ARLINGTON, Texas — When longtime rival Texas always wants a piece of you and the eight remaining teams in the Big 12 conference would like to take you down a notch or two after years of beatings, you don’t have to go looking for big games and marquee matchups when you are the University of Oklahoma.

“It is going to be a wonderful atmosphere. Late November, it will probably be about 80 degrees in Provo. No, it is going to be a wonderful atmosphere. Again, incredible fan base. There’s not going to be an empty seat in the house.” — Oklahoma coach Brett Venables on playing at BYU

Aside from being their final Big 12 road game ever, the Nov. 18 showdown at BYU really doesn’t carry much extra significance for the Sooners. Maybe they will be playing for a berth in the Big 12 championship game two weeks later in the same stadium in which the Big 12 football media days was just held.

BYU almost certainly will not.

But for one Sooner in particular — quarterback Dillon Gabriel — the game in Provo has the potential to be special.

For starters, Gabriel and BYU starting quarterback Kedon Slovis are good friends, having first become acquainted while participating at the Manning Passing Academy a few years ago.

“He’s just a really down-to-earth guy,” Gabriel told the Deseret News Thursday as the Big 12 football media days were winding down. “I have been watching his journey from USC to Pitt and now BYU, and I am really impressed by him.

“He’s a guy I text back and forth with and check in with from time to time. He’s a great dude, and I’m fortunate to call him a friend.”

Second, Gabriel is probably as familiar with the BYU program, and Provo, as any returning player in the Big 12. 

“My dad (Garrett Gabriel) played quarterback at the University of Hawaii (and beat BYU twice, including the day Ty Detmer won the Heisman Trophy) and has that connection, and then obviously I know a lot about the program because of the Polynesian players that have been there, and are there.”

Third, Gabriel was UCF’s starting QB in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl when the Zach Wilson-led Cougars routed the also Big 12-bound Knights 49-23 in Gabriel’s second season in Orlando.

“It is crazy that we’re playing them again,” Gabriel said. “Playing them in Provo is going to be a super cool place to play them. … I am excited. It will be super cool, and the new teams in the Big 12 are going to add another dimension to the atmospheres in the league, which are already fun atmospheres.”

Slovis said Wednesday when BYU’s players and coach Kalani Sitake addressed the media in Arlington that the OU game is one he’s looking forward to, because of the connection he has to Gabriel, but also because Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma.

“OU is historically a blue-blood school, and has had a lot of success recently, too. Growing up, they were always in the Rose Bowl, always in the playoff,” Slovis said. “I know Dillon Gabriel pretty well, so getting to play against him will be fun. We were talking about the game a little bit earlier. I am looking forward to every opportunity like that.”

OU coach not on board

While Gabriel is looking forward to catching up with friends — Sitake is also a buddy, with his Hawaii ties — in Provo, his coach is not.

“It is going to be a wonderful atmosphere. Late November, it will probably be about 80 degrees in Provo,” quipped OU coach Brett Venables, tongue firmly in cheek. “No, it is going to be a wonderful atmosphere. Again, incredible fan base. There’s not going to be an empty seat in the house.”

Venables was an assistant coach on the 1996 Kansas State team that BYU (and QB Steve Sarkisian, now Texas’ coach) beat in the Cotton Bowl. He was an assistant on the 2009 OU team that BYU downed 14-13 at then-newly opened Cowboys Stadium.

“It is going to be a mature football team, like many of the BYU teams are,” Venables said. “Coach (Sitake) and his staff have done an amazing job to establish a culture of toughness. You are going to have to go earn the victory. They are not going to give you anything. So hopefully we are playing our best football at that time of the year.”

Baylor QB has been there, done that

Baylor, the 2021 Big 12 champion, is not on BYU’s schedule in 2023 (along with Kansas State, UCF and Houston), much to the Cougars’ chagrin because BYU kinda, sorta is hoping to build a friendly rivalry with the Bears.

Baylor QB Blake Shapen was part of the Bears’ 26-20 loss to BYU in double overtime last September at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and he told other Big 12 teams what to expect when they visit the 63,470-seat stadium that sits 4,649 feet above sea level.

“That was probably one of the best spots I have played in so far. That crowd, the energy they brought, was pretty special,” Shapen said. “So what other teams can expect when they walk in there is a packed-out stadium and fans that get loud. It is a great place to play.”

No snark from Sark, when it comes to BYU

Sarkisian, entering his third season in Austin, knows all about playing in Provo — which is why he’s glad he doesn’t have to take the Longhorns into LES in their final year in the league. Texas hosts BYU on Oct. 28 in the first meeting since Taysom Hill ran for three touchdowns — including the “leap of faith” — in a 41-7 Cougars romp in Austin in 2014.

