Now that the Big 12 seems to have sufficiently scratched its expansion itch and secured the future of the conference for the immediate and mid-range future, we can start to look at how the revamped collection of universities will shake out when the “Four Corners” schools arrive next fall. Of course, that leaves Texas Tech football fans to consider which incoming conference rivals will be the biggest threats to the Red Raiders’ hopes of becoming the dominant force in the league filling the void left behind by Oklahoma.
What is interesting is how different the journey to this point has been for some of the new members. For instance, BYU has been an independent football program with no conference affiliation since 2011.
Thus, everything the Cougars have accomplished in the last 12 years, a list that includes 11 bowl games and three 10-win seasons, has been earned the hard way with no financial help from a conference. That’s quite impressive. (Though the financial backing of the Mormon Church doesn’t hurt.)
Then there is UCF, which has only been playing at the FBS level since 1996, the year that the Big 12 began competition. Similar to BYU, the Knights were independent until 2001 before joining mid-level conferences such as the Mid-American Conference, Conference USA, and most recently, the American Athletic Conference. Still, it will be interesting to see if they can continue to build toward being a top-flight program in a major conference.
Cincinnati has never been in a major conference either unless one gives that distinction to the Big East, which the Bearcats were members of from 2005-2012 when that once-proud conference slipped into obscurity after numerous defections.
Then, there are the two newcomers that will be renewing some former conference rivalries. As a long-time member of the Big 8 and then a founding member of the Big 12, Colorado has significant history with many of their new conference mates including former Big 8 schools like Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and the remaining Big 12 Texas schools.
Meanwhile, Houston is excited to rejoin a conference that is going to feature long-time Southwest Conference rivals such as Texas Tech, TCU, and Baylor. That’s going to be a huge boost for a program that was once one of the top programs in the nation but which has been largely an afterthought, even in its own state, since being left out of the Big 12 in 1996.
Meanwhile, Arizona and Arizona State have some history with Texas Tech as well. From 1932 -1957, all three of those institutions were part of the Border Conference, a league that existed from 1931-1962 and included New Mexico State, U.T.E.P., and New Mexico (among others) in its history.
As for Utah, their journey is similar to that of UCF or Cincy in that they have worked their way from a mid-tier conference to a major conference. Part of the W.A.C. from 1962-1998, the Utes then joined the Mountain West from 1999-2010 before being offered a spot in the PAC 12.
So now that we know a bit about how these newcomers got here, let’s take a look a which might be the biggest threat to the Red Raiders and the rest of the traditional Big 12 members. First on the list are those Utes, who are riding some serious momentum as a program.