Editor’s note: Ninth in a series previewing each team in the Big 12.

Unless it comes in the Big 12 championship game — a really far-fetched notion — the first matchup between BYU and Baylor as conference mates won’t happen in 2023.

“Spring was good for us. From the very beginning of winter when the guys came back, the guys coming in, really from the first meeting, (we said) if you give us half your heart, we can show you half your power. If you give us all your heart, we can change your life.” — Baylor coach Dave Aranda

That’s just one of the quirky elements surrounding Baylor’s schedule this season as the Bears try to bounce back from last year’s disappointing 6-7 campaign after having been picked to win the Big 12 at last July’s media gathering in Arlington, Texas.

The Bears do host a team from Utah, however — the University of Utah. Coach Kyle Whittingham’s Utes, expected to be a Pac-12 title contender again, invade McLane Stadium on Sept. 9.

The Bears not only open the season with four straight home games for the first time since 2013 (when they won the Big 12 championship) — they face Texas State in the opener before their showdown with Utah — they have a school-record eight home games on the docket this season.

That favorable schedule is a nice antidote to what coach Dave Aranda called “a disappointing end to a disappointing season” after the Bears lost 30-15 to Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.

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Baylor had just 230 yards of offense against the Mountain West school, and struggled to stop the Falcons’ vaunted rushing attack.

But nobody is panicking in Waco. In fact, there is a bit of superstition at play, because in the last two odd years — 2019 and 2021 — the Bears made it to the Big 12 championship game and played in the Sugar Bowl.

In the last two even-number years — 2020 and 2022 — they struggled. The pandemic-altered 2020 team went 2-7, and last year’s collapse, which sort of started last year on Sept. 10 when the No. 9 Bears rolled into Lavell Edwards Stadium and were upset 26-20 in double overtime by No. 21 BYU, of course came during an even-numbered year.

It is a shame that BYU and Baylor don’t meet this year because the Bears raided the Cougars’ roster a bit, landing brothers Clark and Campbell Barrington from the transfer portal. Both offensive linemen expected to contend for starting spots. The Bears also have arguably Utah State’s best defender last year, edge rusher Byron Vaughns, who is from Fort Worth.

And three former BYU assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, offensive line coach Eric Mateos and running backs coach AJ Steward — are now plying their trades in Waco.

Suffice it to say, prognosticators are giving Baylor a much better chance of playing in the big game on Dec. 2 than they are BYU.

Reason why is the return of quarterback Blake Shapen and a supposedly improved defense that allowed 26.8 points per contest last year.

Shapen threw for 2,790 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, but also was intercepted 10 times. He’s being pushed by Mississippi State transfer Sawyer Robinson, but Aranda named Shapen the starter after Baylor’s spring practices.

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Along with the brothers Barrington, other offensive transfers expected to make impacts are running back Dominic Richardson, from Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, and receiver Ketron Jackson Jr., from Arkansas. 

Defensively, former East High star Siaki Ika, an all-Big 12 nose tackle in 2022, is now in the NFL. But the Bears believe they will be OK there with Gabe Hall moving inside. 

“Spring was good for us,” Aranda said after the camp ended in April. “From the very beginning of winter when the guys came back, the guys coming in, really from the first meeting, (we said) if you give us half your heart, we can show you half your power. If you give us all your heart, we can change your life.

“I thought today there were a lot of things and good stuff that we’ve seen. … There are some building blocks that are further up than others and some we’ve got some work to do. But with our approach we can do it.”

The schedule should work in the Bears’ favor, too.


Baylor 2023 season preview

2022 record: 6-7 (4-5 Big 12).

Local ties: 

  • Long snapper Garrison Grimes (American Fork High).
  • Offensive lineman Campbell Barrington (BYU transfer).
  • Offensive lineman Clark Barrington (BYU transfer).
  • Offensive lineman George Maile (Bingham High).
  • Defensive lineman Byron Vaughns (Utah State transfer).
  • Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes (former BYU OC).
  • Running backs coach AJ Steward (former BYU RBs coach).
  • Offensive line coach Eric Mateos (former BYU OL coach).

2023 schedule

Sept. 2 — Texas State.
Sept. 9 — Utah.
Sept. 16 — Long Island.
Sept. 23 — Texas.
Sept. 30 — at UCF.
Oct. 7 — Texas Tech.
Oct. 21 — at Cincinnati.
Oct. 28 — Iowa State.
Nov. 4 — Houston.
Nov. 11 — at Kansas State.
Nov. 18 — at TCU.
Nov. 24 — West Virginia.

Baylor coach Dave Aranda, right, slaps the hand of quarterback Blake Shapen during game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Norman, Okla. Aranda, Shapen and the Bears are hoping to rebound from disappointing 2022 campaign. | Nate Billings, Associated Press