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How quickly could BYU be successful in the Big 12?

Here’s what examining the recent history of three other programs who’ve made the move to a Power Five conference since 2011 tells us

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BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake and players begin to celebrate a a win over Utah on Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17.

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake and the rest of the BYU sideline begin to celebrate as they defeat Utah in an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Utes.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

​​On Saturday, BYU football will get its first taste of playing in a Big 12 environment since accepting an invitation to join the Power Five conference in 2023.

The Cougars play at Baylor, and that game will have plenty of implications on how successful BYU’s 2021 season is viewed in the long run.

Two years down the road, though, this will be an atmosphere that the Cougars will be tested in constantly as members of the Big 12. 

How long will it take for BYU to be successful in its Big 12 tenure?

Let’s look at how long it took for three programs who made the jump to a Power Five conference in the past decade to find success in their new leagues — Utah from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 in 2011, and TCU and West Virginia from the MWC and Big East, respectively, to the Big 12 in 2012. 

Success, at least in terms of this article, will be defined as consistently being among the top teams of their Power Five league, being ranked in the top 25 on a regular basis and contending for a conference championship or major bowl — like the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl — every few seasons.

Utah and TCU are obvious points for comparison — they played alongside BYU in the 2000s in the MWC — while West Virginia provides a comparison of a program making a similar jump to the same league the Cougars are joining.


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Utah Utes defensive back Jaylon Johnson (1) breaks up a pass intended for Washington Huskies wide receiver Aaron Fuller (2) in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A look at the Utah Utes’ Pac-12 success rate

In the past 10 full seasons since joining the Pac-12 in 2011: 

  • Record: 76-46
  • Conference record: 45-41, six winning conference records
  • Conference titles: 0 (two appearances in the Pac-12 championship game in 2018 and 2019)
  • Bowl record: 5-2 
  • Double-digit win seasons: 2 (10-3, 2015; 11-3, 2019)
  • Losing seasons: 2 (5-7, 2012; 5-7, 2013)
  • Years ranked in final Associated Press poll: 4 (No. 21, 2014; No. 17, 2015; No. 23, 2016; No. 16, 2019)
  • Other highlights: The Utes have been ranked as high as the top five in the Associated Press in two different seasons, reaching No. 3 in the 2015 season and No. 5 in the 2019 season. Utah has also been ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings of the year in five seasons — No. 22 in 2014, No. 22 in 2015, No. 19 in 2016, No. 17 in 2018 and No. 11 in 2019. In 2019, the Utes made it as high as No. 5 in the CFP rankings before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, and in 2015, they were ranked as high as No. 10 before back-to-back losses.

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TCU players and fans celebrate a 37-33 win over Oklahoma after a NCAA college football game at Amon G. Carter Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Brandon Wade, Associated Press

A look at the TCU Horned Frogs’ Big 12 success rate

In the past nine full seasons since joining the Big 12 in 2012: 

  • Record: 69-44
  • Conference record: 44-37, four winning conference records
  • Conference titles: 1 (co-champion with Baylor in 2014; one appearance in Big championship game in 2017)
  • Bowl record: 4-2 (won 2014 Peach Bowl 42-3 over Ole Miss)
  • Double-digit win seasons: 3 (12-1, 2014; 11-2, 2015; 11-3, 2017)
  • Losing seasons: 3 (4-8, 2013; 6-7, 2016; 5-7, 2019)
  • Years ranked in final Associated Press poll: 3 (No. 3, 2014; No. 7, 2015; No. 9, 2017) 
  • Other highlights: TCU has been ranked in the AP poll at least once during the season in eight of their nine Big 12 seasons, climbing into the top five in the AP poll three different times — as high as No. 2 in 2015, to No. 3 in 2014 and as high as No. 4 in 2017. The Horned Frogs have been ranked in the final CFP rankings three times — No. 6 in 2014, No. 11 in 2015 and No. 15 in 2017. All three times, they made the top eight at some point and rose as high as No. 3 in 2014 with a 10-1 record.

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West Virginia players celebrate after stopping BYU at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A look at the West Virginia Mountaineers’ Big 12 success rate

In the past nine full seasons since joining the Big 12 in 2012: 

  • Record: 62-49
  • Conference record: 40-40, four winning conference records
  • Conference titles: 0
  • Bowl record: 2-5
  • Double-digit win seasons: 1 (10-3, 2016)
  • Losing seasons: 2 (4-8, 2013; 5-7, 2019)
  • Years ranked in final Associated Press poll: 2 (No. 18, 2016; No. 20, 2018)
  • Other highlights: The Mountaineers climbed as high as the top 10 in the AP poll in two seasons during their time in the Big 12, in 2016 and 2018. West Virginia was ranked in the final CFP rankings both of those years — the Mountaineers were No. 16 in the final 2016 CFP rankings, and again No. 16 in 2018, though they climbed as No. 9 that year after an 8-1 start to the season. West Virginia beat BYU 35-32 during that 2016 season.

How recruiting has benefitted from a move to a Power Five conference

For this section, we’re including BYU to show what its numbers have looked like during the independence era and the 10 years previous to that vs. the three other programs.

