceptions. Washington State was second to last in the nation in interceptions throw with 21. It's the uncatchable force vs. the easily-catchable object, so to speak. Malzahn is a Todd Graham disciple so you'd expect the Tigers to post better offensive numbers than their 18.6 points per game last year.
Southern Utah, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Ed Lamb (26-29), sixth season
  • 2012 record: 5-6, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: six offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Fatu Moala returns as the team's leading receiver from last year, where he caught 65 balls for 810 yards and nine touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Zak Browning is back after leading the Thunderbirds with 116 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss with one sack and in interception. He also forced five fumbles.
  • The skinny: Lamb took an 0-11 team and eventually guided it to the 2010 Great West Conference championship. Last year, Southern Utah's first in the Big Sky, it went 4-4. But the Thunderbirds lose their top three rushers from last year and have to replace quarterback Brad Sorensen, who attempted every pass last year for the team.
Idaho, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Paul Petrino, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 1-5 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, three defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Mike Marboe is a preseason all-independent selection by several publications and is on the Rimington watch list.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Solomon Dixon led the Vandals with three interceptions last year while tallying 36 tackles -- including three for a loss.
  • The skinny: The WAC orphans begin anew as an independent. They allowed more than 42 points per game and scored just south of 16 per contest. That's a perfect recipe for a one-win season. The blood is already bad in this turf war, but it elevated earlier this year when this happened. Don't expect many pleasantries when these teams meet for the 91st time.
Thoughts: The Cougars open the year with back-to-back road games. Following the trip to Auburn, they start league play on the road in Week 2 at USC before finishing off the nonconference slate with home games against Southern Utah and Idaho. Most people expect the Cougars to be underdogs on the road to Auburn -- and they probably will be. The Cougars are very much a question mark with a quarterback competition still in the works and a deep receiving corps that is waiting to be unleashed. Would anyone be shocked if they went into Auburn and lost by 21? Probably not. Would anyone be shocked if they come out and throw it around and win by a touchdown or two? Maybe ... but not that shocked. How much growth happened in the offseason is still unknown. But it's safe to assume Washington State will be more efficient in Year 2 under Mike Leach than it was in Year 1. The remaining two nonconference games -- despite the bubbling tensions with Idaho -- should be considered winnable. Southern Utah has made strides under Lamb, but not enough to topple a Leach-coached team. The Idaho game has been on hiatus since the 2007 meeting, but the Cougars have won eight straight in the series. Fans should, at the very least, expect a 2-1 record in nonconference play. And 3-0 would be pleasantly surprising.

Here's the complete nonconference primer series.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Washington

