Remember, remember the fifth of November because that's when Cincinnati will clash with BYU this coming season. (Please don't kill me Alan Moore). Its a bit late in the season for a non-conference game, but that doesn't erase the hype or the importance of the contest, as it is far and away the toughest non-league exam of the 2016 campaign. The Cougars have won at least eight games in five-straight years and haven't been left out of bowl seasons since 2005.
In 2015, the boys from Provo went 9-4, got up to No. 19 in the AP Top 25 but did fall short against in-state rival Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. Along the way, they hosted the Bearcats and sent them home with a big L, claiming a 38-24 victory thanks to a 28-7 second half. There's no way of knowing how much success the Cougars will have in 2016, especially since head coach Bronco Mendenhall bolted for Virginia, but we can say one thing for certain: they will play Cincinnati.
This is a team with a bit of a quarterback competition. Taysom Hill, for all the promise and talent he has shown, has seemingly been injured more often than he's been healthy. His 2012, 2013 and 2015 seasons were cut short due to injury, with a lisfranc fracture he suffered in the season opener against Nebraska derailing him last fall. That opened the door for Tanner Mangum, who ended up doing just well as a freshman. He may not possess the mobility that Hill does, but Mangum can sling the rock just fine. He threw for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing just under 60 percent of his throws. Against the Bearcats, Mangum threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception, on 19-of-32 passing.
Hill announced that he will be back for the 2016 campaign and Mangum is obviously back as well, making for a bit of uncertainty around the QB spot. Even if Hill is named the starter, there is still no guarantee that is who the UC defense will face come November.
With Mangum at the helm, the Cougars averaged 424.8 yards per game, which was the 49th-best mark in the country, placing BYU firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive success. The top rusher from that unit is back, with Algernon Brown (709 yards, 11 TDs) set to build on a solid junior campaign. Brown ate up the Bearcats' defense a bit, pounding out 89 yards and a score on 20 carries.
The receiving corps is a little more barren, with Mitch Mathews (54 receptions, 737 yards, 11 TDs) and Devon Blackmon (46 receptions, 669 yards) both gone. Cincinnati may not notice that since Nick Kurtz will be around again. The Bearcats' secondary let Kurtz haul in six passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in last year's meeting.
Venturing out of the skill positions, the Cougars have a some experience on the offensive line backed up my younger prospects. Parker Dawe, Kyle Johnson and Brad Wilcox are the seniors for the unit, which features five sophomores and four freshmen.
New head coach Kalani Sitake is more of a defensive mind than an offensive one. A former Cougar fullback, he coached a slew of positional units at Southern Utah and Utah before eventually taking over as defensive coordinator for Oregon State last season. Unfortunately, well at least if you are a BYU fan, Sitake did not exactly helm a defensive juggernaut in Corvallis. The Beavers ranked second to last in the Pac-12 in total defense (418.5 ypg), while falling to dead last in sacks (18.0) and tackles for loss (54.0).
Sitake will now try his hand at molding a BYU defense that was an elite squad in 2015, and not just in comparison to Oregon State. The Cougars ranked 23rd in the country in total defense (345.7 ypg) thanks primarily to their constant pressure. Led by Bronson Kaufusi (10.5), BYU tied for fifth in the country in sacks.
Cincinnati got a bitter taste of how good BYU's defense was, totaling only 341 total yards. Hayden Moore was at quarterback for this one and he did not receive a very warm welcome from his hosts, getting sacked eight times. Kaufusi had three alone.
Before we start fearing for the lives of Gunner Kiel and Moore, let me tell you that Kaufusi has left the college ranks. However, the strength of the Cougars (linebackers) remains in tact, with Harvey Langi, Fred Warner and Sae Tautu all set to bring hellfire down on opposing backfields.
As for the secondary, there is a hole left by tackle-machine Michael Wadsworth, but the Cougars are in capable hands (nailed that pun) with Kai Nacua, who tied for second with Warner and Langi in tackles and led the team all by himself in interceptions (six), returning two of those for touchdowns.
This will be a transition year for BYU, as it gets accustomed to a new head coach. The last time someone other than Mendenhall held the clipboard was more than a decade ago during the Gary Crowton era. That's a scary thought for the Cougars, who didn't go bowling in the three years leading up to Mendenhall's hiring. By the time they roll into Nippert Stadium, we'll know a whole lot more about how good a team the Cougars are, who is under center and whether or not the defense has survived the loss of Kaufusi. All that said, Sitake is taking over a roster with a great deal of talent that has gotten used to winning. The Cougars should be just fine and that could spell disappointment for the Bearcats on an early November afternoon.