There are two reasons why BYU football fans should be happy, if not thrilled, with the Cougars’ first Big 12 schedule.
“With the challenge of weaving in four new teams into an unprecedented 14-team Big 12 schedule, we’re thankful for how deliberate the conference has been in the development and release of this schedule. We can’t wait for the season to get going and for Cougar Nation to experience Big 12 football here in Provo and throughout the country.” — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe
Texas and Oklahoma.
That’s it. That’s the tweet, as they say.
That the Cougars get the Sooners at home on Nov. 18, when OU very well could be playing for a conference title and perhaps more — CFP, anyone? — on BYU’s senior day is just icing on the cake.
BYU will play at Texas on Oct. 28, so the Cougars will get a shot at the league’s two biggest brands, both college football blue bloods. What’s not to like about that? And another thing: Texas and Oklahoma will probably be playing their final seasons in the Big 12 before jumping to the SEC.
Consider this: Of the four newcomers to the Big 12 — Cincinnati, UCF and Houston are also joining in 2023, coming over from the AAC — only BYU gets to face both Texas and Oklahoma this season. That seems like a pretty big deal for the Cougars.
That fact in and of itself should take away any qualms BYU or its fans have with the first 14-team schedule in conference history, which was released at noon MST on Tuesday.
The pros far outweigh the cons, from my perspective. The entire 2023 slate — which begins with nonconference games against Sam Houston, Southern Utah and Arkansas before the Big 12 opener at Kansas — is not perfect, but it is the best the Cougars could have hoped for, all things considered.
“We are very excited to get started with a new era of BYU football,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a school news release. “The 2023 football schedule provides us with some great matchups. We are excited to welcome teams we’ve never had at LaVell Edwards Stadium before and also travel to new venues we’ve never visited.”
Here is a sobering thought: BYU, which went 8-5 last year and faces a rebuild to some extent with more than 37 players exiting the program for one reason or another, might not be favored to win a game after it hosts SUU on Sept. 9 at LES. The maybes, the most winnable games from mid-September on, are probably going to be vs. Texas Tech at home on Oct. 21 or Iowa State at home on Nov. 11.
Welcome to the big time, BYU.
“With the challenge of weaving in four new teams into an unprecedented 14-team Big 12 schedule, we’re thankful for how deliberate the conference has been in the development and release of this schedule. We can’t wait for the season to get going and for Cougar Nation to experience Big 12 football here in Provo and throughout the country,” Holmoe said.
Some other reasons schedule works out well for BYU:
• BYU gets to continue its tradition of playing the Friday before General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, thereby avoiding games on Saturday of General Conference Weekend. The Cougars will host Cincinnati on Sept. 29. Kickoff times and television broadcast plans will be announced later.
• After playing 10 straight games before getting a bye week last season, the Cougars will get their bye week in Week 6, which is much more reasonable. They will have eight extra days to prepare for College Football Playoff runner-up TCU on Oct. 14 at Amon G. Carter Stadium, which has been renovated since the Cougars played there when they and the Frogs were members of the Mountain West. No teams will be coming off byes before they face BYU.
• BYU gets to experience a trip to West Virginia on Nov. 4, albeit the week after traveling to Texas. The clash of cultures many have eagerly awaited since it was announced in September 2021 that BYU was joining the far-flung Big 12 is happening in Morgantown, a place the Cougars have never been. Of course, BYU’s expected starting quarterback, Pitt transfer Kedon Slovis, has faced the Mountaineers: He threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in Pitt’s 38-31 win on Sept. 1, 2022.
• Let’s face it: BYU is not going to contend for a Big 12 title in 2023. The Cougars aren’t there yet, as the 2022 season showed. How about 2024? That’s more realistic, especially if Texas and Oklahoma are playing in the SEC that year.
That’s why I’m calling the four home games, five road games setup this year a positive. It will be reversed in 2024, giving the Cougars a total of seven home games, which is more conducive to a special season.
A few not-so-great aspects of BYU’s Big 12 schedule:
• Playing your first-ever Big 12 game at Kansas isn’t optimal, especially on the heels of traveling to Arkansas a year after the Razorbacks humbled the Cougars in Provo. Imagine the ballyhoo if BYU were to start Big 12 play in Provo? The hype would be off the charts.
Then again, don’t sleep on the Jayhawks, who started the 2022 season 5-0 and are on the rise under coach Lance Leipold. Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas, is pretty bland, but the surrounding campus is outstanding — and includes the great Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
• There are some in Provo and Waco who would like to see BYU and Baylor become rivals, but the Bears and Cougars aren’t scheduled to square off in 2023. That’s too bad, considering the recent history between the faith-based schools, and the fact that Baylor will have two former Cougars on its roster in 2023 — offensive linemen Clark and Campbell Barrington — and three former BYU coaches: Jeff Grimes, Eric Mateos and AJ Steward.
BYU’s first Big 12 schedule also does not include Houston, UCF and Kansas State — the latter being the most rueful because BYU has faced Baylor, UCF and Houston in recent years, and hasn’t met K-State since the 1997 Cotton Bowl Classic, a 19-15 Cougars win.
• Not many folks foresaw BYU facing Oklahoma State during Rivalry Week the weekend after Thanksgiving, but that’s what’s happening. A trip to Orlando was hoped for here. Alas, it will be BYU’s first trip to Stillwater, but not the first BYU-OSU matchup. The Cowboys defeated the Cougars in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl and the 1976 Tangerine Bowl — which was played in Orlando that year.