3 reasons the Cougars should win the Big 12 in 2023

With his comeback experience presumed, BYU football is expected to be at the heart of the Big 12 title race when he 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 are strong odds of BYU being 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 have the number of teams it is supposed to have to its name – that is, say if OU and Texas are in the SEC by then.

The Sooners and Longhorns may hang around for a few more seasons, but that’s best left for another article.

It’s an impressive job for a program not called Notre Dame to maintain a high level of competition as an independent in today’s college football landscape. There are seven FBS teams currently non-conference — and two more of them in addition to BYU will also join a league in 2023 (Liberty and New Mexico State are expected to join Conference USA).

Several of these independent programs seem to hang on to the top-tier NCAA by a thread, like UMass and UConn. The Minutemen haven’t finished with a better-than-4-8 record since joining the FBS a decade ago, and the Huskies are 10-50 overall since 2016 (although they’ve been in the AAC until 2019 in football).

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

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

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

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

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

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