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Former Big 12 expansion front-runners — BYU and Cincinnati — collide

BYU plays Cincinnati in a football game at the LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo Friday, Oct. 16, 2015.
BYU plays Cincinnati in a football game at the LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo Friday, Oct. 16, 2015.
Kristin Murphy,

BYU (4-4) at Cincinnati (4-4)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT Nippert Stadium

Cincinnati, Ohio

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM


CINCINNATI — It’s a showdown between a pair of programs that were candidates — and viewed by many as front-runners — to join the Big 12 before the league pulled the plug on expansion in mid-October.

Before the season kicked off, there was the possibility that this matchup would be a preview of a future Big 12 game.

Instead, it’s a contest between a pair of teams with identical 4-4 records, and a battle between two teams trying to become bowl eligible.

BYU, coming off a bye week, is fresh and re-energized as it visits Cincinnati, of the American Athletic Conference, Saturday (1:30 p.m., MDT, CBSSN) at Nippert Stadium.

The Cougars are glad to have running back Jamaal Williams and offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf back in the lineup after they were sidelined during the one-point loss at Boise State on Oct. 20.

As BYU eyes the final month of the season, it needs two more victories to earn a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl against a Mountain West Conference opponent.

After eight straight weeks playing against tough competition, it has a chance for an eight-win season. After playing the Bearcats, the Cougars have three consecutive home games against Southern Utah, UMass and Utah State.

Quarterback Taysom Hill said the mindset remains the same, no matter the opponent.

“It’s a one-game season, week in, week out. We’re not taking a different approach than we have at the beginning of the season,” Hill said. “Cincinnati is a good team. We’re going to prepare the best that we can just like we have every other game this season.”

Offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch said he and his teammates are highly motivated to finish the season strong.

“We’re competitors. No one wants to lose. We want to win,” he said. “We love BYU, we love the fans, we love each other. We work too hard all year to give up just because we’ve lost a couple of games. They were really close games. We play a lot of good teams, one of the hardest schedules that I’ve ever seen. I’m proud of my team. We have losses that we’re sad about but we’re not ashamed of how we play.”

Tight end Tanner Balderree said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“We still have a lot to do. We’re close, and we almost won the game even after making all the mistakes we did even on offense. We’re a good team, but we just haven’t quite put a full game together yet. We still have a lot of potential we can reach and we’re working every day to get there.”

Wide receiver Jonah Trinnaman said facing Cincinnati gives his team an opportunity to gain momentum in the final month of the season.

“It’s a game where we can get going and finish the season out right,” he said. “It would be nice to finish out the season 8-4. But we need to take it one game at a time."

“At this point, we’re not looking too far into the future. We’re preparing for Cincinnati and we want nothing but a win,” said wide receiver Mitchell Juergens. “I’m sure we’ll get there. Every single week is a win mindset. We feel like we can. But it takes not looking into the future. We’re focusing on Cincinnati and preparing the best we can for them.”

The Cougars say they are rejuvenated after a bye week. “We’re excited to head into this game,” Juergens said, “fresh and ready to go.”

It’s important, he added, for the offense to get off to a strong start Saturday.

“One of the keys to each game is starting fast. We recognize that we need to step it up,” Juergens said. “We have players who can do that. Getting on them early is a big thing for us. If we can do that, we’re hard to stop when we get rolling.”

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com