Boise State, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Chris Petersen (84-8), eighth year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: five offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Joe Southwick returns after completing 66.8 percent of his throws last year with 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He threw for 2,730 yards and averaged 210 per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence earned first-team all-league honors after posting a team-high 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks to go with 48 tackles.
  • The skinny: The Broncos will probably start the year ranked -- and they've earned that right. They have consistently been a Top 25 program and the elite team among non-BCS conference schools. They've gone 5-0 against the league's teams (including Utah in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, prior to the Utes joining the conference) since 2008. Their last loss to a Pac-12 team was at Washington in 2007. And in case anyone needs reminding, this is a rematch of last year's Las Vegas Bowl, which the Broncos won 28-26 on a late field goal.
at Illinois (in Chicago), Sept. 14
  • Coach: Tim Beckman (2-10), second year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: eight offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns as a four-year starter after an injury-plagued 2012. A high ankle sprain limited him for the majority of the season and as a result, he had just four touchdowns to eight interceptions with a 60.6 completion percentage in 10 games.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jonathan Brown is an all-conference candidate after posting 59 tackles last year with 2.5 sacks and a team-high 9.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Much of what Illinois wants to do on offense revolves around Scheelhaase's ability to move. And with an ankle injury limiting him last season, the offense suffered, averaging a minuscule 16.7 points per game. With him healthy, and a lot of returning players around him on offense, expect Illinois to be improved in that department.
Idaho State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Mike Kramer
  • 2012 record: 1-10, 0-8 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Justin Arias, a redshirt junior, moves into the starting quarterback role. He has two capable receivers to throw to in Cameron Richmond and Luke Austin, who combined for 1,405 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
  • Defensive headliner: Sophomore defensive back Taison Manu was a freshman All-American last season after posting 77 tackles (tied for second on the team) an d4.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Give the Bengals credit. They've scheduled two FBS teams every year since 2008, including the likes of ASU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska and BYU. This season they go to Washington and again at Provo, Utah. Granted, they've lost all those games, usually by a wide margin, but they at least aren't afraid to be ambitious in their scheduling. Last year they set a conference record for most passing attempts and completions. Though they allowed almost 54 points per game in 2012.
Thoughts: The big one here, obviously, is Boise State. Illinois should be better than last season, but so should the Huskies, and despite Washington's road woes, this should be categorized as a winnable game. The Boise State game means a heck of a lot to Washington's season. Obviously, it will be an electric atmosphere with the opening of remodeled Husky Stadium. As we've written a couple of times before, in the Ultimate Road Trip and Most Important Game series, what a victory could do for the Huskies on the national landscape. Accepting that Boise State will likely be a Top 25 team to start the season, a win likely puts Washington in the rankings -- where they'll stay, and likely climb as others around them lose -- heading into conference play. After Arizona, it's three straight against Stanford, Oregon and ASU. Heading into that stretch ranked and 3-0 would bring the fan base to a tizzy. A loss, however, stunts momentum, and victories over Illinois and Idaho State would be met with more of a "meh." If the Huskies want to be nationally relevant and show they are ready to take the next step, beating Boise would be a good place to start.

Nonconference primer: Utah

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
7:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Utah

Utah State, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: We read about quarterback Chuckie Keeton in USC's preview yesterday. Snapping him the ball is standout center Tyler Larsen, who anchors a very solid offensive line.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Connor Williams started all 13 games last season and earned all-league honorable mention, notching 32 tackles and seven for a loss. He also led the Aggies with six sacks.
  • The skinny: The Utah State game last year was when it all started to unravel for the Utes. Week 2, Jordan Wynn went down (unfortunately, for the final time), the offensive line looked atrocious and the Aggies won 27-20 in overtime, ending a 12-game losing streak to the Utes. As noted yesterday, the Aggies were a legit non-BCS program under Gary Andersen, so we'll see if Wells can keep it going.
Weber State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Jody Sears (2-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 2-9, 2-6 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Bo Bolen was all-conference as a freshman and sophomore, averaging nearly 151 all-purpose yards in his first two seasons.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Anthony Morales returns after earning all-league honorable mention last season. A two-time team captain, the senior led the conference with an average of 12 tackles per game.
  • The skinny: The Wildcats are replacing Mike Hoke, a two-year starter at quarterback. The competition is still on between senior Jordan Adamczyk and JC transfer Alfonso Medina. Whoever wins the job will be working with new offensive coordinator Robin Pflugrad (formerly of ASU, Washington State and Oregon). The last time the teams met was in 2008, when the No. 17 Utes won 37-21 behind a pair of touchdowns from Brian Johnson.
at BYU, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (74-29), ninth year
  • 2012 record: 8-5, Independent
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: BYU's top receiver the last three years, Cody Hoffman, is back for a fourth season after catching 100 balls for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's on pace to become the school's all-time leading receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is one of the best in the country at his position, finishing tied for second in the nation last year in sacks and fourth nationally in tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Van Noy is a game-changer, and his return is a significant boost to a BYU defense that has to replace three starters along the defensive line. There is some mixing and matching to be done on the offensive line, but they'll be blocking for very good runners in Jamaal Williams and Michael Alisa. There is plenty of talent to do some damage against a schedule that includes Boise State, Texas, Wisconsin, Nevada and Notre Dame.
Thoughts: Week 1 will be critical. We need to see how the defense comes together with the new-look line and the Aggies will certainly provide a challenge there. Again, this isn't a low-level team and after winning last year, you can be sure they have developed a taste for it. Weber State isn't much of a threat and will likely provide a good opportunity to work out any Week 1 kinks that showed against Utah State. Obviously, the Holy War is the marquee game on the nonconference schedule -- especially since it goes on hiatus and bragging rights will linger. This rivalry is as heated as any in the country, and after last year's wild ending, tensions should be at a fever pitch. It took aligned stars for a good Utah State team to beat the Utes in overtime last year and with some more stability at quarterback and on the offensive line (keep an eye on LT Jeremiah Poutasi, who could be the league's next great lineman), the Utes should be better on offense. No one needs to be told how big BYU is. One game is an obvious win, the other two are "should" wins. Coming out of nonconference play at 3-0 wouldn't surprise me. But then again, neither would 2-1. 1-2 might.

