- Kevin Gemmell, College Football
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.
Nevada, Aug. 31
Coach: Brian Polian, first year
2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West
Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo returns at quarterback after finishing 10th nationally last year in total offense, averaging 325.6 yards per game. He has a career completion percentage of 67.7 percent and accounted for 32 touchdowns last year.
Defensive headliner: Defensive end Brock Hekking returns after earning second-team all-league honors last year. He posted eight sacks on the year and was third on the team with 75 tackles.
The skinny: How dangerous is Fajardo? Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He can play. It's a new era following the (second) retirement of Chris Ault, father of the Pistol. But if Polian learned anything from his time at Stanford, you don't fix what's not broken. And Nevada knows how to score. Defense, however, is a different story as the Wolfpack allowed more than 33 points per game in 2012.
at Nebraska, Sept. 14
Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20), sixth year
2012 record: 10-4, 7-1 Big Ten
Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
Offensive headliner: Uber-athletic quarterback Taylor Martinez is on pace to become just the second quarterback in FBS history (joining Colin Kaepernick) to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in a career. He accounted for 33 touchdowns last year, 23 in the air, 10 on the ground, while throwing for 2,871 yards and rushing for 1,019.
Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jason Ankrah will be called upon to be the leader of the front seven. He's started 18 games the past two seasons and last year he tallied 26 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
The skinny: The Huskers have enjoyed five straight years of at least nine wins and 10 wins in three of the past four years. The Bruins are a team still learning how to handle success. Last season's home victory was a coup for the Bruins. A win in Lincoln would carry even more weight. The Huskers are 19-2 at home in the past three seasons, falling to Texas in 2010 and Northwestern in 2011.
New Mexico State, Sept. 21
Coach: Doug Martin, first year
2012 record: 1-11, 0-6 WAC
Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
Offensive headliner: Despite the poor record, wide receiver Austin Franklin was still a semifinalist last year for the Biletnikoff Award -- which says something coming from a 1-11 team. He caught 74 balls for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns. He was first-team All-WAC and SI.com named him an All-American honorable mention.
Defensive headliner: A second-team all-league selection, linebacker Trashaun Nixon started all 12 games last year, recording 96 tackles with 9.5 for loss and three sacks.
The skinny: The Aggies enter the season on an 11-game losing skid (their only win last year coming against FCS Sacramento State, the same one that beat Colorado) and they have dropped 14 in a row against FBS competition. After a four-year record of 10-40, DeWayne Walker (formerly of Cal, USC, and UCLA among others) opted to return to the NFL where he's the DB coach for Jacksonville.
Thoughts: There are only three quarterbacks in FBS football who have passed for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards over the last two seasons. The Bruins face two of them in Martinez and Fajardo. With the exception of New Mexico State, this is a considerably vigorous nonconference slate. Nevada will test the defense at home in the first week (though it's a test that's passable). Nevada's defensive struggles of late, however, suggest taking the over in this game. Combined rushing yards for Brett Hundley and Fajardo? 250? Then the Bruins get a week off to tweak and correct before making the trip to Lincoln, which will provide a stiff test. And for those who love the chess match aspect of scheming, it's probably worth noting that Nebraska will likely be studying that Nevada game film closely to see what the Bruins do to try and contain Fajardo. (I can tell you right now what the game plan is: Unleash Anthony Barr. Rinse. Repeat). We'll know exactly how much this team has matured by the time New Mexico State comes to town. 3-0 would be outstanding. 2-1 would be respectable. 1-2 would be viewed as a step backward for a program trying to build its brand under Jim Mora.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.UCLANevada, Aug. 31 Coach: Brian Polian, first year 2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West Returning starters: seven offense, five defense Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo returns at quarterback after finishing 10th nationally last year in total offense, averaging 325.