In college football, getting to a bowl game is a benchmark of success for most programs. Now that BYU is in the Big 12 Conference, frankly, any expectations higher than getting to a bowl at 6-6 may be towards the realm of Dreamland.
If BYU gets to a bowl game in their first season in the Big 12, it will be a successful inaugural season.
How can BYU get there?
With nine conference games, BYU is slated to play three games outside of Big 12 play. They open at home with Sam Houston, who is beginning their first season as an FBS program. They are two years removed from a national title at the FCS level in 2020.
The Cougars welcome in-state partner Southern Utah the week after that.
Essentially, BYU faces two FCS-quality rosters at home to open the 2023 season. Anything less than a 2-0 start would be massively disappointing.
Arkansas awaits in Fayetteville after that. That will be one of the toughest tests BYU faces all season, in or out of conference. The Razorbacks put a whooping on the Cougars in Provo last year, torching them for 52 points. This is an explosive offense. Now, the Cougars must face them in their home stadium.
A 2-1 start to the year is a reasonable expectation.
Big 12 Conference Schedule
The Cougars officially kick off their conference play by traveling to Lawrence to face the Kansas Jayhawks. Last year, Kansas was the national darling to open the season, before finishing 6-7. They will not be an easy win.
BYU then hosts their first Big 12 home game when the Bearcats of Cincinnati come to town. They are one full season removed from a run to the College Football Playoff. They were 9-4 last season and will now break in a new head coach in Scott Satterfield.
Splitting those two games is imperative, putting BYU’s record at 3-2.
After a bye on October 7, the Cougars face a tough stretch of three teams that hail from Texas. First, the national runner-up from last season, TCU in Fort Worth. Unless the Horned Frogs suffer massive losses from turnover after a run to the Playoff and national title game, they will be among the toughest tests of the season.
BYU hosts Texas Tech, which is a program on the rise. In fact, they are a dark horse contender for the Big 12 title following an 8-5 season.
After those two stern tests, the Cougars then travel to Austin to face the Longhorns, who lost to Alabama by one point last season.
What BYU needs to do is avoid going 0-3 in that stretch. 1-2 should still put them in position for a bowl game, at 4-4 overall. With the offensive BYU is set to have with quarterback Kedon Slovis and a hopefully improved defense, that is certainly possible.
The Cougars then play their third road game in a four-week span when they head to Morgantown, West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 5-7 last year but ended with an upset on the road in Stillwater, beating Oklahoma State.
Even if West Virginia is a middling team, by now, BYU will be exhausted having traveled so much and having played seven Power 5 teams in a row. Winning that game will be difficult, but it’s one they will need to have. This is arguably one of the biggest “swing games” for BYU, deciding which direction the season goes.
They need to enter their final stretch at 5-4, staring down Iowa State, Oklahoma, and on the road at Oklahoma State to finish the season.
November will reveal just how ready BYU is for Power 5 football. In years past, they were able to play big games against big-name opponents early in the year, playing mostly cupcakes in November.
This year? They get the Cyclones at home before hosting the Oklahoma Sooners for Senior Day. Iowa State in Provo might be the most winnable game on BYU’s conference schedule. They need to bank that sixth win and qualify for a bowl before playing the two Oklahoma schools.
Their depth will be pushed to limits not seen before.
While the Sooners had a down year by their standards last season, at 6-7, it’s not hard to see what they are building. They will likely bounce back and be a Top 25 program once again.
Ending the season on Thanksgiving weekend in Stillwater against Oklahoma State will be tough. The Cowboys were essentially a yard away from making the College Football Playoff in 2021. That will be a challenge to end the year.
If BYU can win their sixth game when hosting Iowa State, they can play the two Oklahoma schools loose and fast, perhaps sparking an upset or two down the stretch.