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Toledo Rockets vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

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A pair of first-year head coaches with completely different starts to their careers highlights the first-ever meeting between Toledo(3-0) and BYU (1-3).

For Toledo, the Rockets have fittingly launched the Jason Candle era off to a perfect start after previous head coach Matt Campbell left for Iowa State.

The first three games haven’t been close for the Rockets. Toledo is averaging 42 points per game, and has only given up a total of 30.

On the opposite sideline, BYU’s first-year head coach Kalani Sitake hasn’t experienced as smooth a start to his head-coaching career.

The Cougars opened up the 2016 season with four consecutive Power Five opponents, which is only the 14th time since 2008 that a team has done that. Sitake’s team was competitive in all four games, and has lost the last three games by a total of seven points.

Come Friday, will Toledo announce its presence on the national scene with a win over a storied program? Or can BYU get back on a winning track against an underrated Rockets squad?

Toledo at BYU

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: BYU -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Toledo running game vs. BYU’s front seven

The Rockets have four players that have rushed for more than 100 yards through the first three games of the season, highlighted by powerful running back Kareem Hunt (267 yards).

Toledo is a unique team that feels it can match up well with physical football teams, like a BYU, in the trenches because of an offensive line that averages 302.6 pounds per player.

BYU’s front seven is looking to improve its pass rush. Last week against West Virginia, the Mountaineers passed the football around like it was a skelly drill. Cougar defensive end Harvey Langi has been adjusting to life with his hand in the dirt after switching from linebacker. BYU will look to him and its outside linebackers to create havoc for the Rockets backfield.

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2. How many touches will BYU’s Jamaal Williams have?

Last week in the loss to West Virginia, Williams had 24 carries for 169 yards in a game where the Cougars scored a season-high 32 points.

BYU wants to find balance in first-year coordinator Ty Detmer’s offense. The key to finding that balance will be to continue focusing on the run and feeding the ball to Williams, who has proven that he is playing at a higher level than ever before in his career.

Expect BYU to give Williams anywhere between 25-30 touches in this game.

3. Toledo seeking signature win

The Rockets received one vote in the most recent AP Top 25 poll. If they can pull off a win in Provo against a good BYU team, the Rockets will have arrived on the national scene and would position them alongside Western Michigan as the favorites in the MAC West.

Toledo has had some big wins in recent seasons. Last year, the Rockets won at Arkansas when they were the Razorbacks were ranked No. 18, and then in 2012 Toledo went to Nippert Stadium and defeated a ranked Cincinnati team.

Traveling two time zones will be a unique challenge but the Rockets had a bye last week to get prepared for the time adjustment, and the huge opportunity in front of them.

Final Analysis

Stacked up on the same night against a top-10 showdown in the Pac-12 between Stanford and Washington, Toledo and BYU is likely considered by most around the country as the “other game” on Friday night. But don’t be surprised if we see this game decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. After all, this is a weeknight game featuring a MAC team. We have to expect some #MACtion, am I right?

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BYU has a hard-hitting defense and an offense that is feeling confident after significant improvement a week ago. Toledo is looking to make a statement that it is a player on the national scene.

BYU is in desperation mode to get a win. The Cougar fan base has made peace with the growing pains because they’ve faced Power Five teams through the first four games and have been competitive down to the wire in each of those contests. If the Cougars fall to a MAC team at home, the natives in Provo could become restless on the 2016 team.

The Cougars find a way to get their second win of the season, and the first home win for Kalani Sitake as BYU’s headman.

Prediction: BYU 26, Toledo 20

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.