What BYU football can expect for November, December

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BYU quarterback Taysom Hill stiff-arms a Mississippi State defender on Oct. 14, 2016. (Ryan Turner)

BYU football has embraced the bright lights and big stages in 2016.

Not that it really had a choice.

Two-thirds of the way into the season, Kalani Sitake’s squad has cut its teeth on Pac 12, Big 12, Big 10 and SEC competition in what has arguably been the toughest eight-game stretch in program history.

Already the Cougars have played before hostile crowds in Salt Lake, East Lansing and Boise. They’ve been featured in two neutral-site games played at NFL venues.

Their home opponents haven’t exactly been cupcakes, either. So far the Cougars have welcomed UCLA and Mississippi State into LaVell Edwards Stadium. The only home game against a non-Power Five school came against Toledo — a 55-53 thriller that featured four ties and nine lead changes.

These first eight games represented a challenge to this team’s talent. Their final four represent a challenge to its psyche.

The Cougars are almost certain to be favored against Cincinnati, SUU, UMass and Utah State. The only question now is how they perform when the stakes are low and the spotlight dim.

Here’s a look at what BYU is up against in the final two months of the season:

Nov. 5, 2016 at Cincinnati

Ari Davis
Nick Kurtz stiff-arms a Cincinnati defender on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2015. (Ari Davis)

The team

Cincinnati, like BYU, comes into this game with a 4-4 record. The Bearcats are currently fifth in the AAC East after losing to Temple 34-13 last Saturday for their third defeat in four games.

Cincinnati’s three FBS wins have come from beating Purdue, Miami (Ohio) and East Carolina, who are a combined 9-16 overall.

Reason to fear

Cincinnati is donning Military Appreciation Day-themed unis for this Saturday’s matchup. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you never want to mess with American-themed teams on Military Appreciation Day.

Nov. 12, 2016 vs. Southern Utah

Doug Lindley
Southern Utah’s James Felila breaks through Idaho State defenders on his way to a touchdown on Oct. 29, 2016. (Associated Press)

The team

SUU is currently 3-3 under first-year head coach Demario Warren. The Thunderbirds held Utah to a respectable amount of points in a 24-0 loss in their season opener.

Reason to fear

An FCS upset of an FBS team has become less of a novelty in recent years (there have been 10 such instances so far in 2016). SUU has accomplished the feat twice since 2011, defeating UNLV in 2011 and South Alabama in 2013.

Nov. 19, 2016 vs. UMass

Sean Rayford
Massachusetts running back Marquis Young runs the ball against South Carolina Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. South Carolina won the game 34-28. (Associated Press)

The team

Although only 2-7, playing tough competition isn’t anything new for the Minutemen. UMass has gone up against Florida, Boston College, Mississippi State and South Carolina so far this season.

Reason to fear

UMass seems to play its best when its least expected, having hung tough in games against Mississippi State (lost 47-35) and South Carolina (lost 34-28).

Nov. 26, 2016 vs. Utah State

Ari Davis
Tanner Mangum looks to pass the ball against Utah State in 2015. (Ari Davis)

The team

With a 3-5 record, Utah State is staring down the possibility of its worst season since head coach Matt Wells took the reins in 2013.

Reason to fear

The game against the Aggies is still a rivalry game, and everyone knows records can be thrown out the window in rivalry games.

Dec. 21, 2016 Poinsettia Bowl

Photo courtesy of BYU photo
Kyle Van Noy strips the football during BYU’s 2012 Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. (BYU Photo)

The Cougars entered the season practically locked into the Poinsettia Bowl (assuming they win at least two of their remaining four games), which most likely will pit them against the second- or third-place team out of the Mountain West. Currently, that looks to be a matchup against either San Diego State or Wyoming.

Either scenario may not seem incredibly attractive to Cougar fans, but overlooking these programs based on their history is a mistake. These aren’t your older brother’s Pokes and Aztecs.

At 6-2, Wyoming has a legitimate chance to achieve its best season since 1967. The Cowboys recorded their first win over a ranked team in 14 years by defeating No. 13, Boise State, 30-28 last weekend.

San Diego State, who sits at 7-1, has decimated opponents by a combined 243-94 score in games they’ve won. Senior Aztec running back Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing yards, and is a healthy 300 yards ahead of No. 2 on the list.

Other potential bowl opponents include New Mexico, Boise State, Colorado State, Air Force and Hawaii.

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