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What Baylor had to do with BYU’s first Big 12 recruiting class

The Bears roughed up the Cougars pretty good in their 2021 meeting in Waco, providing glimpse of the kind of athletes BYU would need when it joins the Power Five league

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Baylor’s Dillon Doyle (5) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against BYU Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Waco, Texas.

Baylor’s Dillon Doyle celebrates after scoring a touchdown against BYU Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Waco, Texas.

Ron Jenkins, Associated Press

BYU’s 2022 football recruiting class is brought to you by the Baylor Bears.

While that may sound like a stretch, the influence of what the Bears did to BYU last October can be seen up and down the Cougars’ recruiting class.

“We knew they were good when we played them,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “They won the Big 12 title. That’s what we want. They set the standard and we have to chase it.”

Baylor did more in four quarters to teach BYU about big-time football than the rest of the Cougars’ 12 games combined, including the other six P5 teams on the schedule

In the Big 12, it’s all about the line of scrimmage.

Baylor ran the ball more times (47) for more yards (303 yards) and for more touchdowns (4) than any team BYU faced all season. It also threw for 231 yards and a touchdown while not allowing a sack. Baylor dominated the time-of-possession by over 11 minutes to rock the No. 19 Cougars, 38-24.

Translation — BYU got taken to school.

Solution — Get bigger, deeper, faster, stronger and older. And do it quickly.

The Cougars didn’t have a senior among its two-deep defensive roster and freshman linebacker Ben Bywater was the leading tackler in that gamed with nine.

In addition, when BYU had the ball, the Baylor front seven delivered a painful education to their senior-less offensive line.

Star running back Tyler Allgeier, in the middle of his run toward BYU’s single-season rushing record, was held to a season low 33 yards on 15 carries. The Bears sacked quarterback Jaren Hall five times and forced a game-changing fumble late in the second quarter.

“I’ve always considered BYU a place where you recruit at a Power Five level,” said offensive line coach Darrell Funk. “That being said, because (Baylor) is good and stout, it does make you think whoever we move forward with, they have to have the ability to compete at that level.”

The upside is the lesson was learned during a 10-3 season and a top-20 national ranking with almost everybody returning for 2022.

“So many guys got playing experience last year, but it will only be an advantage if we make it one,” Sitake said. “We have to be deliberate in our approach.”

Another positive is there are still recruiting opportunities and time before BYU joins the Big 12 in 2023.

“People are talking about us being new to the Big 12 and they are inquiring more about our school, and they see the presence we have with the strong fan base,” Sitake said. “The curiosity has allowed us to get into more homes and review more people. It gives us a bigger pool to recruit from.”

Lisala Tai is just one of the 25 new faces to commit to BYU’s football future in the Big 12 during the December and February signing periods. He is a 6-foot-7, 336-pound junior offensive lineman from Inglewood, California, who attended Snow College last fall.

“Almost every guy we have talked to for the offensive line has played on defense or at tight end. We are looking for that elite athleticism,” said Funk. “Lisala — that’s a big man, who is light on his feet. That is what we are going to need in that league to compete.”

Tai, and others just like him, are a result of Oct. 16 when Baylor beat up BYU. He is also part of the solution as the Cougars build their depth for the challenge that lies ahead.

This final season as an independent for BYU will bring closure to life on the free range and stability in a P5 conference. The Cougars can now compete in a recruiting duel with another P5 program who can no longer label them as an outcast from among the big timers.

“The school has done a great job as far as putting us out there with social media. The following is great. The kids know it’s a great place to go to school,” said cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford. “Now, it’s the fact that we can go to a (playoff) game if we win our conference. That’s really the only difference.”

BYU opens Big 12 competition in the fall of 2023, but they will get a measuring stick much sooner. Those same Bears that amassed 534 yards of offense and beat them handily in Waco are coming to Provo on Sept. 10.

Baylor will see some new faces and a lot of older ones on both sides of the ball for BYU. Sitake and his staff will also see if they are making progress in both recruitment and development as they prepare to contend with the Bears on a regular basis.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.