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Will Big 12 membership mean fewer late-night BYU games? (+ predictions)

When BYU hosts Baylor Saturday, it will be a preview of what’s in store for the Cougars as a member of the Big 12 next year

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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches from the sideline during BYU’s season opener against USF in Tampa.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches from the sideline during season opener against USF on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Saturday night the Cougars will entertain Baylor at LaVell Edwards Stadium in a game that could end after midnight.

Robert W. Grover, for the Deseret News

Late-night kickoffs in Provo are a thing.

You’ve got a whole day to kill, pack up and get to the game, then get back home at 1 or 2 a.m.

And if you believe they’ll subside or decline when BYU joins the Big 12 Conference next season, don’t hold your breath.

As it stands now, BYU is the furthermost western border of the new Big 12. That means the Mountain time zone, which is almost considered the Pacific region, will be a valuable commodity for the Big 12 to negotiate its television deals early with ESPN and Fox.

Those networks, say folks familiar with programming priorities, are always looking for a late window slot to fill, similar to what you get in the “Pac-12 After Dark” programming.

BYU will certainly have earlier kickoffs when it travels to Texas, Kansas, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida, but having the Cougars as a later commodity in the evening is a nice tool.

So, for BYU fans who travel from Idaho, northern Utah, Salt Lake City or even southern Utah to attend football games, if you think these 8:15 kickoffs are going to go away, well, sorry.

Just more than 12 years ago, BYU became the first FBS program to sign an exclusive media rights partnership with ESPN to televise its home games. One can expect ESPN’s interest to continue to put BYU in certain time slots in accordance with Big 12 coverage.

New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark will be in Provo for the BYU-Baylor game. Earlier this week he talked about how the network partners are already taking an early approach to renegotiating the league’s media contract. 

“That process has started. I met with ESPN last week. I’ll be meeting with Fox in the next week. ... My gut tells me that both Fox and ESPN would like to (negotiate early) but I’ll know for sure ... in the next week.”

In an interview with Justin Williams of The Athletic, Yormark made it clear that if the Big 12 continued to expand — and he expects it will — the targeted region is West. That means the Big 12 is looking for not only travel partners for BYU, but possibly a pod out West to offer networks late-night programming.

“Obviously going out West is where I would like to go, entering that fourth time zone. A program that has national recognition” said Yormark.

The Cougars have nine games scheduled to be broadcast on national television. Those include last week’s game at South Florida and this Saturday’s matchup with Baylor on ESPN.

Kickoff times for home games with Wyoming and Arkansas have not been announced yet but are usually marketed just over a week ahead of time. Both could be designed for evening kickoffs.

BYU vs. Baylor

Predicting this game is a tough one. On one hand, you respect the Bears for defeating the Cougars in Waco a year ago. Yet, oddsmakers have the Cougars as the favorite on their home field Saturday.

Both teams have an offensive line that is ranked in the top 10 by several national position ranking services, including Lindy, Phil Steele and PFF College.com. Both teams are expected to try to establish the run and be physical. Both will move the ball and score. It may come down to who scores last and who has the depth to keep slugging away effectively in the fourth quarter.

BYU’s Jaren Hall is a far more poised and experienced quarterback than Baylor defended in Waco a year ago. His weapons are intact and they will be even more effective if Puka Nacua (ankle) and Gunner Romney (lacerated kidney) make it on the field.

Baylor QB Blake Shapen is best described as a very accurate passer — something BYU’s defense will have to contend with. Shapen came in and beat out Gary Bohanon, the QB that helped Baylor get past the Cougars a year ago. 

This game could very well end up a shootout if the defenses don’t rise up to the level required of this battle.

This week’s predictions

Alabama 42, Texas 21

Miami 31, Southern Miss 14

USTA 31, Army 28

USC 38, Stanford 9

Houston 31, Texas Tech 28

Air Force 28, Colorado 24

Wisconsin 31, Washington 17

Pitt 28, Tennessee 24

Notre Dame 37, Marshall 10

Utah 38, Southern Utah 7

Utah State 24, Weber State 10

Oregon State 28, Fresno State 21

BYU 28, Baylor 27

Last week: 10-2