Nonconference primer: USC

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
7:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

USC

at Hawaii, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: We met the offensive line in the Oregon State nonconference primer. Wide receiver Scott Harding is back after catching 20 balls and a pair of touchdowns last year with a 12.8 yards-per-reception average.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Art Laurel posted 51 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss and four sacks last season while also forcing a fumble.
  • The skinny: This is actually the first time we'll see Hawaii this season, though they make back-to-back appearances against the Pac-12 and will travel to the mainland a week later to face Oregon State. Last year's game was a blowout in LA, with the Trojans winning 49-10. The first play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. Many thought it was a harbinger. Many were wrong. Will be interesting to see how Taylor Graham, a QB transfer from Ohio State, factors in.
Boston College, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Steve Addazio, first year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 1-7 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Chase Rettig returns at quarterback after completing 54.2 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012.
  • Defensive headliner: One of the coolest names for a linebacker in all of college football -- Steele Divitto -- is back after posting 92 tackles last year while forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering four of them.
  • The skinny: The Eagles return a lot of players -- particularly on defense -- but it was a defense that gave up a lot of yards and never got much pressure -- ranking 120th last year in sacks and tackles for a loss. It's been a couple of down years, but they are only a few seasons removed from being an 11-win team. They should improve on the two wins from last year, but it's still better to get them early in the season.
Utah State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a first-team all-league performer, returns after completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Doughty led the team with 109 tackles and also notched 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack while earning first-team all-league honors.
  • The skinny: Keeton is back, but he also has all five starters on the line protecting him -- a group that helped departed running back Kerwynn Williams rush for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells was promoted as head coach after Gary Andersen took the Wisconsin job, so continuity is in place. This is a squad that topped Sonny Dykes' Louisiana Tech team and Mike MacIntyre's San Jose State team last year. Their only losses were to BYU and Wisconsin by a combined five points.
at Notre Dame, Oct. 19
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver T.J. Jones matched the team high last season with 50 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Behind that stout defensive front, linebacker Dan Fox is back after posting 63 tackles last season, including two for a loss.
  • The skinny: So ... last year's game was ugly. The Trojans ended 2012 by losing five of their last six -- including three straight. This one was sandwiched in between losses to UCLA and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and the Irish were able to punch their ticket to the BCS championship game at the Trojans expense. This is the second of three Pac-12/Notre Dame showdowns.
Thoughts: The Trojans are one of the few teams in the league that don't have an FCS team on their nonconference schedule. That being said, Hawaii and Boston College shouldn't be considered much of a threat. Because the Trojans play at Hawaii, they get to add an additional game -- and that's Utah State -- a team that's risen the ranks of the non-BCS hierarchy the last few seasons. How they do under a new coach (even though he was promoted from within) will be interesting to see. The fact that the Trojans will have already played three games prior to their meeting with the Aggies is in USC's favor, especially as Lane Kiffin and Co. continue to break in a new quarterback. Notre Dame is obviously a historical rivalry, and last year the Irish provided a twisty dagger in the vein of shortcomings that was USC in 2012. Retribution should be on USC's mind. Two games are very winnable, one game smells like a trap and the other is a rivalry game. Fans and players should expect nothing less than 4-0, though 3-1 wouldn't be outrageous considering they are playing in South Bend.

