If ESPN’s latest projections prove accurate, BYU football’s first season in the Big 12 Conference will be a trying one.

The outlet released its 2023 Big 12 preview Friday morning, part of a series written by staff writer Bill Connelly, and the Cougars were hardly mentioned.

The reason? Well, ESPN doesn’t expect BYU to fare particularly well in its first year as a Power Five program.

Projections have BYU finishing second-to-last in the conference in 2023, ahead of only Kansas.

The Cougars are expected to win between four and five games, with only two or three victories in conference play.

BYU is one of five Big 12 programs not projected to become bowl eligible this upcoming season, along with the aforementioned Jayhawks, West Virginia, fellow Big 12 newcomer Houston and Iowa State.

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The Cougars’ low standing in the projections isn’t all that surprising.

Connelly recently wrote that BYU is making the leap to the P5 ranks at the wrong time, though he was clear that the Cougars deserved to be added to a P5 conference.

“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.”

Only one of the four newcomers to the Big 12 — BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — is projected to have an especially successful first year in the league and that is the UCF Knights.

Per ESPN, UCF should win between seven and eight games, four or five in conference play, and could be a sleeper to threaten for the conference title, though odds are that SEC-bound Texas and Oklahoma will duke it out for the championship in their final year in the league.

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“From a projections standpoint, this seems like a three-team race: Texas, Oklahoma and ... someone else,” Connelly writes. “Could be TCU or Kansas State again. Might be Oklahoma State or Baylor. Maybe UCF. Maybe McGuire’s gunslingers in Lubbock. But if OU and Texas are the close-game kings in 2023, we might not have much of a race at all.”

Other Big 12 projections have had more optimistic views of the Cougars.

Athlon Sports has BYU finishing No. 11 in the 14-team conference, an improvement of two spots on ESPN’s projection, while USA Today has the Cougars finishing No. 5, BYU standing as the surprise team in the conference.

Based on previous leaps to the Power Five ranks though, by teams such as Utah (Pac-12), Pitt (ACC), TCU (Big-12), Rutgers (Big Ten), Louisville (ACC) and Syracuse (ACC), it may take time for BYU to adjust to its new P5 status. ESPN certainly believes so.