Texas head football coach Steve Sarkisian gives a hook’em horns gesture after speaking at Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. The former BYU star quarterback spoke respectfully of the Cougars at the annual gather in Texas. | LM Otero, Associated Press

As was the case last year, Sark was asked early and often at media days about the school for which he played in 1995 and 1996. Known by Texas media as being a serious, no-nonsense guy, he never grew weary of the inquiries about BYU.

“You know, people have asked me before about BYU now being in the Big 12 and how that will be,” Sarkisian said. “To me, BYU has been a national brand for decades, going back to coach (LaVell) Edwards and what he was able to do and some of the great teams and great programs (he had). And now to be in a Power Five situation in the Big 12, I am happy for them.

“I am happy for their alumni and those players. I think it is a great opportunity. Then we get a chance to play them. I am glad we don’t have to go to Provo. We get them in Austin, so that will be fun,” Sarkisian concluded.

Cincy coach says Friday nights in Provo are no fun

New Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield said he has one scholarship player on his team right now who was with the Bearcats last fall. Cincinnati added 21 players from the transfer portal, about the same number as BYU.

Cincinnati head football coach Scott Satterfield answers questions from reporters during Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Satterfield spoke of the challenges of playing in Provo, especially on a Friday night. | Emil T. Lippe, Associated Press

That’s partially why Satterfield wasn’t happy when he saw the schedule-makers have Cincy playing at BYU on Friday, Sept. 29, which will be BYU’s first Big 12 home game.

“When I looked at our schedule, that’s the first thing that stood out — very challenging,” Satterfield said. “No. 1, I hate playing on short weeks. I don’t know anybody that really likes it.”

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BYU traditionally plays on Friday night in late September or early October, rather than Saturday, so the game does not conflict with General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“That’s a long trip for us and that’s going to be a night game, I think maybe 10:30 Eastern time (kickoff) on that Friday night,” Satterfield said. “We know that’s a hostile environment, going out to BYU. They’ve got a great football team and great fan support there. That’s going to be an extreme challenge.”

The Bearcats host Oklahoma on Sept. 23 in their Big 12 opener, while BYU will be at Kansas that day.

“After the Oklahoma game we’ll have a plan in place to get prepared as possible to go out there and be prepared to play BYU,” Satterfield said.

Take me (far away from) home, country roads

A week after they make the trip to Austin, the Cougars must fly across the country to play West Virginia on Nov. 4, which is already being billed as a clash of cultures.

West Virginia coach Neal Brown, who is on the hot seat, spent considerable time Thursday from the big stage at AT&T Stadium wailing about the media picking the Mountaineers to finish last in the Big 12 this season.

West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown answers questions from reporters at the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Brown, who many feel is on the hot seat in Morgantown, saw his team picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason media poll. | Emil T. Lippe, Associated Press

“Upset about the media poll. Definitely do not agree with that,” Brown said. The coach added that he was sitting on a beach last week when he got the news from WVU’s sports information director for football.

“From that point on, my vacation was over,” he said. “… Looking forward to proving everybody wrong on that front. We won’t finish there.”

Later, Brown acknowledged to the Deseret News that having BYU on the home schedule “is odd,” but not unprecedented. West Virginia downed BYU 35-32 in Landover, Maryland, in 2016.

“BYU is a program that I have appreciated from afar. I have probably studied BYU this summer more than I have in my entire career. I’ve always appreciated how they went about it, what they stood for. There is a really physical brand of football that they play, and the fanbase is extremely passionate. BYU is definitely an added value for our league.”

From watching BYU on TV to reality

When BYU hosts Iowa State on Nov. 11, it will be a bucket list item, of sorts, for eight-year coach Matt Campbell, who took over in Ames when Sitake took over in Provo. Asked about facing Big 12 newcomers BYU and Cincinnati, Campbell praised both schools and their football programs.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell answers questions from reporters during the Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Campbell began his run in Ames the same year Sitake started his head coaching career in Provo. | Emil T. Lippe, Associated Press

“Well, you know, you just talk about both of those institutions, and the history, the success, the excellence that those two brands really embody, and then two amazing places to go play football,” Campbell said.

“As a young kid, I always dreamed of playing against BYU and that Provo area is something that I grew up watching those games late night on ESPN, and really look forward to the opportunity to go compete there.”

Later, Campbell told the Deseret News that his father, Rick, was a high school football coach in Ohio and was a “huge” fan of legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards.

“BYU was on TV a lot, and I remember me and my father sitting and watching some of those great games BYU played in,” Campbell said. “I grew up with a father who had the utmost respect for that BYU program.”

BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian prepares to stiff arm a Wyoming defender during game in Provo. Now he’s the head coach at Texas and is looking forward to having the Cougars pay Austin a visit this season. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo