BYU Prepares To Kick Off Big 12 Era Against FBS Newcomer Sam Houston

Aug 27, 2023, 11:28 PM | Updated: 11:38 pm

Kalani Sitake, BYU Football, Sam Houston Preview...

Eighth year BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake kicks off the 2023 season against Sam Houston on Saturday night. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – By the time BYU football kicks off the 2023 season Saturday night (8:15 p.m., FS1, KSL NewsRadio) against Sam Houston, 722 days will have passed since the Big 12 invited BYU into the league.

During those 722 days, a lot has changed. BYU’s roster has experienced an overhaul. The Big 12 has a different commissioner than the one who invited BYU shortly after Texas and Oklahoma announced they were bolting for the SEC (Bob Bowlsby).

The Big 12 has expanded by four more teams since the additions of BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston. BYU’s rival, Utah, will join the Big 12 in 2024.

On top of all that, BYU’s first game as a Big 12 team also changed.

Initially, BYU was going to open the 2023 season against the Tennessee Volunteers from the SEC. The Vols are in the preseason AP Top 25 this year at No. 12. Instead, the Big Orange bought out of the game so they could play three-win Virginia in nearby Nashville.

BYU used that money from the Tennessee buyout to land Sam Houston in a one-game series in Provo.

So, safe to say a lot has happened in those 722 days.

What hasn’t happened yet is a BYU football game with the Cougars playing as a Big 12 team.

BYU/Sam Houston kicks off new eras for both teams

The Big 12-era lid-lifter will come Saturday night against Sam Houston. Like BYU, the Sam Houston Bearkats are climbing up the college football food chain.

Sam Houston will debut as an FBS team on Saturday night in Provo as they gear up for their first season in Conference USA.

The Bearkats from Huntsville, Texas, might seem like a pushover team when you factor in the 5-4 record last year in the WAC. But don’t judge K.C. Keeler’s squad solely on last year’s record.

Sam Houston has a recent championship pedigree. The Bearkats won the 2020-21 FCS National Championship and won 21 games in the 2021 calendar year (spring and fall seasons).

It’s a successful program. Last year’s struggles were due to a wave of injuries and the decision to redshirt key players who were part of that national championship run three seasons ago.

BYU isn’t overlooking the Bearkats

The talent of Sam Houston has been on the mind of BYU’s eighth-year head coach Kalani Sitake, throughout the summer.

During a media golf scramble at Cedar Hills golf course in June, Sitake addressed the media and said, “I know everyone’s excited about the Big 12 schedule, but remember we have three non-conference games first,” Sitake said. “This Sam Houston team has a lot of talent.”

Despite being a three-touchdown favorite over Sam Houston, BYU coaches are not taking the Bearkats lightly. Especially the defense that was 10th in the FCS in rush defense and returned veteran linebackers Markel Perry and Trevor Williams.

“They were very good on defense last year statistically. You watch the film and they’re athletic, disruptive, aggressive, have a lot of good players and are talented. They are a defense that made Texas A&M look pretty bad last year,” said BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on the final day of fall camp. “If you watch that film, they were disruptive in that game. We’ll have our hands full for sure. We expect their best shot and so we’ll be ready. There’s no one in this program that is looking past anybody. That’s not going to happen. We’re excited to play and they are a good defense.”

Sam Houston hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback

On the offensive side is where the big questions reside for Sam Houston. The same can be said for BYU’s defensive unit, which will look to stifle the Bearkats’ up-and-down offense. New defensive coordinator Jay Hill has earned rave reviews; now he gets to show his revamped defense to Cougar fans.

Sam Houston currently has a quarterback debate between senior Keegan Shoemaker and North Texas transfer Grant Gunnell.

Keeler has told media covering the Bearkats that the decision “could be a coin-flip on Saturday” before squaring off against BYU. Shoemaker is considered to be a better runner between the two.

Debut for Kedon Slovis

BYU has zero questions at quarterback. Former USC and Pitt signal-caller Kedon Slovis will make his BYU debut as the starting quarterback on Saturday night.

Since his arrival in Provo in January, Slovis has players and coaches saying they feel he’s been around for years.

Slovis picked up Aaron Roderick’s offense with ease during the spring. Then, in fall camp, he was fine-tuning his playbook knowledge. Slovis made it a point of emphasis to be a leader of this BYU team. A trait that many around Slovis’s old stop, Pitt, questioned, including Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

Saturday night looks to have no shortage of storylines and debuts as BYU and Sam Houston look to get their historic seasons to a strong start.

BYU vs. Sam Houston

Date: Saturday, September 2, 2023

Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo, Utah)

Kickoff: 8:15 p.m.


Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

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 X (Twitter) and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Prepares To Kick Off Big 12 Era Against FBS Newcomer Sam Houston