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BYU Coach Warns Of ‘Rude Awakening’ For Big 12 Football Newcomers

Jun 28, 2024, 3:58 PM

BYU, Big 12 Football, Jay Hill...

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill warns Big 12 football newcomers of what they are stepping into. (Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

(Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – When BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF were all invited to the Big 12 in 2021, there was a national dialogue that they would step into Big 12 football without Texas and Oklahoma and be among the best teams.

After one season in the Big 12, those teams were nowhere near the top of the league.

Among those four newcomers from last year, only UCF reached a bowl game last season. They reached the postseason with a 6-6 record.

BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston finished their inaugural seasons as Big 12 members with losing records.

Second-year BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill saw firsthand and doesn’t believe anything shocked the Cougars, leading to a 5-7 record a season ago.

“No. I mean, football’s football,” Hill said to the KSL Sports Zone’s Hans & Scotty G. “So, is it anything that caught us off guard? Absolutely not.”

Hill did allude to the league’s physicality, particularly at the running back position, in an interview with Hans Olsen & Scott Garrard on the KSL Sports Zone as an area that surprised BYU.

BYU was 109th in rush defense a season ago.

Rude awakening on the physicality of Big 12 football

The veteran football coach, who became the winningest head coach in Weber State’s history, warned the incoming Big 12 programs about the physicality. Those new teams in the conference include Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Hill’s alma mater, Utah.

“These teams that are coming into the Big 12, I think they’re going to have a little bit of a rude awakening on how physical the Big 12 is,” said Hill to the KSL Sports Zone.

The “Four Corner” programs will officially leave the Pac-12 and join the Big 12 on August 1.

Pac-12 football was historically never known for its physicality. Last season, the Pac-12 had a banner year in its final season. Washington emerged from that group to reach the National Championship game and Oregon won the Fiesta Bowl.

Both of those programs are now off to the Big Ten.

Arizona was one of four Pac-12 teams to be ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings last year.

Many prognostications for the Big 12 in 2024 have Utah stepping into the league and winning the title. Arizona is projected as a potential top-four team, while Colorado boasts superstar talent, with Shedeur Sanders as quarterback and all-purpose athlete Travis Hunter.

Still, Hill sends a reminder that Big 12 football should not be underestimated despite the “Four Corner” schools’ past power conference experience.

Big 12 is the home of star running backs

“I think five or six times we faced the number one [running] back in the country. It was like one guy leading it, then another guy leading it, and another,” Hill said. “The best back we faced last year [Jonathan Brooks at Texas] tore his ACL, and he was still the first back taken off the board this year. He tore his ACL four months earlier and was still a second-round draft pick. There are big-time backs in this league. That probably caught me off guard more than anything is just how good the running backs were.”

The Big 12 boasts some of the best running backs in college football this season.

Ollie Gordon from Oklahoma State is the defending Doak Walker Award winner. Texas Tech has Tahj Brooks, who led the nation in rushing yards at various points last season.

UCF returns RJ Harvey, who ran for 1,416 yards a year ago.

West Virginia brings back Jaheim White and CJ Donaldson. Iowa State has Abu Sama returning to lead a young nucleus that reached a bowl game last season.

Kansas boasts senior standout Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw as his primary backup. Across the Sunflower State, Kansas State brings back DJ Giddens and adds former Colorado transfer Dylan Edwards to its backfield.

“The teams are really good at not taking sacks, so they just don’t do much to hurt themselves. I was very impressed with Big 12 football,” said Hill. “The fans, the stadiums, the atmospheres. There’s no stadiums you pull into and you’re going to have a bad crowd.”

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

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BYU Coach Warns Of ‘Rude Awakening’ For Big 12 Football Newcomers