A Friday night Big 12 showdown features the BYU Cougars (3-1) hosting the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-2) in a battle of conference newcomers. The Cougars hope to bounce back after picking up their first loss of the season in a 38-27 game against Kansas. BYU had the lead at the half, but couldn’t stage a second half comeback like they did against Arkansas (38-31) two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati is coming off a 20-6 home loss to Oklahoma and looks to bounce back and get rid of the current two-game losing streak.
Friday’s contest will be the first Big 12 home game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in program history. The game is sold out and will kick off at 8:15 on ESPN.
Date: Friday, September 29
Time: 8:15 p.m. MT
Announcers: Clay Matvick, Aaron Murray, Lauren Sisler
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) — Provo, Utah
BYU 38, Cincinnati 24 (2015)
BYU 20, Cincinnati 3 (2016)
When betting lines first opened, BYU was a 1.5-point favorite that jumped as high as 3.5. However, Cincinnati is now favored to win by 1.5, down from 2.5 yesterday. The over/under continues to drop going from 54 to 48 as many expect both offenses to struggle somewhat with the defenses taking control of the game. In regards to the money line, oddsmakers are favoring Cincinnati at -130. The money line simply involves picking the winning team. With Cincinnati at -130, those picking the Bearcats to win would have to risk $130 to win $100. However, for those picking BYU, one would win $110 for his/her $100 wager.
SP+, a predictive analytics tool created by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, has BYU beating Cincinnati 26-24. So far this year SP+ is 3-1 in its BYU picks. Bill gives the Cougars a 56% chance of beating the Bearcats, which is higher than what ESPN’s Football Power Index is giving the Cougars. As of right now, the FPI gives BYU just a 42.9% chance of beating Cincinnati.
Both teams come in evenly matched and I expect this game to come down to the wire.
On paper, Cincinnati looks to have the advantage as the offense and defense appear to be a little bit better. We are still early in the season and stats can be deceiving, however, the Bearcats do rank fourth in the Big 12 in total offense (489 yards), sixth in passing offense (274), and third in rushing offense (215). Cincinnati has shown that it can get the yards on offense, it’s the scoring that’s an issue as the team settles for field goals or turns the ball over.
I expect Cincinnati to outgain BYU in total yards, but if the Cougars can force the Bearcats into field goals, BYU will have an excellent chance of winning on Friday.
For BYU, the Cougar defense is currently sixth in the Big 12 in total defense (326 yards) and third in pass defense (196 yards). Junior defensive end Tyler Batty is one of the top playmakers as he leads the team in both tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (2.5) and has 19 total tackles. The Cougar defense will certainly have its hands full as Cincinnati has a balanced offense with the Bearcats averaging 274 yards through the air and 215 yards on the ground. Senior quarterback Emory Jones is a playmaker and is another dual-threat quarterback that the Cougar will face.
The good news for Cougar fans is that the BYU defense has played dual-threat quarterbacks very well so far this year as they’ve more than contained KJ Jefferson and Jalon Daniels, both of which are considered better quarterbacks than Jones.
On offense, the Cougars are averaging 324 yards of total offense, with 264 yards coming through the air and 61 yards on the ground. In its two P5 games so far this season, the Cougars are averaging less than 40 rushing yards a game, which is not going to get it done if the Cougars want to go bowling this year.
What’s allowed BYU to stay competitive in these games is the efficiency. While the offense isn’t putting up a lot of yards, when the team does moves the ball, it usually scores. The Cougars are 15-of-15 inside the red zone this season with 12 of those being touchdowns. That’s been key ingredient so far this season.
Until the running game can get going — anything at this point would be helpful — BYU QB Kedon Slovis will be shouldering the load on offense. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior threw for a season-high 357 yards against Kansas, but he also tossed two costly interceptions. He has two 300-yard games this season and 15 for his career.
Prediction: BYU 23, Cincinnati 20
All four newcomers (BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston) lost their Big 12 openers, but on Friday, BYU or Cincinnati will finally get their first conference win. A loss for either team will likely end any chance of making the Big 12 title game, so Friday’s game will be important to get some momentum, especially for BYU as they go into the gauntlet of the schedule with TCU and Texas next month.
So here’s what I think happens on Friday. BYU is going to be amped playing at home in front of a sold out crowd. That’s certainly going to give BYU a boost playing against a good Cincinnati team. However, the Cougars have struggled running the ball all season and the the Bearcats defensive front is better than anything the Cougars have seen so far. Because of this, I expect BYU’s running game to get shutdown.
The secondary for Cincinnati isn’t as good and that’s where BYU can hurt the Bearcats. I think the game will be similar to Kansas in that BYU will throw for 300 yards, but will have limited rushing yards. But with Cincinnati struggling to put points on the board so far this season, the Cougars just need to do enough to win. If BYU doesn’t turn the ball over — or give up two defensive touchdowns like they did last week — they’ll be in good shape.
Again, I expect Cincinnati to move the ball and have more total yards than the Cougars, but the Bearcats haven’t been efficient on offense, and considering BYU’s defense has been able to force a number of turnovers this year — which has been a big weakness for the Bearcats — I think that inefficiency will continue and will help BYU to squeak out the win in front of a sold out crowd. The atmosphere should be electric at LaVell Edwards Stadium and should be a great game between both programs.