Pac-12: 2014 pac-12 nonconference primer

Nonconference primer: UCLA

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
5:30
PM ET
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

UCLA Bruins

At Virginia Cavaliers, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Mike London (18-31), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 2-10, 0-8, ACC
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Kevin Parks became the first Cavalier player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in almost a decade, posting 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ranked second in the conference with 85.9 yards per game on the ground.
  • Defensive headliner: Middle linebacker Henry Coley led Virginia with 91 stops last year, including 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. He ranked eighth in the ACC with 7.6 tackles per game.
  • The skinny: Virginia is coming off its worst season under London, who has had a pair of 4-8 seasons with one winning season (2011, 8-5) in between. They are currently riding a nine-game losing streak and a 10-game losing streak against FBS teams (which started with a 59-10 loss last season to Oregon). After opening the year with a surprising win over BYU, it was all downhill, save for a win over VMI in between.
Memphis Tigers, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Justin Fuente (7-17), third season
  • 2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 American
  • Returning starters: Nine offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns last year, while adding 127 yards and two scores on the ground. It was just the 10th 2,000-yard passing season in school history and he was just the second freshman in school history to break the 2K passing mark.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Martin Ifedi has been getting a lot of preseason love, landing on the Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Rotary Lombardi watch lists. He has 20 career sacks, one shy of matching the school record.
  • The skinny: Though there were a lot of losses last season, the Tigers were still pretty competitive in games against Duke, Louisville and BCS darlings UCF. But they ended the year on a low note with blowout losses to Temple and Connecticut. Lynch returns with some experience and a pretty good receiving corps, headlined by fourth-year player Keiwone Malone. The defense should be steady with a good line and a trio of returning linebackers.
Texas Longhorns (in Arlington, Texas), Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Charlie Strong, first year
  • 2013 record: 8-5, 7-2 Big 12
  • Returning starters: Five offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Malcom Brown rushed for 904 yards and nine touchdowns. He posted five 100-yard rushing performances last year, including 120 yards in the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Cedric Reed was third on the team last season with 79 tackles. He also led the team with five forced fumbles and is on the All-Big 12 preseason team and several watch lists.
  • The skinny: The Longhorns are starting anew with the Charlie Strong era. The last time we saw them, the Ducks were escorting Mack Brown into retirement following a 30-7 win in the Alamo Bowl. Texas has some rebuilding to do on the offensive line, with three starters departed. The quarterback spot is also, well, shaky. They also lose their top two tacklers from last season. But there is enough talent at the skill spots and across the defensive line to make this a potentially dangerous game.
Thoughts: For the Bruins to get to where Jim Mora wants them, anything less than 3-0 won't do. Memphis and Virginia are struggling FBS teams -- but FBS teams nonetheless, which will help the Bruins resume. But the Texas game is the one that could bring some national attention to Westwood. A lot of eyes will be on Texas to see what Strong can do with the brand-name program in his first year. A lot of eyes will also be on the Bruins, who will likely be a top 10 team to start the season with Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley at the helm. Things only get tougher for the Bruins, as they leave their nonconference schedule and jump right into a showdown at Arizona State. Then home dates with Oregon, USC and Stanford loom. The Bruins have the DNA to be one of the top teams in the country and possibly advance to the College Football Playoff. A 3-0 nonconference mark puts them on the right path. Anything less knocks them off that path.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team’s nonconference opponents in 2014. (Note, we'll take a break from the series for a couple of days to focus on media days coverage. We'll pick up with UCLA on Friday).

STANFORD

UC Davis Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Ron Gould (5-7), second year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 5-3, Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Gabe Manzanares was the Big Sky newcomer of the year season, rushing for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also earned third-team all-conference honors along the way.
  • Defensive headliner: An all-conference honorable mention last season, linebacker Steven Pitts posted 74 stops, including a team high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also had four sacks to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • The skinny: Cal fans might recall Gould from his days with the Bears, where he helped develop, among others, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. The Aggies return four of five starters on the offensive line and a talented running back in Manzanares. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt and they have to replace quarterback Randy Wright. Expect Davis to rely heavily on the run game.
Army Black Knights, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Jeff Monken, first season
  • 2013 record:3-9, Independent
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, 16 defense (that’s not a typo, that’s what they list).
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Terry Baggett led the team with 141 carries for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns last year, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi led all of Army’s defensive linemen last year with 39 stops, including 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: Despite the coaching change, the Knights will continue to run the triple-option. Monken tallied a 38-16 record when he was at Georgia Southern and advanced to the FCS semifinals three times before helping the team transition into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS play. Army didn’t exactly give Stanford trouble last year. But it wasn’t a walk-over for the Cardinal, either.
At Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4, Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Nick Martin, recently added to the Rimington watch list for the nation’s best center, missed spring ball recovering from a knee injury last season. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the country.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns after posting 51 tackles last year, including 1.5 for a loss. He had one interception and led the team with nine passes defended while also recovering a fumble.
  • The skinny: This will be the first of three games between Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame, who face Arizona State and USC in November. The last time these teams played in South Bend, well, you remember. It was a controversial ending that kept the Irish undefeated. But it also fueled the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. No doubt, David Shaw & Co. haven’t forgotten.
Thoughts: The Cardinal have an unusual layout to the first half of their season. They open with a nonconference game and then have a conference game in between the other two for the first six games. They have the Trojans in between Davis and Army and a trip to Seattle in between Army and the visit to Notre Dame. Stanford has some of its toughest games on the road this season -- including trips to Tempe, Eugene and Pasadena, and factoring in a trip to South Bend isn't easy. It’s also probably frustrating for local fans to see the Bill Walsh Legacy game with San Jose State put on hiatus. And hopefully the schools can come to an agreement to bring that game back. But for now, the Cardinal should be able to handle Davis and Army. The Aggies probably won’t provide a very good proxy for the Trojans, so Stanford had best be ready to work in Week 2. The Notre Dame game is just a fun rivalry that will likely feature two ranked teams. There are two wins here for sure, and more than likely a third if the Cardinal can shake off the South Bend demons from 2012.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON STATE

Portland State, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Nigel Burton (18-27), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 6-6, 3-5 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: During the past two seasons, quarterback Kieran McDonagh has rushed for 775 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with more than 4,000 passing yards and 29 scores.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Aaron Sibley is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He was an all-conference honorable mention last year after posting 42 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and one interception. Has all-conference potential this season.
  • The skinny: The Vikings lose a talented running back in DJ Adams, but the offense still has a lot of explosion after setting six school records last season. Defensively, there is some work to do with only four starters returning. This is the first of two meetings between the league and Portland State, which also faces Washington State on Sept. 13.
At Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third year
  • 2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Offensive lineman Ben Clarke earned all-conference honorable mention honors last season and has started 24 games the past two seasons. He’s one of four returning starters on the offensive line.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams posted 67 tackles last year, including three for a loss and a sack. He also forced a couple of fumbles.
  • The skinny: We hit on Hawaii during the Colorado post last week. That will actually be the third game for the Warriors in the 2014 season against the Pac-12. They open at home against Washington and then get Oregon State a week later. Hawaii hasn’t beaten a Pac-12 team since topping Colorado 34-17 in the 2011 season opener.
San Diego State, Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Coach: Rocky Long (25-14), fourth year
  • 2013 record: 8-5, 6-2 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quinn Kaehler returns at quarterback after taking over starting duties last year – where he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Oft-injured defensive back J.J. Whittaker was able to put together a complete season last year and rewarded the Aztecs with a team-high three interceptions, including a critical pick-six in the team’s win over Boise State last year.
  • The skinny: The Aztecs lose a huge chunk of production with the departure of running back Adam Muema. But Long has this team competing for a Mountain West title. It took a bizarre turn over events for the Beavers to win last year’s game at Qualcomm. Recall, SDSU was up 30-21 with five minutes left before an OSU touchdown, followed by a Steven Nelson pick-six and a Ryan Murphy interception in the final three minutes locked up the unlikely comeback.
Thoughts: We’d like to think Oregon State will jump out to a 3-0 start to the season. But we’ve been fooled before. The Beavers have dropped two games in the last three seasons to FCS foes -- Sacramento State in overtime in 2011 and the 49-46 shootout against Eastern Washington last year when the Beavers started the season ranked No. 25. So take the following analysis with a grain of salt: The Beavers absolutely should start the year 3-0. They have an elite quarterback, a running game they hope will blossom and experience on all three levels of the defense. Are they a perfect team? Absolutely not. They have holes like everyone else. But their holes shouldn’t matter against the likes of Portland State and Hawaii. San Diego State, however, is a surging Mountain West team. The Aztecs have gone to four straight bowl games (including 3 for 3 under Rocky Long) and pushed OSU to the brink last season. But the schedule works out that the Beavers have two games then a bye before wrapping the nonconference slate with SDSU at home. Then it’s off to USC to start league play on Sept. 27. The Beavers will be favorites in all three games so thinking 3-0 isn’t lofty. It’s expected.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON

