BYU Living Out Big 12 Dream Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian Had As QB

Jul 13, 2023, 1:05 AM

ARLINGTON, Texas – The first-ever football game featuring a Big 12 team included BYU and Steve Sarkisian.

That was the 1996 Pigskin Classic when BYU hosted Texas A&M from the newly formed Big 12 in Provo.

The connections to Steve Sarkisian, BYU, and the Big 12 didn’t stop there during that historic 14-1 season.

At the end of the year, Sarkisian led BYU to its first and only New Year’s Day bowl game—a matchup with Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl Classic in Dallas.

It was a fantastic comeback win that remains one of the greatest bowl victories in the program today. But it wasn’t the bowl he wanted to be in.

BYU/Texas connection during Sark’s playing days

Sark wishes his BYU squad would have been playing in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State. Instead, the yellow suits at the Fiesta Bowl led by John Junker went on network television and announced that the Texas Longhorns would square off against the Nittany Lions.

The biggest downfall for BYU then was not being in a major conference.

That is no longer issue for Sark’s alma mater moving forward.

Twenty-seven years later, those memories at BYU intersected with the media’s lofty expectations for Sarkisian’s current program, the Texas Longhorns. The same school that took BYU’s coveted Fiesta Bowl spot.

After nearly three decades away from Provo, you would think that those memories of Cotton Bowl-lassoing lore would be a distant memory. But they aren’t for Sarkisian. He still respects BYU and is excited to see them in the league his Longhorns currently reside in for one more year.

“I think back to my senior year at BYU and I think back to that team. We were 14-1, we finished fifth in the country and we wanted an opportunity to play in one of the big-time bowls. We weren’t part of that Bowl Alliance at that time. We were in the [WAC] and we ended up going to the Cotton Bowl, which is now a tremendous bowl. But because Texas at that time, in that year, beat Nebraska with James Brown, they got to go play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and we didn’t,” Steve Sarkisian said to the KSL Sports Zone.

Sarkisian continued, “So to fast forward that now, to think that BYU is now in that opportunity to earn that opportunity if they play well enough, I think it’s great. And it’s awesome. I’m blessed and I’m fortunate to be in the situation I’m in with the University of Texas. But I’m also excited for Kalani, his team and BYU for the opportunity. Not only for this opportunity but for years to come.”

BYU visits Texas in October

BYU will visit Sarkisian in person at the Forty Acres when the two teams square off in Austin on October 28. Like previous meetings with the Longhorns, BYU will probably be a sizable underdog if the preseason predictions play out as many people think. Texas is an overwhelming favorite for the first time since 2009, while BYU is slated to finish 11th.

“I’m super pumped that we get a chance to play BYU again. So excited,” Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian is one of the great quarterbacks in a program that has become a quarterback factory over the last five decades. Sark’s path to Provo was slightly different from many of the other greats.

He arrived at BYU as a junior college transfer in the 1995 recruiting class. Things didn’t start out smooth as he began with an 0-2 record and became the first starting QB since the 1970s not to guide BYU to a bowl game.

That all changed with the Fresno State game at the end of that year, as Sark was 31-of-34 and passed for 399 yards. That performance springboarded him and BYU into 1996 with a lot of confidence.

Kalani Sitake on his relationship with Steve Sarkisian

BYU coach Kalani Sitake remembers those days of a young gunslinging Sarkisian being at BYU while Sitake was trying to earn his way into the program as a fullback.

“Oh man, that’s my guy,” Sitake said when asked about his relationship with Sarkisian. “I’ve been really impressed with him as a coach, obviously. I knew him when we were nobodies when I was just a true freshman fullback at BYU and he was an incoming JC transfer. Just being able to connect when you knew someone from day one when they didn’t always have the spotlight on them, he’s always been real to me.”

Sarkisian shares similar kind remarks about his relationship with Sitake.

“I think Kalani and I have a great relationship. I’m really proud of him,” said Sarkisian. “He’s always been a great coach, a guy that he’s had a chance to compete against in his days when he was a coordinator before becoming a head coach. He’s earned a great opportunity, and he’s done a great job leading BYU to this point, and we do stay connected and stay close that way.”

Steve Sarkisian: “BYU has been a national brand for decades”

That great opportunity in the Big 12 was always a dream for Sark’s BYU teams. The current group of BYU players will get that opportunity, and they’ll be carrying on a legacy of a program that Sarkisian added to its history with one of the great teams in the program’s history in 1996.

“You know, people have asked me before about BYU now being in the Big 12 and how that’ll be,” said Sarkisian. “To me, BYU has been a national brand for decades, and going back to Coach Edwards and what he was able to do and some of the great teams and great programs and now to be in a Power Five situation in the Big 12, I’m happy for them. I’m happy for BYU. I’m happy for their alumni and those players. I think it’s a great opportunity.

“Then we get a chance to play them. I’m glad we don’t have to go to Provo. We get them in Austin. So that’ll be fun.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on Twitter and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Living Out Big 12 Dream Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian Had As QB