(STATS) - Jason Houghtaling's first season as Wagner coach has been quite a struggle. Unfortunately, that elusive first win isn't likely coming anytime soon with FBS powerhouse BYU up next on the schedule.
Through six games under Houghtaling, the Seahawks have six losses and been outscored 200-79. Their closest result was a 9-6 loss to Robert Morris on Oct. 3, but any good feelings generated by that near win were quickly erased by a 26-3 defeat the following week to a Columbia team that had lost 24 straight.
Wagner then surrendered 27 second-half points and allowed Saint Francis to rack up more than 600 total yards in Saturday's 43-14 loss.
It's abundantly clear that this is not a good time to be facing an FBS team that was ranked 19th in the AP Top 25 last month and already has wins over Nebraska, Boise State and Cincinnati, as well as a one-point loss to then-No. 10 UCLA.
The Seahawks have a myriad of issues to overcome and playing an opponent of BYU's caliber makes that near impossible. Wagner ranks last in the seven-team Northeast Conference in scoring offense (13.1) and defense (33.3).
"It's the best football team we've ever played against, without question," Houghtaling said. "The Syracuse team from 2013, not even close. As far as up front, both sides of the ball, (BYU) is the best."
A loss Saturday would match the worst start in school history, with the 1955 team losing all seven of its games. The 1954 squad also lost its first six games before finishing 2-7.
Wagner has dropped all four of its matchups with FBS opponents, including a 56-16 season-opening defeat to Rice. The Seahawks have allowed a combined 144 points in the last three such games.
While all signs point to another mismatch on the field, the overall experience should still be a positive one. Besides the substantial monetary guarantee, the Seahawks could also be playing in front of close to 60,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the largest crowd to ever see a game involving Wagner.
That would surpass the current record of 32,299 that saw the Seahawks lose 54-0 at Syracuse's Carrier Dome on Sept. 14, 2013.
"I've said it a number of times the past coupe of days, it's about the student-athlete experience," Houghtaling said. "We want to give them the best possible experience they can have. Taking a charter to Utah and playing in a stadium that big, being on a national stage."
This game seems to be almost an afterthought for BYU (5-2), which has averaged 37.6 points during a three-game winning streak following losses to Michigan and UCLA.
The Cougars have never lost to an FCS school, winning all seven meetings with an average margin of victory of over 41 points.
Containing quarterback Tanner Mangum is just one of several huge challenges for Wagner. Mangum has already set a BYU freshman record with three 300-yard passing games and thrown for seven touchdowns in the last three contests.
He has a multitude of targets to choose from with four receivers having eclipsed the 300-yard mark, including team leader Mitch Mathews, who has 33 catches for 393 and six TDs.
BYU's receiving corps is extremely tough to defend due to their size, as Mathews (6-foot-6), Nick Kurtz (6-5) and Terenn Houk (6-4) are all well over 6-foot.
Saturday could be a very long day for Wagner starting cornerbacks Tim Hayes and Tiquan Garner, both of whom are under 6-foot.
"You can't make mistakes against teams like this. If you make mistakes, they're magnified," Houghtaling said. "We have to take care of the football, execute in the pass game and win some one-on-one battles."
Even if the Seahawks do all that, leaving Provo with some money and some rare national exposure seems like the best they'll be able to do.
First-year BYU assistant basketball coach Quincy Lewis represents the only connection between the schools. He played for Wagner from 1991-93 and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2012.