- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2015.
Virginia, Saturday, Sept. 5
Coach: Mike London (23-38), sixth season
2014 record: 5-7, 3-5 ACC
Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense
Offensive headliner: WR Canaan Severin. Severin will serve as one of the Cavaliers’ four captains in his senior year after leading the team with 42 catches for 578 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. It was a breakout junior year for the Massachusetts native, who caught just six passes over his first two seasons.
Defensive headliner: Sophomore FS Quin Blanding. Blanding was named to the ESPN.com Freshman All-American team and finished No. 12 nationally with 123 tackles – tops among freshmen. He started all 12 games for the Cavaliers, picked off three passes and defended six others.
The skinny: The Cavs gave the Bruins a more-difficult-than-expected game in the season opener for both teams in Charlottesville a year ago, but lost a lot and make the difficult East-to-West trek for this year’s opener. Virginia was on its way to bowl eligibility after a 4-2 start, but dropped five of six to end the year.
At UNLV, Saturday, Sept. 12
Coach: Tony Sanchez, first season
2014 record: 2-11, 1-7 MWC
Returning starters: 6 offense; 5 defense
Offensive headliner: WR Devonte Boyd had at least two catches in every game as a freshman in 2014 and finished the year with 65 receptions for 980 yards and four touchdowns. A local product, Boyd caught six passes for 102 yards in his college debut against Arizona and went over the 100-yard receiving mark in two other games.
Defensive headliner: LB Tau Lotulelei, the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars LB John Lotulelei, led the Rebels with 99 tackles in his first year as a full-time starter. The Hawaii native finished the season with 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
The skinny: UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy made the bold decision to hire Sanchez from local high school power Bishop Gorman, where he led the Gaels to state championships in each of his six seasons. He surrounded himself with a veteran staff, including former Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer, but the team is low on talent.
BYU, Saturday, Sept. 19
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (90-39), 11th season
2014 record: 8-5
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense
Offensive headliner: QB Taysom Hill had some Heisman buzz after leading BYU to a 4-0 start last year, but his season ended the next week with a broken ankle against Utah State. The dual-threat senior has thrown for 4,338 yards and 30 touchdowns and run for 2,138 yards in parts of three seasons.
Defensive headliner: Senior LB Bronson Kaufusi led the team with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. His father, Steve Kaufusi, is the Cougars’ defensive line coach.
The skinny: Dating to 2004, BYU is 10-11 against Pac-12 schools (not including games against Utah before it joined the conference). The independent school with difficult tests against Mike Riley-coach Nebraska in its opener and Boise State before traveling to the Rose Bowl.
Thoughts: There isn't a game as intriguing as the Bruins' trip to AT&T Stadium to play Texas last year, but their three nonconference games should allow freshman quarterback Josh Rosen -- for now, let's just assume he'll be the starter -- to get acclimated to the college game before difficult Pac-12 South games against Arizona and Arizona State await at the top of the Pac-12 slate. Virginia and BYU won't be gimmes, but they are games the Bruins, with a ton of talent returning on both sides of the ball, should be able to navigate. UNLV figures to be the confidence-building game for Rosen, who is coming off an impressive spring.