Unrivaled: BYU Football Faces Reality Check Heading Into The Big 12

Oct 27, 2022, 12:10 PM | Updated: 12:10 pm
BYU Football, Big 12, Baylor...
Will BYU football play the Baylor Bears on their first Big 12 conference schedule? (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – The BYU football team is going through a rough patch this year. The Cougars are on a three-game losing streak, players are banged up, and the defense is not in a good place.

The defense gave up 31.6 points per game which is currently 108th in the country.

October has been even worse. In the three games BYU lost this month, they gave up 28, 52, and 41 points, which comes out to be over 40 points per game. Safe to say that the Cougars are struggling as they sit at 4-4.

This is by no way to say that they are a bad football team, but this could be the early reality when the Cougars go to the Big 12 next year.

BYU has been in an interesting spot the past few seasons. In 2020, the team had to completely overhaul its schedule from one full of Power 5 teams to basically whoever was available. The end result was all Group of 5 teams with three really good ones in San Diego State, Coastal Carolina, and Boise State.

That team went 10-2 and then the following year the Cougars backed that up by having another elite season. BYU ended up sweeping Pac-12 opponents and going 5-1 against Power 5 teams en route to back-to-back double-digit win seasons.

The 2022 season was shaping up like the 2021 slate with games against an SEC team, Notre Dame, Pac-12 foes as usual, rivals in Boise State and Utah State, plus a few Group of Five teams to round things out.

The past two years they had a schedule that was very close to what they will face when they enter the Big 12 with one great year and one not-so-great year.

The norm going forward will be nine Big 12 games which will be the most Power 5 teams that the Cougars have ever scheduled, plus in non-conference BYU looks to have at least one other Power 5 team on the schedule going forward. The move will be a big adjustment for all.

BYU Football Is Not Yet Ready For The Big 12…Yet

The move to the Big 12 has been known since the fall of 2021 and the coaching staff and program have been ramping up to be ready. Recruiting players to a Big 12 program is going to be easier than an independent one, even when considering that BYU athletes will have to adhere to the Honor Code.

There should be more depth coming its way to help combat the injury issues the Cougs have faced this year.

Unrivaled host Scott Mitchell brought up all of these points and gives the Cougar faithful some harsh truths.

“They’re a good football team against mid-major teams,” Mitchell said. “That is the type of team they are, they are not a Power 5 team yet. Everyone thinks, ‘well we are now annotated and we are going to the Big 12, we are ready for it. Look at how we recruited, look at how we built this up.’

“The reality is that it’s a little bit of a mirage as far as Big 12, Power 5 team.”

This comment is not to throw a wet blanket on the positives and excitement of Cougar fans about the Big 12 move. There will be growing pains moving up in competition and playing better teams.

This Cougars program has handled adversity well. It will just take some time to build up the roster depth and talent to get used to an improved level of competition week in and week out.

Mitchell adds that he is just saying the hard words that Cougar fans need to hear now, but not all is lost as he firmly believes BYU is heading in the right direction. There just happens to be a few speed bumps along the way.

“For all of the BYU fans that think I am just ripping on BYU, I am not,” he said. “I am just giving you the cold true reality of the situation. I think going into this offseason and going into the Big 12, and having a real honest and somewhat painful evaluation of where you are is actually a lot more healthy if you accept it… then I think it’s going to be a good thing for BYU.

“Think about the really tough year Kalani had and you saw him grow as a coach. The program really grew out of that situation. BYU fans, take a deep breath, still be fans, calm down, and know you have good people in place that are going to turn this around.”

End Of Season Motivation Is Tough As An Independent

One thing that could come into play for BYU football – no one on the program would dare actually say this out loud to the media – is that there is very little to play for as an independent program once the team hits two losses, and sometimes even one loss.

In 2020, BYU was in the running for a New Year’s Six bowl game but the loss to Coastal Carolina knocked them out of contention. In 2021, they were the No. 10 team and looking to be an attractive team as an at-large pick for a big-time bowl game, but they lost to Boise State, and then then the loss next week to Baylor officially took them out of contention.

With two losses last year, the reward was going to the Independence Bowl and losing to UAB. In the Big 12, a two-loss team might have an outside shot of a New Year’s Six game and at worst something along the lines of an Alamo Bowl game against a Pac-12 team.

Mitchell brought up a good point about the lack of things to play for.

“When you have nothing to play for at the end of the season, 8-4, 10-2, or 6-6 will not change the bowl game you go to,” Mitchell said. “You will not be going to be in a great bowl game, and you aren’t going to be fighting for anything at the end of the season.

“This is why it’s hard. The grind of a season on a player is challenging, especially when you have a student-athlete that goes to school… you just get beat up.”

The move to the Big 12 is going to benefit BYU in countless ways for the entire athletic department and the school itself. There will be better games, exposure, money, support, excitement, and so much more. The excellence on the field might just take a little bit to catch up.

Tune into Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 3-6 p .m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM, or subscribe to the podcast. Also, download the all-new KSL Sports app on iOS or Android.

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