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After Two Long Years, BYU Set For Historic Big 12 Debut Against Kansas

Sep 22, 2023, 7:38 PM

LAWRENCE, Kan. – BYU football has waited two years for the opportunity that awaits them on Saturday—a Big 12 Conference game.

The league sent BYU as close to the deep end of the conference as possible with the complex, challenging Kansas Jayhawks offense.

BYU takes on Kansas in an undefeated Big 12 showdown

Like BYU, Kansas comes into the game with a 3-0 record. Imagine hearing two summers ago that BYU and Kansas would square off in an undefeated showdown in Big 12 play. You would have thought, is this happening on an NCAA Football 14 video game dynasty?

Nope. It’s BYU’s reality tomorrow. And it’s a historic opportunity.

“This is a Big 12 opening game. So we’re really excited about that and being in Kansas. But also excited that we are in the partnership and we’re working together with the Big 12,” said Kalani Sitake.

13 years for BYU football since its last conference game

BYU hasn’t played in a conference game since November 2010. That was as a member of the Mountain West Conference.

That was a last-second loss to Utah, where Mitch Payne had a field goal attempt blocked. BYU went into conservative play-calling mode after building a 16-0 lead over the nationally-ranked Utes.

The last 12 years have been as an FBS Independent. Think briefly about how much has changed for BYU and college football since BYU was last in a league. 

When BYU was a conference member, the BCS was still a thing. The College Football Playoff wasn’t on the table. Now, the sport is one year away from a 12-team Playoff.

College athletes can benefit from their Name, Image, and Likeness; there’s a transfer portal now. 

There was heartbreak for BYU when they were not invited to the Big 12 in 2016. Then, the euphoria came from receiving the official invite in 2021.

In that last BYU conference game, Kalani Sitake was there for that game as well. But he was on the opposite sideline for Utah as their defensive coordinator.

Kalani Sitake wants “urgency” from this BYU football squad

It has been a long time coming for BYU. That’s why Sitake wants his team to capture the moment.

“This is our opening game in the Big 12 Conference. We’re never going to get this back again,” Sitake said. “So I need these guys to understand the seriousness of this situation and why there needs to be a huge sense of urgency for us to get to a position where we can play our best.”

Players are bought in to the excitement of the first Big 12 game

During Monday’s team meeting to open the week, coaches told players they were the only team that would ever have the chance to play in the program’s first-ever Big 12 Conference game.

BYU players are embracing that message. Tanner Wall, a walk-on safety who is gearing up for his first career start, bought into Sitake’s message.

“I think we’ve been bought into that for months, just being prepared to come in and make a name for ourselves as a Big 12 team, as a contender,” said Wall. “We’ve always had the expectation to come in from a defensive standpoint, be the best defense in the Big 12. That’s our goal. So we’ve been preparing for that for a long time, week in and week out. We have goals that we’re working towards to help us achieve that. It’s a huge opportunity for us this week to go prove that on the road against a great team, who has a great offense and show the conference who we and what is BYU football.”

The same goes for BYU tight end Isaac Rex. Rex grew up watching BYU as a member of the Mountain West Conference as a kid. He’s excited to be part of a conference chase.

“I loved watching Mountain West football [as a kid],” said Rex to KSL Sports. “…So it’s exciting we get to be in a conference this year and fight for something more.”

Coming into the year, the Big 12 looked to be the deepest league in America. Out of the gates, the new-look league has stumbled. Outside of Texas, the league seems to be up for grabs. But even the Longhorns struggled going into the fourth quarter last week against Wyoming.

Sitake’s group isn’t focusing on the potential for a Big 12 Championship. They are just taking the old cliche, one game at a time.

“The rest of the stuff will take care of itself as soon as we get there,” said Sitake. “But you can’t really focus on the Big 12 other than the first game that’s in it, and that’s Kansas.”

BYU (3-0) vs. Kansas (3-0)

Date: Saturday, September 23, 2023

Location: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium (Lawrence, Kansas)

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM) — Extended pregame coverage begins at 9 a.m.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com 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 and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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After Two Long Years, BYU Set For Historic Big 12 Debut Against Kansas