KSU prepares for big challenge from Cincinnati

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Sep. 9—KENNESAW — After losing its season opener, the road will not get easier as Kennesaw State travels to face Cincinnati, a 2021 College Football Playoff team, on Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

It will be the fourth attempt the Owls (0-1) have made to get a victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision program. They lost close games at Georgia State in 2018 and at Kent State in overtime in 2019, then lost 45-17 to Georgia Tech last year in the program's first game against a Power Five program.

Though Cincinnati (0-1) is not a Power Five program, it will leave the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12 next July, and the Bearcats did something last year no other Group of Five team had ever done by qualifying for the CFP.

"It's a great opportunity to play a College Football Playoff team in a great environment," coach Brian Bohannon said of Saturday's game, set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Cincinnati will be playing its home opener after losing 31-24 at Arkansas last week. While the Bearcats did not win, they did roll up 436 total yards of offense, including 325 yards and two touchdowns through the air from new starting quarterback Ben Bryant.

That could present a challenge for the Kennesaw State secondary, which allowed Samford quarterback Michael Hiers to throw for 289 yards and four touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 27-17 upset victory last week.

Though it will be the first meeting between the Owls and Bearcats, it will not be the first meeting between Bohannon and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell. The two shared the field when they were players in the 1993 Citrus Bowl, when Georgia faced off with Ohio State.

Bohannon was a wide receiver for the Bulldogs, while Fickell was an offensive lineman for the Buckeyes. Georgia won the game 21-14 as Bohannon caught two passes for 29 yards from Eric Zeier, while Fickell stood on the sideline as he completed his redshirt season.

"That's a long time ago," Bohannon said. "I know we won the game. I don't remember much more than that.

"Coach Fickell is a really good football coach. Everywhere he's been, he's been successful."

Money-making game

Kennesaw State and Cincinnati finalized Saturday's game a couple years ago, before the Bearcats became a playoff contender. The Owls will receive $400,000 for playing the game.

Bohannon has said in the past that he would like to face one FBS program per season, but Cincinnati currently is the last one Kennesaw State will meet until it travels to Georgia Southern in 2025. The Owls also have Kent State on the schedule in 2026.

Injury update

The Owls were forced to start two freshmen at tackle on the offensive line last week, and it looks like the line will remain in flux against the Bearcats. Freshman Nathan Wright is set to make his second start at left tackle, while freshman Seth Adams, who started last week, will miss the game with a lower-body injury.

Center Matt Olson has been practicing and could return to action this week, but his backup, Mike Fangman has been ruled out with a lower-body injury of his own. Junior James Dawson will start if Olson — listed as questionable with fellow lineman Terrell Paxton — is unable to go.

Other injuries of note include running back Gabriel Benyard, defensive back Jeremiah Compton and defensive lineman Joel Parker, who are out with lower-body injuries.

Cincinnati streaking

The Bearcats have won 27 straight games at Nippert Stadium, which is the second-longest home win streak in the country behind Clemson (34).

Cincinnati has gone four straight seasons without a home loss, and it has won 20 consecutive home openers.

On the air

The game can be seen on ESPN+ and be heard on the KSU Owls app.