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Provo • Having gone 4-4 in September and October against a schedule that is turning out to be less difficult with each passing weekend, the BYU Cougars come off a bye hoping to regain some momentum after Boise State snapped their three-game winning streak on Oct. 20.
Rested and presumably healthier than they were in that 28-27 loss to the Broncos, the Cougars will test reeling Cincinnati on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MDT in a game that will be televised nationally by the CBS Sports Network.
It will be BYU's first-ever college football game in the state of Ohio.
"We play the best team we play all year, next week," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said Saturday after the Bearcats dropped to 4-4 with a 34-13 loss at Temple. Tuberville is catching some heat from Bearcat fans in his fourth season because Cincy is now 29-18 in his tenure, and perceived to be underperforming again after going 7-6 in 2015.
If nothing else, the Cougars should be well-rested.
"I think it is needed," BYU receiver Mitchell Juergens said of the late-October bye. "Guys are banged up, and this is only going to help us. We're going to be smart about it, rest up, and just be ready to come back stronger for Cincinnati."
The Bearcats seemingly had some momentum after knocking off East Carolina 31-19 two days after BYU lost to Boise State, but gave it all back on Saturday in a punchless outing in Philadelphia. The Owls outgained UC 474-186 and possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes.
Senior quarterback Gunner Kiel made his second start, but was far less effective than he was against East Carolina. The Notre Dame transfer completed just 15 of 27 passes for 119 yards on Saturday after throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the big win over East Carolina.
What looked to be an intriguing matchup when BYU and Cincinnati were both seen as prime candidates for Big 12 expansion a month ago suddenly is without much sizzle. BYU is No. 35 in the ESPN Football Power Index and No. 39 in Jeff Sagarin's power ratings for USA Today, while Cincy is No. 83 and No. 91, respectively.
While the Cougars had the weekend off, every opponent that they have played this season lost, with the exception of Mississippi State and UCLA. The Bulldogs outscored FCS opponent Samford 56-41 and UCLA had a bye. Boise State tumbled in the rankings after losing 30-28 at Wyoming.
BYU's strength of schedule rating dropped from 15th to 17th and will likely drop into the 30s by the time the season ends because only Cincinnati, FCS Southern Utah, UMass and Utah State remain. None of those schools have winning records.
The Cougars are hoping to get Jamaal Williams back for the Cincinatti game, after the star senior running back missed the Boise State game with an ankle sprain. Williams is now ninth in the country in rushing yards, with 942. He is fifth in rushing yards per game, 134.6, and tied for 16th in rushing touchdowns (10).
Safety Kai Nacua is tied for second in interceptions with five, trailing only Florida State's Tavarus McFadden, who has six.
The Cougars are now 78th in total offense (394.6 ypg.) and 82nd in total defense (423.0 ypg.).
BYU at Cincinnati
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
TV • CBS Sports Network