Nonconference primer: UCLA

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
4:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

UCLA

Nevada, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Brian Polian, first year
  • 2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo returns at quarterback after finishing 10th nationally last year in total offense, averaging 325.6 yards per game. He has a career completion percentage of 67.7 percent and accounted for 32 touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Brock Hekking returns after earning second-team all-league honors last year. He posted eight sacks on the year and was third on the team with 75 tackles.
  • The skinny: How dangerous is Fajardo? Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He can play. It's a new era following the (second) retirement of Chris Ault, father of the Pistol. But if Polian learned anything from his time at Stanford, you don't fix what's not broken. And Nevada knows how to score. Defense, however, is a different story as the Wolfpack allowed more than 33 points per game in 2012.
at Nebraska, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20), sixth year
  • 2012 record: 10-4, 7-1 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Uber-athletic quarterback Taylor Martinez is on pace to become just the second quarterback in FBS history (joining Colin Kaepernick) to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in a career. He accounted for 33 touchdowns last year, 23 in the air, 10 on the ground, while throwing for 2,871 yards and rushing for 1,019.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jason Ankrah will be called upon to be the leader of the front seven. He's started 18 games the past two seasons and last year he tallied 26 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
  • The skinny: The Huskers have enjoyed five straight years of at least nine wins and 10 wins in three of the past four years. The Bruins are a team still learning how to handle success. Last season's home victory was a coup for the Bruins. A win in Lincoln would carry even more weight. The Huskers are 19-2 at home in the past three seasons, falling to Texas in 2010 and Northwestern in 2011.
New Mexico State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Doug Martin, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 0-6 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Despite the poor record, wide receiver Austin Franklin was still a semifinalist last year for the Biletnikoff Award -- which says something coming from a 1-11 team. He caught 74 balls for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns. He was first-team All-WAC and SI.com named him an All-American honorable mention.
  • Defensive headliner: A second-team all-league selection, linebacker Trashaun Nixon started all 12 games last year, recording 96 tackles with 9.5 for loss and three sacks.
  • The skinny: The Aggies enter the season on an 11-game losing skid (their only win last year coming against FCS Sacramento State, the same one that beat Colorado) and they have dropped 14 in a row against FBS competition. After a four-year record of 10-40, DeWayne Walker (formerly of Cal, USC, and UCLA among others) opted to return to the NFL where he's the DB coach for Jacksonville.
Thoughts: There are only three quarterbacks in FBS football who have passed for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards over the last two seasons. The Bruins face two of them in Martinez and Fajardo. With the exception of New Mexico State, this is a considerably vigorous nonconference slate. Nevada will test the defense at home in the first week (though it's a test that's passable). Nevada's defensive struggles of late, however, suggest taking the over in this game. Combined rushing yards for Brett Hundley and Fajardo? 250? Then the Bruins get a week off to tweak and correct before making the trip to Lincoln, which will provide a stiff test. And for those who love the chess match aspect of scheming, it's probably worth noting that Nebraska will likely be studying that Nevada game film closely to see what the Bruins do to try and contain Fajardo. (I can tell you right now what the game plan is: Unleash Anthony Barr. Rinse. Repeat). We'll know exactly how much this team has matured by the time New Mexico State comes to town. 3-0 would be outstanding. 2-1 would be respectable. 1-2 would be viewed as a step backward for a program trying to build its brand under Jim Mora.

Nonconference primer: Stanford

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
7:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Stanford

