BYU football is not far removed from back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021 that saw the Cougars finish with double-digit wins and ranked among the nation’s top 20 programs.

BYU is also coming off an 8-5 season where the Cougars failed to live up to some lofty expectations.

Next up for the program is a move to the Big 12 Conference, as BYU jumps to the Power Five level.

Could that jump be coming at a less-than-ideal time, though?

One national college football expert suggested it might be for both BYU and Cincinnati, who along with UCF and Houston officially join the Big 12 on July 1.

In a Big 12 preview, ESPN’s Bill Connelly asked whether BYU and Cincinnati are “mistiming” their jumps to a Power Five league.

For both the Cougars and Bearcats, that question revolves around coming off mundane seasons after hitting “historically high levels” not that long ago.

“BYU and Cincinnati earned their jumps. Cincinnati should have never fallen to the G5 level in the first place, and as an independent over the last decade, BYU was a lot closer to Notre Dame than, say, UMass,” Connelly wrote. 

“Still, BYU peaked in 2020, going 11-1 and finishing seventh in SP+, and has dropped to 40th and 71st over the past two seasons. Cincinnati reached the CFP and ranked fifth in SP+ in 2021, but fell to 30th last year and lost its head coach to the Big Ten. These programs boast plenty of upside, but they might not make a great show of things for a little while.”

Of the four new programs entering the Big 12, UCF is universally seen as the one most likely to make a more competitive impact in its first season in the conference. Connelly even discusses what the Knights could do to become a sleeper candidate and make a Big 12 title run.

One challenge that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to the new-look Big 12 and Big Ten
Will Big 12 add more teams this summer?

Meanwhile, BYU and Cincinnati are dealing with substantial changes that are expected to keep them from making a big impact in their inaugural Big 12 season.

For the Bearcats, the biggest challenge will be playing under new coach Scott Satterfield, who’s in his first season as the school’s head coach after Luke Fickell took off to Wisconsin two years after leading Cincinnati to a 13-1 season that saw the Bearcats become the first Group of Five school to break into the College Football Playoff.

For BYU, there are a pair of rather significant personnel challenges that could prevent the Cougars from being more competitive in 2023, and as such, the team is projected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 standings this season.

On offense, the Cougars must replace quarterback Jaren Hall, who’s off to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, and other talents like wide receiver Puka Nacua and offensive tackle Blake Freeland.

After a down season defensively, BYU also has a new defensive coordinator. Former Weber State head coach Jay Hill, a onetime Utah assistant, is in Provo taking over that side of the ball.

“BYU’s fate will also depend on newcomers, even though head coach Kalani Sitake returns for an eighth season. He’ll have a new starting quarterback (likely USC and Pitt transfer Kedon Slovis), new blood at running back and receiver, transfers on the O-line and, most importantly, a new defensive coordinator,” Connelly wrote. 

“Jay Hill comes to Provo after a long, solid run as Weber State’s head coach, and he’s got work to do: In the past two seasons, BYU has fallen from 19th to 56th to 95th in defensive SP+. After a solid start last year, the Cougars allowed 6.1 yards per play and 31.1 points per game over their final 11 contests.”

Connelly questioned how long it could take for Hill to bring BYU’s defense up to speed to compete consistently in the Big 12.

“There are plenty of defensive transfers for Hill to play with (including a couple from Weber State), but almost none of them have a proven FBS track record beyond former Utah State linebacker AJ Vongphachanh,” he wrote. “The Cougars have good size up front, but it feels like a defensive turnaround could take a while. And a schedule with six projected top-40 opponents suggests that their No. 60 projected ranking could be an impediment to bowl eligibility.”

With Big 12 momentum growing, BYU fortunate to ride wave into 2023 football season

Connelly did leave some room for optimism, though, for both BYU and Cincinnati.

Early in the BYU-Cincinnati segment, he referenced how Utah and TCU struggled early when they jumped from the Mountain West Conference to the Power Five level more than a decade ago.

“After going 13-0 in 2008, Utah slid a bit, eventually landing in the Pac-12 in 2011 with its worst team in five years. The Utes went just 18-19 over their first three power-conference seasons before finding traction. TCU basically did the same thing, going 25-1 with two SP+ top-10 finishes in 2009 and 2010 but sliding a hair in 2011 and going 11-14 with an average SP+ ranking of 31.5 in its first two Big 12 seasons.”

The flip side, though, is that Utah and TCU, both former conference rivals of BYU, have experienced plenty of success in recent seasons, establishing themselves as contenders at the Power Five level.

View Comments

Utah has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships and played in the Rose Bowl the past two seasons. The Utes are expected to be a contender for the conference crown again in 2023.

Utah has won 10 or more games in three of the past four seasons and been ranked in the top 20 at the end of the year three times during that stretch.

TCU, meanwhile, is coming off a season where it played for the national championship. The Horned Frogs, under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, won 13 games and beat Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinals one year after going 5-7.

Since moving to the Big 12 in 2012, TCU has finished the year ranked in the top 10 four times.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.