3 reasons why the Cougars should win the Big 12 in 2023

With its presumed returning experience, BYU football should be in the thick of the Big 12 title race when it joins the league next fall.

BYU football will end a 12-year run as an independent next year when it joins the Big 12 in 2023. Forget about the Cougars being “competitive” in its new league: there’s a good chance that BYU could be favored to win the Big 12 in its first year as a member.

The move to the Big 12, along with the additions of Cincinnati, Houston, and Central Florida from the American Athletic Conference, will help the conference actually have the number of teams that it’s purported to have in its name — that is if OU and Texas are in the SEC by then.

The Sooners and the Longhorns might still be hanging around for a couple more seasons, but that’s best left for another article.

It’s impressive work for a program not named Notre Dame to maintain a high level of competition as an independent in today’s college football landscape. There are seven FBS teams currently without a conference — and two more of these besides BYU will also join a league in 2023 (both Liberty and New Mexico State are set to join Conference USA).

Several of these independent programs seem to be hanging onto top-level NCAA by a thread, such as UMass and UConn. The Minutemen haven’t finished with a record better than 4-8 since joining the FBS a decade ago, and the Huskies are 10-50 overall since 2016 (although they were in the AAC until 2019 in football).

That’s a stark difference from the college football scene of a few decades ago. In 1984, the Cougars’ national title-winning season, there were three times as many independent programs as there are today. Among those 21 Division IA (now FBS) independents were South Carolina, Syracuse, Boston College, and Penn State — all teams who have since joined a conference.

It hasn’t been all rosy for the Brigham Young football program as an independent in the past 11 seasons, but it’s been quite successful as of late. In 2020 and 2021, the Cougars have combined for a 21-4 overall record and finished in the AP Top 25 both times under head coach Kalani Sitake.

BYU has fared well recently against Power Five competition: the Cougars have beaten teams from the Big Ten, ACC, SEC, and of course the Pac-12 since 2018.

BYU left the Mountain West in 2010 after 12 years as a member; before that, the Cougars were a member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) from 1962 to 1999.

Now that the Cougars are done beating up on Pac-12 teams (a 5-0 record vs. the beleaguered conference’s teams in 2021), why should they be expected to win the 2023 Big 12 title?

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