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