Expectations for BYU are fairly low heading into the season. BYU was picked to finish 11th in the Big 12 Preseason Poll and betting win totals fall anywhere between 4.5 to 5.5 wins. My read is that BYU fans have modest expectations, with most hoping for bowl eligibility in this first Big 12 season.
To get to six regular season wins there’s some “swing” games BYU has to have — i.e., games that could be the difference between a 4-win team and a 6+ win season. BYU doesn’t necessarily have to win all three of these, but I think they’ll need to win at least two and they could determine what the season looks like.
Below are my rankings of the top 3 games games on BYU’s 2023 schedule.
3. Iowa State — 11/11 (Home)
The Iowa State game comes after what should be BYU’s hardest 4-game stretch of the season — at TCU, vs Texas Tech, at Texas, and at West Virginia. BYU may be lucky to come out of there 1-3 and could be on the fringe of bowl eligibility.
The Cyclones are coming off a 4-8 season and were picked in the preseason Big 12 poll. Iowa State won’t be a cake walk by any means and have a highly respected head coach in Matt Campbell, but if BYU can’t beat Iowa State in Provo then I have a hard time seeing BYU get to bowl eligibility. I don’t think ISU will overlook BYU, but the week after BYU they host Texas in Ames, which will be their last game ever versus Texas as a Big 12 member and Senior day. Players could be peeking ahead to that matchup with the Longhorns.
2. Cincinnati — 9/29 (Home)
The environment for this game will be electric. It’s a Friday night game on ESPN and is BYU’s first ever Big 12 home conference game. Ticket prices should be at a premium with the two aforementioned factors plus all the families that are in from out-of-state for general conference weekend.
In my mind, this is the biggest must win on BYU’s conference schedule. The Bearcats are no slouch, but they were picked 13th in the Big 12 and should be in a bit of a rebuild after losing head coach Luke Fickell. BYU has a bye week after this game before a brutal October, and needs to win this to give them some momentum heading into the season’s final 7 games. If BYU were to lose this then we could be in for a long season.
1. Kansas — 9/23 (Road)
I don’t think this game is a “must win” like the other two, but a win here could propel BYU to a really good season. If BYU wins here, I think BYU has a legitimate path to 7 or 8 wins. A loss wouldn’t signal a bad season, but we’d still be in wait-and-see mode. After being cellar dwellers for a decade plus, the Jayhawks appear to have new life under head coach Lance Leipold. Kansas made a bowl game last season and has the Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in QB Jalon Daniels. Defense is a question mark for the Jayhawks, but they should put up some points this year as long as Daniels is healthy.
This will be BYU’s first ever Big 12 conference game, so anticipation and jitters should be high among the coaching staff and players. If BYU beats Kansas I think they have a really good shot at a 4-1 record heading into the bye week after Cincinnati. Arkansas the week prior will be tough, but if BYU can beat Kansas then I don’t see them losing the next week to Cincinnati in a raucous LES. Cincinnati in their own right will be coming off a home game versus Oklahoma, so it’s not like BYU will have a greater chance at a hangover (insert BYU hangover joke here) than the Bearcats.
So while Kansas may not be the difference between bowl eligibility or not, a win to me signals that BYU has a great shot to start 4-1 (maybe 5-0 if they can upset Arkansas?) and build some real juice heading into the meat of conference season.