Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo
Many teams who have joined Power 5 conferences have struggled once they face the rigors of competition in their new leagues.
Part of that, of course, is because they don’t have many opportunities to play teams of that caliber before their transition.
The University of Utah, for example, played just three Power 5-level opponents in 2010, the year before joining the Pac-12 — and none of them were from their new league.
TCU also moved to the Big 12 in 2011 and the previous year played three Power 5 foes. One of those teams was Baylor, which was in its new conference, but the Bears has the sixth-best record in the league that year.
BYU’s situation before it heads to the Big 12 in 2023 is slightly different, since as an independent program the Cougars have consistently faced a number of Power 5 opponents (averaging five per season except in 2020 when the pandemic decimated college football schedules).
Indeed, BYU has five such games this year, playing at Oregon, against Notre Dame in Las Vegas, hosting Arkansas and heading to Stanford.
But the one that provides a truly unique opportunity is the one taking place at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10.
That’s because No. 9-ranked Baylor is coming to Provo, which means BYU gets a chance to go up against the defending Big 12 champs the year before it joins that conference. That’s something neither Utah nor TCU got to do before they made their respective moves.
“They are the standard for the Big 12,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said in a teleconference on Monday. “They are the conference champs and we get to have them here in Provo. We’re really excited for that game and we are excited to see how we match up from our game last year to now. I know the guys are really excited about this opportunity.”
It was a message that Sitake emphasized over and over as he talked about the solid Bear coaching staff and the job head coach Dave Aranda is doing in Waco.
“They are the champs for a reason,” Sitake said. “I think Dave Aranda does a great job running a football program as a coach and as a mentor. He’s got a great mind. I have tons of respect and admire him as a person and definitely as a coach too.”
He also expressed his appreciation for the experience the Cougars had when they played at Baylor in 2021, even though the Bears won the game, 38-24.
“When we played at Baylor last year, I thought it was a really cool experience,” Sitake said. “Obviously their fans love their team and cheer for their team, but I thought they were respectful. From what I know from our fans, they had a good time. We were able to have a moment and a word of prayer with them after the game. I think the respect will always be there, but there is always going to be intense competition.”
He said he wants to see BYU have the success that Baylor just had when it gets to the Big 12.
“They are the program we want to be like,” Sitake said. “You look at the things that they’re doing and the resources they have available to them. I think it’s a great standard for us to look at if we want to compete and be conference champions. We have to prepare like Baylor does. They have a really good thing going for them.”
Sitake explained that one of the biggest things the program has emphasized since getting the invitation to join Baylor in the Big 12 is to have resources in the right places to enable the team to be more successful.
“One of the first things we did was look at what we could do with our resources and making sure we could match up,” Sitake said. ” It’s a different game when you get a bunch of guys who can help out and focus on certain things. We had guys on our support staff who were spread pretty thin, who were doing a lot of different things. Now guys are mastering their craft. You’re seeing things work a lot more cohesively.”
There are many connections that BYU and Baylor will have in the future as members of the same conference but for this weekend, the main focus will be on what happens on the field.
“I think Baylor is a really good team, and we’re a really good team also,” BYU junior tight end Dallin Holker said Monday. “So it’ll be fun to play against them. We definitely respect Baylor and the program that they have over there but it’ll be a fun game to be able to go out there and play against them.”
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