FLORENCE, Ala — In the 72-year history of the University of North Alabama football program, which includes 17 conference championships, 21 NCAA playoff appearances and three national championships, no Lion football team has faced the challenge that the 2020 UNA squad will line up against this Saturday in Provo, Utah. For the first time in school history, UNA will face a nationally ranked FBS program in 8th ranked and unbeaten (8-0) BYU.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday (Central) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Not only is BYU undefeated, the Cougars are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 45-13. In addition, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is among the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy and is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, having already thrown for 2,512 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. He has also rushed 158 yards and another eight TDs.
BYU senior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga sophomore center James Empey were both on the preseason watch lists for the Outland Trophy , awarded to the best interior lineman in college football.
In addition, BYU had an open date last week prior to facing the Lions.
"This will be the best football team that any UNA team has faced in the history of the program, hands down," said UNA head football coach Chris Willis. "This will be a tremendous challenge for our guys in all phases of the game. They have some of the best skill players in the country. They have tremendous size and speed on the defensive front and their offensive line is powerful."
This will be the final game of UNA's shortened four-game 2020 fall schedule that has included three FBS programs. In the third year of a four-year transition to Division I and the Football Championship Subdivision, the Lions enter the game 0-3 but have been competitive in all three previous contests.
UNA opened the season with a 28-7 loss at Liberty, currently 8-0 and ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Lions trailed just 7-0 at the half after missing two field goal attempts and throwing an interception in the end zone.
UNA then held leads into the fourth quarter in each of its last two outings against Jacksonville State and Southern Mississippi before falling 24-17 to the Gamecocks and 24-13 to the Golden Eagles.
North Alabama's defense has played well, not allowing a single point in the first quarter this season and the Lions have only been out-scored 21-20 in the first half of their games.
While this is UNA's first game against a ranked FBS opponent, the Lions faced four nationally ranked FCS opponents in 2019, all on the road. UNA was 0-4 in those contests and the Lions are 0-7 all-time against ranked FCS opponents, playing all seven games on the road.
Since 1992, North Alabama has played 110 games against nationally ranked teams, primarily in Division II, and the Lions are 61-48-1 in those meetings over the last 27 seasons.
UNA has played 58 of those games against Top 10 teams and the Lions are 31-27 in those games.
This will be North Alabama's second football game played in the state of Utah. UNA's debut as an FCS football program was played in Utah as the Lions went on the road and defeated defending Big Sky Conference Champions Southern Utah 34-30 in Cedar City, Utah on Sept. 1, 2018.
UNA scored first and then there were six lead changes before the Lions scored the winning touchdown with 12 seconds
left on a one-yard pass from Christian Lopez to Dexter Boykin. Boykin had eight catches in the game for 135 yards and
This will be UNA's first game on a grass field since defeating Jackson State 24-7 in 2018.