Avg. team recruiting rank, past 10 years (per 247 Sports)

  • Utah: 40.4, with 25 4-star signees
  • TCU: 32.7, one 5-star and 38 4-star signees
  • West Virginia: 39.6, with 20 4-star signees
  • BYU: 69.5, with eight 4-star signees

Avg. team recruiting rank, previous 10 years

  • Utah: 59.5, with nine 4-star signees
  • TCU: 48.7, with 10 4-star signees
  • West Virginia: 42.0, with two 5-star and 17 4-star signees
  • BYU: 52.0, with two 5-star and 11 4-star signees

It’s clear that both Utah and TCU benefited significantly in the area of recruiting when they jumped from the Mountain West to the Big 12. West Virginia, meanwhile, saw a small bump in its average recruiting ranking.

BYU, meanwhile, has seen its recruiting ranking go down during the independence era. Considering the Cougars were relatively close to the Utes and Horned Frogs from a competitive standpoint when they departed the MWC, it’s not a leap to think that BYU will likewise enjoy a significant boost in recruiting by going to the Big 12.

That case is being made already, as the Cougars have received commitments for their 2022 class recently from some of the state of Utah’s top talents: Corner Canyon High wide receiver Cody Hagen, and four-star Weber High defensive lineman Aisea Moa, who had previously been committed to Utah. With BYU’s 2022 recruiting class currently ranked No. 55 nationally by 247 Sports, the Cougars are trending to have their best recruiting class since 2016, when BYU had the 49th-best class in the country.


Other factors to consider

There are factors unique to BYU — like the school’s honor code and religious affiliation — that don’t make this a straight apples-to-apples comparison between the Cougars’ program and Utah, TCU and West Virginia. Those factors especially could impact recruiting, though it’s fair to say that BYU should expect a sizable bump in its recruiting efforts with a jump to the Big 12, even if it’s not as significant as the other three schools. And especially when considering recruiting, depth is of utmost concern for the Cougar program. Can BYU build enough depth to compete in the Big 12 when injuries start to pile up?

One other thing to consider here is coaching consistency. Both Utah (Kyle Whittingham) and TCU (Gary Patterson) have had the same head coach since well before they were invited to a Power Five league, and that consistency has paid dividends in on-field results. The Mountaineers’ most successful run in the Big 12 so far was under Dana Holgorsen, who was their coach when they joined the Big 12 and stayed there until leaving to become Houston’s coach following the 2018 season.

BYU does have stability in coaching: Kalani Sitake has been the team’s head coach since 2016, and after a 4-9 2017 season, the program has been on an upswing, capped by a 11-1 record last season and a 5-1 mark to start this year. If Sitake stays at BYU — he agreed to a contract extension before this season that keeps him at the school through 2025 — the Cougars could benefit from stability in the program as they move to the P5 level.

The Big 12, too, will see change of its own, with Texas and Oklahoma exiting for the SEC in the 2025 season, and perhaps earlier. That means two of the league’s most competitive programs will leave the conference — the Sooners have won the past six Big 12 championships — and that could open a new level of competitiveness in the conference when BYU joins.


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BYU and Arizona State compete during an NCAA college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

How long could it take for BYU to find success in the Big 12?

TCU, Utah and West Virginia all were heading to their Power Five conferences coming off arguably the most successful eras to date in their program’s history, while BYU has seen more of an up-and-down era the past decade — while acknowledging the Cougars are on an upward trajectory. 

In the decade prior to joining the Pac-12, Utah won two BCS bowls — the Utes were the original BCS buster — and finished the 2008 season ranked No. 2 in the country. TCU had eight double-digit win seasons in the decade prior to joining the Big 12, made two BCS bowls and finished three seasons ranked in the top 10, including No. 2 in 2010. West Virginia won three BCS bowls in that same span and finished the year ranked in the AP top 25 six of the seven seasons before joining the Big 12.

In that respect, BYU may be facing more of an uphill climb than the other programs did when they joined their Power Five leagues.

Looking at the past decade does provide some optimism for BYU to become competitive a few years into joining the Big 12, though like it’s been for the other three, there’s another level to reach before becoming a conference title contender on a consistent basis.

While Utah, TCU and West Virginia all had a losing season in their second year of joining their P5 conference, it was trumped by successful runs in the next few years. 

  • The Horned Frogs went 12-1 in their third season in the Big 12 and finished the year ranked No. 3, were Big 12 co-champions and won the Peach Bowl, then followed that with an 11-2 season where they finished the year No. 7. 
  • Utah made the AP rankings by its fourth year in the Pac-12, then in its fifth season, the Utes tied with USC for the Pac-12 South title. Utah has been the most successful of the three over the past five seasons — TCU has evened out the past few years — and was consistently in the CFP rankings from 2015-19, during a time when Utah won two Pac-12 South championships before losing in the Pac-12 title game.
  • West Virginia has had the least amount of success among the trio, though it has twice finished in the AP top 20 since joining the Big 12 and tied for second in the league standings in 2016. 

What’s this all mean? BYU should aspire to attain the success level of its in-state rival Utah the most. The Utes have enjoyed the greatest sustained success at the P5 level over the past decade, though none of the three other schools has become a consistent contender for a NY6 or CFP spot yet, let alone a consistent league winner.

That, at least, gives the Cougars a bit of a blueprint of what its first decade in a Power Five league could look like.