San Jose State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Ron Caragher, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback David Fales returns as the FBS's most accurate quarterback from 2012. Last year he completed 72.5 percent of his throws while tossing 33 touchdowns and 4,193 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive tackle Travis Raciti returns after earning All-WAC honors last season. He posted 13 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Mike MacIntyre revitalized the struggling program and in three years had them at double-digit wins. Now Caragher shepherds them into the Mountain West Conference. Stanford has dominated the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- though the Spartans gave them quite the scare last season. The Fales-to-Noel Grigsby connection could end up being one of the most dangerous in the country and should not be taken lightly.
at Army, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Rich Ellerson (17-32) fifth season
  • 2012 record: 2-10, Independent
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Raymond Maples is just the third Army player in school history to post consecutive 1,000 yard seasons after rushing for 1,215 yards and two touchdowns last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Geoffrey Bacon returns after leading Army with 136 tackles last year -- which was fifth nationally in tackles per game at 11.3. This year he's moving from linebacker to the secondary.
  • The skinny: Despite the record, Army still had the No. 1 rushing attack in the country last year, averaging almost 370 yards on the ground per game. Match that against a Stanford front seven that was fifth nationally against the run and second in tackles for a loss and there should be plenty of helmet paint being traded.
Notre Dame, Nov. 30
  • Coach: Brian Kelly, (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: We talked about left tackle Zack Martin in the ASU nonconference primer. He'll be clearing the way for George Atkinson III, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry last year and scored five touchdowns on 361 rushing yards.
  • Defensive headliner: We mentioned Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix in the ASU article. Nix is phenomenal at stopping the run, which is worth noting again, given what the Cardinal will want to do on offense.
  • The skinny: Stanford head coach David Shaw pointed to the Notre Dame game last year -- and its highly-controversial ending -- as a turning point for the Cardinal's run to the Rose Bowl. This one is the season finale for both teams so it's possible that it could have national-championship implications for both squads.
Thoughts: A fairly challenging nonconference slate. Remember after the season opener last year, we were all wondering what was wrong with Stanford? Turns out San Jose State was pretty darn good. Shaw told us, we didn't listen. Considering who the Spartans have coming back, chances are they'll be good again. Interestingly enough, Caragher replaced Jim Harbaugh and Shaw at USD after the duo left for Stanford, so there's your Kevin Bacon moment for this game. Army doesn't pose much of a threat on the field and, of course, the Notre Dame game was one of the most controversial matchups in all of college football last season. The Cardinal are legitimate BCS championship contenders. Should they top San Jose State -- which should be considered a quality win, or at least, not a cupcake win -- it points them in the right direction heading into a difficult Pac-12 slate. Should they escape that unscathed, a home date with the Irish could determine Stanford's postseason placement. And for a team looking to add a fourth-straight BCS game, nay the BCS game, only 3-0 will do.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Oregon State

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.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Oregon

Nicholls State University, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Charlie Stubbs (6-27), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 1-10, 0-7 Southland
  • Returning starters: nine offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Marcus Washington, an all-league honorable mention pick last year, led the team in rushing with 598 yards and rushed for six touchdowns. He averaged 76.5 all-purpose yards per game last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Bermond finished second on the team last year with 64 tackles (36 solo) and posted two tackles for a loss with a pair of pass breakups.
  • The skinny: Assuming there are no acts of God, we'll see NSU in the season opener this year. It has a lot of players returning, but anyone who saw it against Oregon State last year saw the talent differential between the Southland squad and an upper-tier Pac-12 team. And we're going to go out on a limb and call Oregon upper tier.
at Virginia, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Mike London (16-21), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Tailback Kevin Parks returns after leading Virginia with 734 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year. He also caught 24 balls for 189 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jake Snyder was tops among the team's defensive linemen with 44 stops last year and second with 2.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Virginia is looking for a new quarterback after the departure of both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims. It also lost leading tackler Steve Greer (122 tackles), so there are some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. The Cavaliers have been up and down in London's tenure, going 4-8 in Year 1, 8-5 in Year 2 and then 4-8 last year.
Tennessee, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Butch Jones, first year
  • 2012 record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC
  • Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: The Volunteers lost a lot on offense from last year, but running back Rajion Neal returns as the rushing leader after posting 708 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker A.J. Johnson, who was second-team All-SEC last season, returns after posting 138 stops last year -- tops on the team -- to go with 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: A lot of UT's all-league offensive players from last year are gone, including tight end Mychal Rivera and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Also gone is quarterback Tyler Bray. That said, the Vols do have a fairly experienced offensive line, headlined by tackle Antonio Richardson. This is Tennessee's return trip from the 2010 matchup, which Oregon won 48-13.
Thoughts: Over/under on the amount of minutes Marcus Mariota will play in all three games? Ninety minutes? No real threats here and Oregon's starters should be well rested heading into conference play on Sept. 28 when they host Cal. Nicholls State University has been an under-performing FCS squad, Virginia is rebuilding with new offensive and defensive coordinators and Tennessee is starting anew with Jones (once thought to be the next head coach at Colorado). This provides a nice cushion for the Ducks as they transition to game day under new head coach Mark Helfrich. Anything less than a 3-0 start is almost unimaginable.

