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How will BYU fit in the Big 12? Here’s what Baylor coach says 5 days before team hosts No. 19 Cougars

BYU and Baylor, both 5-1, started to size each other up Monday before Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. MDT non-conference tilt in south Texas

Baylor head coach Dave Aranda walks the sidelines during game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 18 2021.
Baylor head coach Dave Aranda walks the sidelines during game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 18 2021.
Orlin Wagner, Associated Press

Former BYU assistant coaches Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos aren’t the only Baylor coaches familiar with the Cougars as the two teams prepare to meet Saturday in a preview of what could be an annual matchup when BYU enters the Big 12 in 2023.

Head coach Dave Aranda has faced BYU four times as a defensive coordinator when he was at Hawaii, Utah State, Wisconsin and LSU. In his weekly press briefing Monday in Waco, Texas, Aranda said the nonconference clash at 1:30 p.m. MDT Saturday at McLane Stadium will be a tough, physical battle.

“I know BYU is going to be an angry team (after losing 26-17 to unranked Boise State last week),” Aranda said. “And they are going to be motivated and they are going to want the stage to show that they belong. … From what is in front of our windshield, here is a team that is looking to prove something and looking to bring some intensity that we have to exceed.”

Does BYU belong in the Big 12?

Aranda believes so.

“Well, yeah, the long view of it is I think they are going to be a great fit,” Aranda said. “I think the physicality of them (stands out). … There is a lot of respect for BYU, for their physicality, for their maturity, for their toughness. There is a lot of athleticism there, but they are very much the gym rat, that is the bully. … They have been able to pull out wins all different types of ways.”

BYU’s second-straight afternoon game, but first outside the state of Utah since the opener in Las Vegas against Arizona, will be televised by ESPN. It was announced Monday that BYU’s game at Washington State on Oct. 23 will also kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT and will be televised by Fox Sports 1.

But first things first. Baylor (5-1) presents one of the biggest challenges the No. 19 Cougars (5-1) will face this year, and vice versa.

“Knowing their coaches and the direction they are headed, and what Kalani (Sitake) has been able to grow there — I have a lot of respect for the program. It is going to be a good matchup,” Aranda said.

When the coach says he knows BYU’s coaches, he isn’t bluffing. He has known BYU safeties coach Ed Lamb since he was at Cal Lutheran and Lamb was at University of Redlands (1997-00). He got to know BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and linebackers coach Kevin Clune when they were all at USU.

“I have known Kalani for a long time, too,” he said, not mentioning that he was LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2017, Sitake’s second season in Provo, when Tanner Mangum-quarterbacked BYU couldn’t cross the 50-yard-line the entire game in a 27-0 shellacking.

As far as this year’s Cougars are concerned, Aranda said one of the keys to victory for the Bears will be keeping BYU QB Jaren Hall in check.

“I have a lot of respect for him, and for their attack. I think there is a great competitiveness there, and a great instinct there,” he said. “There are just more layers to their approach with him and what he can do.”

However, Aranda said BYU’s offense is triggered by running back Tyler Allgeier, “the driver of that attack, and the physicality” it represents.

“He has an 8-yard run, falls forward, gets off a linebacker that he just put in the ground,” Aranda said of the 220-pound Allgeier. “I think that drives the offense and I think everything kind of is energized by that. I think that is a focal point. We have faced running attacks before, but not to the level of this and so you can see it, believe it. Now it is up to us to stop it.”

On his “Coordinators’ Corner” program Monday, BYU OC Aaron Roderick — the man who replaced Grimes in Provo — said the Cougars have had to change all their signals and terminology this week because it is the same stuff that Grimes put in place in his three years as BYU’s OC. Of course, Bears’ offensive line coach Eric Mateos and offensive quality control coach Matt Mitchell were also at BYU the past few years as well before moving to Waco with Grimes.

“They have had a big impact on their team already and their program there, just like they did here,” Sitake said. “We are just familiar with each other. They know our personnel. They know our scheme. But this is college football. That happens. We are just going to have to prepare.”

A Baylor football spokesperson said the program’s coordinators and assistant coaches will not be made available for interviews this week.

Sitake said he wants to see Baylor win every game but one — which is what he said before BYU played and beat Utah 26-17 on Sept. 11.

“We are excited to see (Grimes, Mateos and Mitchell),” Sitake said. “They are guys we still care about and love. We want to see them have success, except for this week.”

Sitake is also looking forward to chatting with Bears nose tackle Siaki Ika, the former East High and LSU star who he tried to recruit to BYU twice, to no avail, despite having known Ika’s family since he was a youngster.

“He is disruptive, he is big, he is physical and he can run,” Sitake said of the 350-pounder who followed Aranda from LSU to Baylor. “He is a fun kid, man. He is a great young man to be around and I know he is a big part of the success they are having on defense. He is a big part of it because it is hard to block him.

“He is a disrupter at the line of scrimmage and has a great attitude, a great personality, and I think he is fitting in perfectly with the rest of the players at Baylor.”

Just like BYU hopes to fit in with the Big 12 — and Saturday’s game is a good opportunity to show it belongs.