BYU, and all of their fans, anxiously await the official start of the Big 12 era of Brigham Young University athletics, which begins July 1, less than two months from now.
The first football schedule of this new, exciting era was released earlier this year, after much anticipation. BYU, along with UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati, will play their first Big 12 conference slate beginning September 2023.
With no Utah in the Big 12 (yet), and neither Boise State nor Utah State, BYU needs an in-conference rival. It has always been an easy answer, until now. Who should it be?
There are a few options.
This one might seem strange, but the Big 12 Conference felt like the matchup between the Cougars and Cowboys merited the final week of the regular season, Thanksgiving weekend. Usually, those games are reserved for bitter rivals. Does the Big 12 want Oklahoma State to pick up BYU as their new rival with the departure of the Sooners after next year?
The fit seems a little forced. The Pokes have been part of the Big 12 since its inception in 1996. These two teams have a limited history, and an ancient one. They last played each other in 1976. Both matchups came in a bowl game, with the first, in 1974, coming in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oklahoma State is certainly a solid program, as they have seven 10-plus win seasons in the last 13 years, including a New Year’s Six Bowl win in 2021.
Perhaps we are reading too much into the Big 12 slating these two programs as the last weekend of the regular season.
It would make sense if the conference wanted to pin two newbies against each other in a rivalry, much like the PAC-12 did with Utah and Colorado. While Houston is technically the closest fellow newcomer geographically, the Cougars and Bearcats are slated to kick off in BYU’s first ever Big 12 Conference home game. It will be a historic night and Cincinnati will be on the opposite sideline.
These two squads also have met up somewhat recently, with the Cougars winning both matchups in 2015 and 2016.
Cincinnati brings some gravitas, just two seasons removed from a berth to the College Football Playoff. But, like Oklahoma State, this doesn’t feel natural.
This one seems much more natural. The Horned Frogs and Cougars were conference mates in the WAC and Mountain West from 1996-1998, and then 2005-2010. They have had some epic battles. BYU fans would like to forget the 51-50 heartbreaking loss in overtime to TCU in 2005. TCU owns a 6-5 advantage in 11 matchups to this point.
The two programs are set to reunite on the gridiron on October 14 in Fort Worth.
Plus, TCU, like BYU, is a private school affiliated with Christianity. Very few Power 5 schools can say that. The reunion with TCU for a third different conference is one of the more interesting parts of BYU heading into the Big 12.
TCU stands as the gold standard for expansion members having success in their new, tougher conference. The Horned Frogs won the Big 12 in 2014 and have won two New Year’s Six Bowls, including last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal.
Baylor and BYU have met two years in a row already. The 2022 version was an epic, double-overtime clash that saw BYU knock off then No. 9-ranked Baylor 26-20. The crowd stormed the field as they defeated their future conference foe.
Most of the time, rivalries are born in bad blood. In this case, it almost feels like the opposite. Baylor has been one of the most gracious and welcoming programs towards BYU joining the conference. Fans have already exchanged pleasantries at both home stadiums.
It feels so right, except that the Big 12 Conference felt that BYU and Baylor needed a break from each other and didn’t schedule a game in 2023. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be rivals. But it does not appear that the Bears and Cougars are part of a “protected” rivalry by the conference. At least, not yet.
With the fact that they have had recent, entertaining matchups, along with the “private religious school” label, this seems like a no-brainer.
Perhaps the conference will reconsider the potential rivalry in 2024.