Nonconference primer: Utah


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

Utah Utes

Idaho State, Thursday, Aug. 28

  • Coach: Mike Kramer (6-28), fourth season

  • 2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 Big Sky

  • Returning starters: nine offense, seven defense

  • Offensive headliner: quarterback Justin Arias. The ISU coaching staff named Arias the team’s offensive player of the year last year after he threw for 3,547 yards with 24 touchdown passes.

  • Defensive headliner: defensive lineman Austin Graves. Graves ranked fourth on the team with 64 tackles, but registered an impressive 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was named the team’s defensive player of the year by his teammates and was an honorable mention all-conference pick.

  • The skinny: There is the occasional FCS opponent that can generate some genuine intrigue when pitted against a Pac-12 team (see: Eastern Washington). Idaho State isn’t one of them. Kramer is a well-respected coach in the Big Sky and has done a great job with the Bengals’ academic pursuits and has built a respectable offense, but that hasn’t translated to results in the win column. Against FBS opponents over the last four years (Washington, Nebraska, Air Force, Washington State, Utah State, Georgia and BYU twice), the Bengals are 0-8 and have been outscored 450-89.

Fresno State, Saturday, Sept. 6

  • Coach: Tim DeRuyter (20-6), third season

  • 2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 MWC

  • Returning starters: five offense, eight defense

  • Offensive headliner: receiver Josh Harper. How’s this for a stat: In 2013, Harper combined with Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse to become just the fifth trio in FBS history to all have 1,000-plus receiving yards on the same team. With Adams and Burse off to the NFL, Harper takes center stage and was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. He was tied for eighth in the nation with 13 touchdown receptions last season.

  • Defensive headliner: free safety Derron Smith was featured here, so linebacker Karl Mickelsen is next up. He led the Bulldogs in tackles last season (97) and was an All-Mountain West honorable mention pick. Against Boise State, Mickelsen made 16 tackles — Fresno State’s highest single-game total in five years.

  • The skinny: The schedule lines up well for the Utes as they get a tune-up in the opener against Idaho State, which should allow new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen to get his feet wet before a visit from Fresno State. On the other hand, the Bulldogs won’t have that same luxury with a game at USC preceding their trip to Salt Lake City. Without record-setting quarterback Derek Carr, Adams and Burse, it will be interesting to see what the natural evolution process looks like for the Bulldogs' offense.

at Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 20

  • Coach: Brady Hoke (26-13), fourth season

  • 2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten

  • Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense

  • Offensive headliner: quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner enters his second full season as the Wolverines’ starter after briefly converting to receiver in 2012. Results were mixed last year as he threw for 2,960 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

  • Defensive headliner: cornerback Blake Countess. Countess was selected first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by the coaches after he tied for the Big Ten lead with six interceptions. He made 46 tackles and returned a pick for a touchdown.

  • The skinny: Utah’s season-opening win in 2008 against Rich Rodriguez-coached Michigan at the Big House will long be remembered as one of the program’s best moments. It set the stage for the Utes' undefeated season and, perhaps, played a role in the home-and-home series that returns to Salt Lake City next year. Both schools saw their 2013 seasons get off to relatively good starts before things became unhinged late. A Utah win would be a good coup for the Pac-12 as it tries to measure up favorably against other conferences.