I look out my window as much of Big 12 country is covered in ice and think about how we are sliding towards a new football season. Spring football isn’t far away, and the 2022 season will be a big one for the league, particularly what happens with the four teams that won’t be in the Big 12 until 2023.
How BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF fare in 2022 will have a lot to say about the national perception of the Big 12 in 2023 and beyond, and while the whole season certainly counts, perceptions of the Future Four will be built on a handful of games versus marquee opponents.
Here’s a look at how those games stack up along with gut reactions to each:
1. Notre Dame at BYU, October 8
BYU is playing a lot of big match-ups in 2022, but this one will surely be played on the biggest stage with the hottest spotlight. Not only are the Cougars playing the Fighting Irish, but they get the game at home. If BYU can win at home against Notre Dame a season before entering the Big 12, the people saying the New Big 12 won’t be a true “Power 5” conference will have to put a sock in it – at least for a little while.
My gut tells me that home-field advantage and the chance to make a national splash will be enough to push BYU over the top.
2. Cincinnati at Arkansas, September 3
Luke Fickell has a shiny new contract extension, and a whole lot of reloading to do after he guided Cincinnati to a historic crashing of the most exclusive party in all of major sports, the College Football Playoff. Opening the 2022 campaign in SEC country is a big opportunity, but not one many would envy. The Razorbacks are on the rise under Sam Pittman, and while Cinci is just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, traveling to Fayetteville will mean an increase in sun and humidity of about 4,000%.
That said, don’t count the Bearcats out. Fickell will be hungry to put a little pain on the SEC, and the opening day of college football season can be highly unpredictable. Nonetheless, this is a tough game in which to break in a new quarterback. My gut tells me Arkansas wins a close but ugly one.
3. Baylor at BYU, September 10
Facing the reigning Big 12 champ at home is a huge opportunity for the Cougars, and this game should spark a lot of national interest. BYU doesn’t need to beat Baylor to show it’s worthy of the Power 5, but it would be nice for the league, BU fans excluded, if the Cougars put up a better fight against the Bears than they did in Waco.
I like Baylor in this game, but that’s only because last season’s meeting was so lopsided.
4. BYU at Oregon, September 19th
This is going to be a high-profile game simply because of Oregon’s notoriety. The Ducks are in flux with a new head coach taking the reins, but there’s no denying Oregon has recruited well and has plenty of talent and speed on the roster to work with.
I like BYU to continue its domination of the Pac-12.
5. Arkansas at BYU, October 15
BYU again, but hey, it’s an SEC team leaving the South in mid-October, and everybody wants to see this because it rarely happens. I am frankly shocked that Arkansas agreed to this.
I wouldn’t bet against the Cougars here.
6. Houston at Texas Tech, September 10
This game may not grab national headlines like the ones above it, but it will be the nation’s best chance to gauge Dana Holgorsen’s team against Power 5 competition this season. Clayton Tune is back at QB for Houston, and I have no idea what to expect from the Red Raiders this season, but any kind of win in Big 12 territory would be huge for Holgorsen’s program.
In Lubbock, in September, my guess is that Texas Tech will edge Houston in a fun one at the Jones.
7. Louisville at UCF, September 10
UCF has two opportunities at home to claim an ACC scalp next season, and the first comes against Louisville. The Cardinals are not going to scare UCF, but they’re not to be trifled with either. A wind would look good for the New Big 12, but a loss might be a bad look, especially in the Bounce House.
This should be an entertaining game. UCF is retooling at some key positions, but I am inclined to give them a slight advantage in this one.
8. Indiana at Cincinnati, September 24
The Bearcats play host to a Big 10 team two seasons removed from being one of 2020’s Cinderella stories. The Hoosiers promptly turned into pumpkins in 2021, and Cincinnati had no problems dispatching them in Bloomington. Nonetheless, beating a Power 5 team, even if Indiana turns out to be bad, is a good look for the New Big 12. Again, however, a loss would hurt more than the win would help.
9. Georgia Tech at UCF, September 24
UCF’s second opportunity to take an ACC scalp at home in the 2022 season will be a lot bigger of a deal if the Knights take care of business against Louisville. On the other hand, if UCF falls to Louisville, this game will at least be a chance to save face for the program and the New Big 12. Georgia Tech is one of those programs that can turn it on every so often for an unexpected win, but the Yellow Jackets are coming off three straight three-win seasons.
10. Kansas at Houston, September 17
Much like the games ranked 8th and 9th above, this is a chance for one of the Future Four to show that it can handle its business against a P5 team from the cellar, and in this case, it’s the Big 12’s cellar. Kansas appears to be turning a corner (if not the corner) under Lance Leipold, but I doubt anyone is picking the Jayhawks to finish anywhere but dead last in the Big 12 in 2022. No one in the Big 12 wants to think that the league is bringing in a team that’s worse than KU.
My gut says Houston wins a game that’s closer than many would like.
11. BYU at Stanford, November 26
This game would be higher on this list if not for three factors: 1. BYU has so many other big games that this one doesn’t move the needle (in fact, BYU at Boise is arguably bigger, but not for the Big 12); 2. Stanford only won three games last season; and 3. BYU will probably have just as many fans in the stands in Palo Alto as the home Stanford Cardinal.
BYU wins another one against the Pac-12.