South Dakota Coyotes, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Joe Glenn (5-18), third year
  • 2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Missouri Valley
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Trevor Bouma is back after rushing for 781 yards and three touchdowns on 164 attempts last season. He’ll be the offense's focal point.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Auston Johnson was one of the top tacklers last season, recording 69 stops, including 10.5 for a loss and seven sacks.
  • The skinny: Glenn, formerly of Wyoming, among other stops, was pulled out of retirement to coach his alma mater. After a one-win season in 2012 (winless in conference), the Coyotes upped their total wins to four. It’s still a rebuilding process, but there is some good athleticism with guys like Kevin Earl and Jasper Sanders, who have moved between several offensive skill positions as Glenn tries to put all of the pieces together.
Michigan State Spartans, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29), eighth year
  • 2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Connor Cook burst on to the scene last year during Michigan State’s Rose Bowl run, tossing 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year after posting 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He also forced four fumbles and tied for the FBS lead with three defensive touchdowns.
  • The skinny: The Spartans' heralded defense from 2013 must replace two of their greatest linebackers: Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Offensively, 99 percent of their 2013 rushing yards are back, including Jeremy Langford, who led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. It’s not the same team from last year, but it’s still a very, very good one that should compete for the Big Ten title.
Wyoming Cowboys, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Craig Bohl, first year
  • 2013 record:5-7, 3-5 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Dominic Rufran is back after hauling in 75 catches for 960 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He posted four 100-yard receiving games last seasons.
  • Defensive headliner: Junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-Conference pick last season after leading all Mountain West defensive linemen with an average of 7.4 tackles per game. He also tallied 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: The Pokes are starting anew with Bohl following two bowl appearances in five years under former coach Dave Christensen (now the Utah offensive coordinator). Bohl had tremendous success at the FCS level, leading North Dakota State to the last three consecutive FCS national championships and he was honored as national coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. His Bison teams were 7-3 against FBS teams and he was an assistant on Nebraska’s 1995 and 1997 national championship teams. No doubt, he’s got coaching chops. But it might take some time to build up the Cowboys.
Thoughts: With annual sky-high expectations, anything short of a 3-0 start to the year for the Oregon Ducks would be a major disappointment. Second year head coach Mark Helfrich has already been a victim of expectations after the Ducks failed to qualify for a BCS game last season. And with Marcus Mariota returning to lead the offense, the feeling in Eugene is playoff or bust. The Ducks get all three of these games at home, so that will help. There’s no real threat with South Dakota or Wyoming. If by some act of Zeus the Ducks do lose one of those games, then we’ve all seriously overestimated the Ducks and what they are capable of this year. The Michigan State game, obviously, is the big one. It’s being touted as the top nonconference game of the 2014 season with massive playoff implications. A 3-0 start for the Ducks means they are in the thick of the playoff hunt heading into the conference opener at Washington State. Anything less would be met with a hail of criticism.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

COLORADO

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.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

CALIFORNIA

At Northwestern, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (55-46), ninth year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 1-7 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense
  • Offensive headliner: After playing the last couple of seasons in a two-quarterback system, Trevor Siemian is the full-time guy. He has more than 3,700 yards and 20 touchdowns to his credit.
  • Defensive headliner: Remember Collin Ellis? You should. He had a pair of pick-sixes for the Wildcats in the second half of last year's game that ended up being the difference. Now he's making the transition to middle linebacker to replace the departed Damien Proby.
  • The skinny: After starting out 4-0 last year, the Wildcats went on to drop seven straight before closing out the season with a win over Illinois. Four of those losses were by a touchdown or less and two of them were in overtime -- including a triple-overtime loss to Michigan. With 18 starters coming back, surely there are some lessons learned about playing in close games.
Sacramento State, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Jody Sears (interim), first year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver DeAndre Carter caught 64 balls for 934 yards and matched the team record with 14 receiving touchdowns last season. He was recently named to the preseason All-Big Sky squad.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Darnell Sankey, who spent most of last season at defensive end, is making the move to middle linebacker and will try to replace all-conference linebacker Todd Davis.
  • The skinny: This is not a team to be taken for granted. Recall, the Hornets topped Oregon State in the season opener in 2011 and then stung again by beating Colorado in 2012. But that was under Marshall Sperbeck, who suddenly resigned after seven seasons in April amid possible NCAA allegations. Still, you can't take an FCS team for granted -- especially this one and its recent history of upsets.
BYU, Saturday Nov. 29
  • Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (82-34), 10th year
  • 2013 record: 8-5, Independent
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Taysom Hill is a dynamic dual-threat player. He started in every game last year and threw for 19 touchdowns while rushing for 10 more.
  • Defensive headliner: Safety Craig Bills returns after posting 78 tackles last season, which was second on the team. He's versatile enough to play either safety spot.
  • The skinny: BYU always seems to be good. But never great. Still, this is a big challenge for a Cal team that is looking to make strides in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes. The timing of the game is interesting. It's the season finale for both teams. By Nov. 29, the Bears could be a battle-tested group and Jared Goff could be having an all-conference season. Or, not. BYU has won just once in its last five games against the Pac-12.
Thoughts: There are a lot of "ifs-thens" going on in Berkeley these days. If some defensive players come back healthy ... if Jared Goff takes the next step and his receivers play to their potential ... if the change at defensive coordinator pays dividends ... if, if, if ... then Cal will be better. Being on the road for your first game of the season is always a challenge -- regardless of the opponent. But recall that Cal was in that game against Northwestern if not for a couple of tipped passes. You never want to overlook an FCS team. And with just one career win at Cal (against an FCS team), Sonny Dykes certainly won't be overlooking Sacramento State. As for the BYU game, it's almost impossible to make any sort of prediction, because it's likely both teams will look very different on Nov. 29 than they do when the season opens in August. We can all agree that a winless nonconference slate would be devastating to Dykes' rebuilding efforts. One win is expected. But a second or third would be considered tangible signs of improvement -- and probably a welcomed treat for the Cal faithful.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

ARIZONA STATE

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.

Nonconference primer: Arizona

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
7:00
PM ET
Today we start a new series looking at each team’s nonconference opponents in 2014.

ARIZONA

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.

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