You can see the rest of the series here.

Nonconference primer: Colorado

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
4:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Colorado

Colorado State, Sept. 1 (in Denver)
  • Coach: Jim McElwain (4-8), second year
  • 2012 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: nine offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner(s): The Rams have a deep running back corps with Chris Nwoke (who led the team in rushing in 2011) and Donnell Alexander (who led the team in 2012) both coming back.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Shaq Bell is the leader of a young secondary. He was all-league honorable mention last year after posting 66 tackles, a sack, a pick and he recovered three fumbles.
  • The skinny: The Rams went through a quarterback carousel last year (which should sound familiar to Colorado fans) but appear to be settling on Garrett Grayson, last year's original starter. Last season, McElwain became the first Rams coach to win his debut in 42 years. And it came against the Buffs after they failed to hold a 17-16 fourth-quarter lead in the season opener.
Central Arkansas, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Clint Conque (98-54), 14th year
  • 2012 record: 9-3, 6-1 Southland
  • Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Wynrick Smothers put up fantastic numbers last year, earning the league's Offensive Player of the Year honors while completing 64.9 percent of his throws for 3,103 yards with 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also rushed for 449 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Woodard earned the league's Freshman of the Year honors last season after posting 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2012.
  • The skinny: Conque is the winningest coach in school history. They hung with Ole Miss last year and took Louisiana Tech to overtime the year before that, so they won't be intimidated at the mere thought of playing an FBS team. And the Buffs, though I don't think anyone needs reminding, fell at home to FCS opponent Sacramento State last year.
Fresno State, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Tim DeRuyter (9-4), second year
  • 2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Senior quarterback Derek Carr was the 2012 MWC Offensive Player of the Year, setting a new league record with 4,104 passing yards. His 37 touchdowns last year were second all-time in league history and he has the second-highest career touchdown-to-interception ratio (63-16) of all returning FBS quarterbacks with at least 300 completions.
  • Defensive headliner: Nose guard Tyeler Davison -- a first-team all-league selection last year -- posted 43 stops last year, tops among the Bulldogs D-linemen. He also had seven tackles for a loss with three sacks and he was the only Fresno State defensive lineman to start every game last year.
  • The skinny: After taking a slice of the MWC title last year, the Bulldogs should be tough again -- though they are moving on without running back Robbie Rouse -- the school's all-time leading rusher. Interestingly enough, Rouse set the school record on a 94-yard touchdown run (his fourth touchdown of the first quarter) in a 69-14 win over Colorado last year.
Thoughts: Colorado lost two close games to open 2012 -- the first to Colorado State and the next week to Sacramento State -- and that essentially opened the flood gates for a horrific season (save the Washington State shocker). The Rams are one of CU's oldest rivals and just as the Buffs gave McElwain his first career win, Mike MacIntyre getting his first career win against CSU would add nice symmetry to the rivalry. As noted, Central Arkansas is no pushover. But both of those games should fall under the winnable category. They get Fresno State at home and should -- at least -- have a better showing than they did last year. I don't think asking for a 2-1 start is out of the question. But another 0-3 opening would kill any momentum Colorado has heading into the year with its new coaching staff.

You can see the rest of the series here.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

