Even though BYU is leaving independence behind with its move to the Big 12 Conference, its first bowl destination in a Power Five league could harken back to the Cougars’ independence days in football.

Action Network’s Brett McMurphy reported that the Independence Bowl will become a Big 12 contracted bowl this season, giving the conference seven guaranteed bowl spots for the upcoming year when the Power Five conference adds BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF. 

When a Twitter user asked, McMurphy added that the Independence Bowl’s pecking order in the Big 12 bowl lineup is likely seventh out of seven.

The opponent will come from the Pac-12, McMurphy reported.

If BYU can exceed expectations — both ESPN’s Football Power Index and preseason SP+ rankings predict BYU finishing at or near the bottom of the Big 12 standings in 2023 (FPI at 13, SP+ at 14 out of 14 teams) — then the program could find itself back in the Independence Bowl.

The ESPN FPI model predicts 4.9 wins for the Cougars this season.

BYU will play its first conference game as a Big 12 member on Sept. 23 at Kansas before hosting Cincinnati the next week (Sept. 29) in its league opener.

The Cougars will also play at TCU, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State in their inaugural Big 12 schedule, while also hosting Texas Tech, Iowa State and Oklahoma. 

BYU’s history with the Independence Bowl

The Cougars played in the 2021 Independence Bowl, losing 31-28 to UAB

That capped a year where BYU finished 10-3 and ranked No. 19 in the final Associated Press poll, with six wins over Power Five programs.

The bowl loss, though, soured the end of the year and kept BYU from finishing the season in the top 15, and potentially the top 10.

BYU ended up playing in the Independence Bowl back in 2021, thanks to an agreement made with ESPN Events back in 2020 that also would have had the Cougars contractually obligated to play in that bowl game again in 2023 and 2025 if they failed to make a New Year’s Six or national semifinal bowl. 

That was before BYU ended up accepting a Big 12 invite in September 2021.

What are the Big 12’s bowl ties for the 2023 season?

With the addition of the Independence Bowl, the Big 12 now reportedly has seven bowl tie-ins for the 2023 season.

Here’s what College Football News reported in April is the expected pecking order for the Big 12 this bowl season, with the Independence Bowl now included at the bottom:

  • College Football Playoff national semifinal (if selected).
  • New Year’s Six bowl, vs. TBA. Typically, the Big 12 champion plays in the Sugar Bowl if it’s not selected for the national semifinals, but this year the Sugar Bowl will host one of the CFP national semifinal games.
  • Alamo Bowl, vs. Pac-12.
  • Cheez-It Bowl, vs. ACC.
  • Texas Bowl, vs. SEC.
  • Liberty Bowl, vs. SEC.
  • Guaranteed Rate Bowl, vs. Big Ten.
  • Independence Bowl, vs. Pac-12.

“There will likely be more eligible Big 12 teams than set spots, so expect them to take up a few ESPN owned and operated bowl games,” College Football News wrote.

That keeps in mind that the league will add BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati this season to push conference membership to 14 teams for the 2023 season — it will drop to 12 the following year when Texas and Oklahoma leave for the SEC. 

To that end, College Football News also reported that the Big 12 will also have potential tie-ins with the Armed Forces Bowl and First Responder Bowl that could send league teams to play against opponents from the American Athletic, Conference USA or Pac-12 (Armed Forces) or ACC, AAC or Pac-12 (First Responder).

How did the Big 12 fare in the 2022 bowl season?

Last year, when the Big 12 had 10 members, eight teams made a postseason bowl. They were led by TCU, which won a national semifinal game against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl and advanced to the national championship game, where it lost to Georgia.

The Big 12 as a whole, though, struggled in the postseason last year, finishing with a 2-7 bowl record — including TCU’s semifinal win and Texas Tech beating Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl.

All four of the programs joining the Big 12 this year played in last year’s postseason: BYU beat SMU in the New Mexico Bowl and Houston beat Louisiana in the Independence Bowl, while Cincinnati lost to Louisville in the Fenway Bowl and UCF fell to Duke in the Military Bowl.