Nonconference primer: Washington State

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

Rutgers at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Thursday, Aug. 28

  • Coach: Kyle Flood (15-11), third season

  • 2013 record: 6-7, 3-5 AAC

  • Returning starters: nine on offense, seven on defense

  • Offensive headliner: running back Paul James. A first-team All-AAC pick after leading the conference with 97.9 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 881 yards in nine games with nine touchdowns, but was held out of four games due to a broke bone in his right leg and was limited during the spring.

  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Steve Longa. Longa received numerous freshman All-American accolades after leading the Scarlet Knights with 123 tackles, starting all 13 games at middle linebacker. He was the team's co-defensive MVP with Marcus Thompson.

  • The skinny: Like WSU, Rutgers finished 6-6 in the regular season a year ago, only to drop below .500 with a loss in their bowl game (to Notre Dame). But unlike WSU, the Scarlet Knight had exactly zero impressive wins. None of the teams they beat finished with a winning record as they combined to go 17-54 -- with only 11 of those wins against FBS teams. With as many returners as it has, Rutgers should be better, but that doesn't mean it'll be anymore competitive now that it's moved to the Big Ten.

at Nevada, Friday, Sept. 5

  • Coach: Brian Polian (4-8), second season

  • 2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West

  • Returning starters: seven on offense, nine on defense

  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Cody Fajardo. Fajardo is among the school's all-time leaders in total offense (third), rushing yards (10th), rushing touchdowns (eighth), passing yards (eighth) and passing touchdowns (11th). He's on the watch lists for both the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's best player, and Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's best quarterback.

  • Defensive headliner: defensive end Brock Hekking. Hekking was a first-team All-Mountain West selection as a junior in 2013 after recoding nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He's on the Lombardi Award watch list and is a Pac-12 blog candidate for the best hair in college football.

  • The skinny: Polian is a bright coach with a good future in front of him, but the Wolf Pack took a big step back in his first year in Reno, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2007. Mike Leach coached Texas Tech to a 35-19 win at Nevada in 2008 and WSU visited in 2005, a 55-21 win for the Cougs. The last time a Pac-12 team made the trip to Nevada, Colin Kaepernick led the Wolf Pack to a 52-31 win against Cal in 2010.

Portland State, Saturday, Sept. 13

  • Coach: Nigel Burton (18-27), fifth year

  • 2013 record: 6-6, 3-5 Big Sky

  • Returning starters: seven on offense, four on defense

  • Offensive headliner: Receiver Kasey Closs. A one-time walk-on, Closs caught 63 passes for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns last season to rank fourth in the Big Sky in receiving yards per game. Against Cal, Closs caught five passes for 160 yards.

  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Corey Crowder. The Vikings lose their top three tacklers from a year go, which leaves Crowder as the leading returning tackler after he made 59 stops in 2013.

  • The skinny: Portland State's trip to Pullman will be the first game of the year at Martin Stadium, which is looking good these days. It'll also be the second Pac-12 game for the Vikings after they open the season at Oregon State. Neither of these games figure to be anything like the close encounter they had in Berkeley against hapless Cal last year, especially considering the the Vikings lose talented running back D.J. Adams and have just four returning starters on defense.