Editor’s note: Twelfth in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: men’s track and field.

The 2023 season was a banner year for the BYU men’s track and field program. Individually, the Cougars earned 20 All-America honors, 14 of which were of the first team variety. Kenneth Rooks became a national sensation in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, winning the NCAA title and then the U.S. national title in dramatic fashion.

As a team, the program won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor championship and finished No. 12 in the country. Three months later BYU did even better at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, placing No. 10.

All those accolades culminated in being named the 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Program of the Year by the USTFCAA for the best combined point performances at cross-country, indoor and outdoor NCAA championships.

As impressive as those accomplishments were, however, the past is the past and a new challenge awaits: competing as a member of the Big 12.

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Track and field is obviously a different animal than other sports — you may see a conference opponent here and there at regular-season meets, but it all comes down to the conference championships.

The Cougars’ outdoor squad has competed as BYU’s other independent with no conference meet at the end of the regular season. At the MPSF indoors, the Cougars finish their run in the conference having won the last four conference titles. In all, BYU has won 31 indoor conference titles (including all but one from 1990-2011) and 30 outdoor as members of the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences.

On the national scene, BYU won the NCAA outdoor championship in 1970 and finished runner-up in 1966. At indoors, the Cougars’ best finish was third in 2011. BYU has placed in the top 20 nationally in both indoors and outdoors three of the last four years under current head coach Ed Eyestone.

Forty-three Cougars have won individual national titles in almost every event out there. Ralph Mann (440-meter hurdles in 1969, ’70, ’71) and Tito Steiner (decathlon in 1977, ’79, ’81) are each three-time champions. Other champions include Frankie Fredericks and Leonard Myles-Mills in the 100 meters, Eyestone in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Robison Pratt in the pole vault, Pertti Pousi in the long jump and triple jump, and five different winners in the discus, including current assistant coach Niklas Arrhenius in 2007.

Most recent of course was Rooks, who broke a 46-year-old school record and set the world’s fastest time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase before winning the event at the NCAA championships. He then gave an inspiring performance at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, falling down early before coming from behind to win and book a trip to the World Championships in Budapest on Aug. 22. He was also an indoor first-team All-American as a member of the Cougars’ distance medley relay team.

Rooks will return to the Cougars for his senior season and will be joined by fellow phenom Casey Clinger. Last season, the American Fork native seized three first-team and one second-team All-American finishes, including runner-up in the 5,000 meters at indoor nationals. He is now one of five Cougars to hold seven career indoor/outdoor All-American honors, tied for third-most in school history.

Other returning All-Americans include senior and Spanish Fork native Cameron Bates, who holds the school outdoor javelin record and finished eighth at nationals; and junior Ben Barton, who won the heptathlon at MPSF indoors before taking eighth at NCAA outdoors in the decathlon.

Big 12 men’s track and field

The Big 12 hosts both an indoor and outdoor championship. Twelve members have track and field squads; UCF and West Virginia do not.

In 2023, the indoor Big 12 title went to Texas Tech, with Oklahoma State second and Texas third. At the outdoor championships, Texas Tech again finished first with Texas second and Kansas third. At last year’s American Athletic Conference meets, Cincinnati won the indoor title, ending Houston’s run of seven-straight titles. In outdoor, Houston finished two points behind Wichita State for second and Cincinnati came in third.

Big 12 teams have seen plenty of success on the national scene. Texas won the indoor title and was runner-up at outdoors just two seasons ago. Houston was national indoor runner-up in 2019, while Texas Tech won the 2019 outdoor national championship. Kansas has won six national titles, the most recent in 1970 when the Jayhawks tied BYU.

Last year at indoors, Texas Tech placed fifth, Oklahoma State and Texas tied for sixth, BYU was 12th, Baylor was 17th, and Kansas was 18th. In outdoors, Texas Tech was sixth, BYU 10th, Texas 13th, Houston 14th, Baylor 19th and Oklahoma 22nd.

How will BYU fare?

BYU returns the bulk of their All-Americans and will add a few more in 2024. If everyone stays healthy, there seems little doubt that the Cougars can finish in the nation’s top 10 in outdoors and probably in indoors, too, setting themselves up once again to be contenders for the top overall program in the country.

Texas Tech will continue to bank on its expertise in the sprints, hurdles and relays. The other Texas-based schools also return multiple All-Americans and will be the prime competition for the Cougars. In all, BYU will look to find a spot on the podium both seasons behind the distance and field events, establishing its own niche in the Big 12 and showing they will be competing for titles right from the gun.

BYU’s Casey Clinger (left front) works out with his cross-country teammates at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News