Nonconference primer: Washington State

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.