California

Northwestern, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (50-39) eighth year
  • 2012 record: 10-3, 5-3 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Venric Mark returns after rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns -- enough to earn him second-team all-conference. But he also makes his mark on special teams, where he was an All-American punt returner last season.
  • Defensive headliner: Safety Ibraheim Campbell is an all-league candidate after posting 89 stops last year with two interceptions and a team high 12 breakups.
  • The skinny: Since 2008, Northwestern is 17-10 on the road. With a good chunk of talent returning from last year's team -- which won its first bowl game since 1949 -- most are projecting the Wildcats to be a preseason top 20 team ... maybe even top 15. Sonny Dykes' first game as head coach won't be easy.
Portland State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Nigel Burton (12-21, fourth year)
  • 2012 record: 3-8, 2-6 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: six offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Kieran McDonagh returns at quarterback after completing 54.5 percent of his throws last year with 14 touchdowns to 13 interceptions as a freshman. He also ran 89 times for 406 and nine touchdowns and he even caught a 22-yard touchdown.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jaycob Shoemaker is the top returner on defense after posting 70 tackles -- including a team-high 12 for a loss -- last season.
  • The skinny: The Vikings have been a familiar foe to the league in recent years -- having played Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, ASU and Washington since 2005. They lost to Cal 42-16 in 2006. After a nice 2011 season, when they went 7-4, they took a step back last season. Part of that was holes in the pass defense. Cue up the Bear Raid.
Ohio State, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Urban Meyer (12-0) second year
  • 2012 record: 12-0, 8-0 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: nine offense, 4 defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Braxton Miller is going to get plenty of Heisman hype -- especially if he can keep the Buckeyes perfect. Last year he threw for 15 touchdowns and 2,039 yards ran for 13 touchdowns and 1,271 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Bradley Roby is considered one of the best in the country at his position. He broke up 17 passes last year with two interceptions and was third with 63 tackles.
  • The skinny: The Buckeyes will enter the season likely as the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country. They ran the table in 2012 -- including a late fourth-quarter touchdown to beat the Bears in Columbus. The schedule sets up nicely for them to make another run at perfection -- and possibly a BCS championship.
Thoughts: Dykes knew it wasn't going to be easy when he took this job -- and this nonconference schedule, save Portland State, is vicious. He'll get two top 20 teams -- and potentially the No. 1 team in the country -- in his first three weeks. Throw in a quarterback who will be getting his first collegiate playing time and a defense transitioning to a new scheme and it could make for a couple of long Saturdays. Then again, they did give Ohio State a run last season and they get all three games at home. At least they get a whole week off before traveling to Oregon to start league play in the 28th. A 1-2 record seems the most reasonable. Beating either Big Ten team would be a massive confidence boost and 3-0 would send shockwaves through the rankings. 0-3 would be a disaster. The Bears aren't exactly lacking in talent -- and Dykes' system has shown it can work. At question is whether or not Cal is mature enough to handle such a demanding schedule so early in this time of transition.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Arizona State

Sacramento State, Sept. 5
  • Coach: Marshall Sperbeck (30-37), seventh year
  • 2012 record: 6-5, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Ezekiel Graham is the top offensive threat, rushing for 861 yards and five touchdowns last season. Not huge numbers, but he also makes his mark as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 40 balls for 406 yards and two touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Todd Davis has led the Hornets in tackles the past couple of seasons and there's little reason to think he won't again. He posted 103 tackles last year -- including an impressive 13.5 for a loss.
  • The skinny: Not to worry. It's just an FCS team, right? Well, considering the Hornets have beaten Pac-12 teams in back-to-back years, that should at least perk the ears of ASU up a little bit. They topped Oregon State 29-28 in overtime in 2011 and then a year later beat Colorado, 30-28, on a walk-off field goal by a walk-on kicker. The chance of an upset isn't likely. But the history suggests enough to not sleepwalk through this game.
Wisconsin, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Gary Andersen, first year
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • 2012 record: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis headlines a pretty deep wide receiving corps. A first-team All Big Ten selection last year, he caught 49 balls for 837 yards and five touchdowns. The former walk-on QB is tops among all active FBS players with an average of 16.7 yards per catch. He's also a dangerous punt returner.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Borland needs 144 tackles this season to become Wisconsin's all-time leader. He's forced 14 career fumbles -- the most in school history and most among active NCAA players.
  • The skinny: Andersen was a hot name among potential Pac-12 coaching vacancies, but last year's WAC coach of the year instead ended up in the land of cheese. Last year the Badgers became the third Big Ten team to play in three consecutive Rose Bowls -- though they lost all three, including to Stanford last season and Oregon in 2011-2012. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig also has strong ties to the Pac-12, having worked at Cal, Utah and Oregon.
Notre Dame, Oct. 5 (In Arlington, Texas)
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1 Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Skill position players are more fun to talk about, but left tackle Zack Martin will be starting for the fourth straight year and he's a captain. Watching him against ASU's defensive front will be a great game within the game.
  • Defensive headliner: Take your pick between defensive end Stephon Tuitt or noseguard Louis Nix. Both are elite playmakers and present a defensive front that rivals the talent and athleticism of ASU's.
  • The skinny: The last time we saw Notre Dame, it was getting run up and down the field by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. But before that, the Irish were perfect -- including wins over Stanford and USC. Though they tiptoed through quite a few rain drops along the way -- and haven't had the quietest of offseasons -- this should be a game of national interest. Both teams will have already played tough games (ASU: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC; Notre Dame: at Michigan, Oklahoma) but a potential meeting of Top-25 teams on a neutral site will draw plenty of intrigue.
Thoughts: No, I don't think Sacramento State will make it three in a row. ASU should out-distance and out-muscle the FCS squad fairly early. But the rest of the nonconference slate will get the Sun Devils some national attention. The Wisconsin game is intriguing. But because what the Sun Devils bring to the table -- that's a very winnable game. Notre Dame is the really interesting one. Not only because of the little bit of nastiness that's built up between the programs in recent weeks, but because it's on a neutral site and it comes after three straight games against Wisconsin, at Stanford and home to USC. That's a brutal gauntlet that could either propel ASU into the national spotlight or leave them scrambling to pick up the pieces. A 3-0 record is very possible. Going 2-1 is probable and 1-2 is the worst-case scenario (we're not even putting 0-3 on the table).

