Kalani Sitake's Cougars look to avoid a letdown at home against the Cowboys from the FCS ranks
It's crazy to think that one year ago BYU was a 4-9 football and then fast-forward to last week as the Cougars defeated Wisconsin, the No. 6 team in the country, on the road.
With that big win, the Cougars should now feel as confident as they have in the Kalani Sitake era.
BYU is now ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll, and will look to avoid a letdown against quality FCS foe McNeese from the Southland Conference.
McNeese at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Can BYU get the passing game going?
In BYU’s win over Wisconsin the Cougars managed just 120 passing yards and 31 of those were from a wide receiver. This offense needs to generate more production through the air. Will Tanner Mangum find his groove against the Cowboys? If there’s a game he does it again, this should be the one. McNeese is giving up nearly 290 passing yards per game, although opponents are only completing 53 percent of their attempts. The Cowboys also have nearly as many interceptions (four) as touchdown passes allowed (five) in their first three games.
2. How will McNeese's speed stack up against BYU’s power?
BYU is built in the trenches on both their offensive and defensive lines. McNeese has speed, especially at the skill positions. That speed the Cowboys boast could possibly give BYU issues. Keep an eye on linebacker BJ Blunt, who is a speedy sideline-to-sideline player who will need to create havoc for the Cowboys to be in this game. He leads his team in tackles (20), tackles for a loss (6.0) and sacks (5.0).
3. BYU looking to avoid a letdown
BYU has never lost to an FCS opponent since their first such game 20 years ago (Murray State), back when the subdivision was known as Division I-AA. Would a close game against McNeese, a program that lost to Nebraska by a touchdown in 2014, cause the Cougars to fall out of the Top 25 prior to next week's showdown at Washington? BYU can't get caught looking ahead and one way to do that is to respect the football just as the Cougars have done this season. BYU enters this game with a plus-two turnover margin while the Cowboys have already generated nine takeaways in their first three games. McNeese is a good FCS program that is 3-0 on the season after going 9-2 last year. The Cougars need to come into this game just as focused as they were last week against Wisconsin.
BYU’s sizeable advantage in the trenches will win the day. The Cougars' offensive and defensive lines beat a Wisconsin team that prides itself on winning on both sides of the line of scrimmage. This is a banged-up BYU team that's ripe for a letdown after an emotionally and physically taxing game against the Badgers. That will allow McNeese to keep this game close for three quarters but the Cougars will pull away late and take care of business at home ahead of next week's big showdown on the road against Washington.
Prediction: BYU 31, McNeese 13
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.