Nonconference primer: Arizona

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
7:00
PM ET
Today we start a new series looking at each team's nonconference opponents in 2013.

ARIZONA

Northern Arizona, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Jerome Souers (84-85), 16th year
  • 2012 record: 8-3, 6-2 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: nine offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Zach Bauman rushed for 1,182 yards (5.3 YPC) with nine touchdowns. He also caught 34 balls for 216 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Anders Battle broke up six passes, had one interception and notched 64 tackles.
  • The skinny: The Lumberjacks have to break in a new quarterback after the departure of two-year starter Cary Grossart, who threw for 221.9 yards per game and tossed 17 touchdowns. Head coach Jerome Souers thinks this might be the best secondary the school has ever had. They were pasted by ASU last season, 63-6, but they did beat UNLV -- which also appears on the Wildcats' nonconference slate.
at UNLV, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Bobby Hauck (6-32), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 2-11, 2-6 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: nine offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Tim Cornett is the first UNLV player to lead the Rebels in rushing for three straight years since the 70s. Last year he ran for 1,232 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Tim Hasson was second on the team last year with 76 stops and five tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: The Rebels boast more returners than any team in the Mountain West and have a combined 250 starts -- more than any team in college football. Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry was off to a promising start before injuries slowed him in 2012. Though still short on seniors, Hauck has his most experienced squad since taking over.
UTSA, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Larry Coker (12-10), third year
  • 2012 record: 8-4, 3-3 WAC (10/8)
  • Offensive headliner: With the exception of missing two games because of injury, dual-threat quarterback Eric Soza has been the only QB UTSA has ever known. He tossed 20 touchdowns last year to just three interceptions, averaging 208.5 yards in the air while also rushing for 364 yards and six scores.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Steven Kurfehs is a hybrid player who also saw time at safety last season. He can stop the run, defend the pass and he led the team in sacks last season.
  • The skinny: In just its third year of existence, UTSA's football program has exceeded expectations. The Roadrunners were one-and-done in the WAC, moving to Conference USA this year. They have one more season of transition into NCAA Division I and will be full-fledged (including bowl eligibility) in 2014. The 2013 schedule is very ambitious for a program still in its infancy.
Thoughts

Arizona has one of the softest (perhaps the softest) nonconference schedule in college football. The only potential threat here is UTSA. Don't be fooled by its youth as a program. Coker obviously knows what he's doing and there is a bunch of continuity on this team. The Wildcats are the superior team -- however UTSA shouldn't be overlooked. NAU and UNLV should be good test cases as Rich Rodriguez is expected to substitute quarterbacks liberally while he tries to settle on his starter. And with all of that said, there is absolutely no reason why Arizona shouldn't start the season 3-0 before going into its bye week and then a trip to Washington to kick off league play.

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