There could be some new holy wars brewing in the evolving Big 12 Conference.
With BYU coming in this season, the Big 12 has three private Christian schools from different denominations. The Cougars, the 1984 national champions who played the past 12 seasons as an independent, are now in the same league with Baylor and TCU — whose 118-game “Revivalry” in Texas dates to a scoreless tie in 1899.
“I think that will be really intriguing to see … is there more of a long-term interest amongst TCU and Baylor fans in BYU as an opponent compared to some of the other Big 12 teams that are coming in,” said Northern Kentucky professor Joe Cobbs, an expert in sports rivalries.
BYU was founded by and still supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church. Baylor is the world’s largest Baptist university, and TCU partners with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). All three schools were founded in the 1800s.
There can be commonality among fans from such schools, even of different denominations, in valuing what religion adds to higher education, Cobbs said. There also can be the thoughts of “we’re both religious schools, let’s see who’s the best. And that’s where holy war becomes kind of an apt name.”
TCU is the smallest Big 12 school with around 12,000 students, but the Horned Frogs had an undefeated regular season and made the four-team College Football Playoff last season before losing to Georgia in the national championship game. That came a year after Baylor was the Big 12 champion and won the Sugar Bowl.
“I understand that TCU is probably our primary rival, but I’m also really proud of TCU and of Baylor … smaller private institutions, and we’ve been able to find a way to navigate,” said Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades, noting the similarities with BYU. “To have three in a conference I think is really cool. And I think it will probably make for some really healthy conversation between the three of us, and how do we continue to navigate our success in the midst of schools that have more alums, maybe even deeper pockets.”
In college basketball, the Big East was formed in 2013 by seven Catholic universities and the league has become one of the strongest in the sport.
There are 14 teams in the Big 12 this season with the additions of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. That means not every team will play each other each year.
BYU, with only one losing record over the past 18 seasons, plays at TCU on Oct. 14, a reunion of teams that briefly in the past shared membership in both the Mountain West (2005-10) and Western Athletic (1996-98) conferences. But the Cougars aren’t scheduled to play Baylor after they split games the past two seasons in a home-and-home series with the Bears that was set long before all of the conference realignment.
Big 12 officials haven’t revealed what their scheduling format will be next year — or who will play who — when they are set to have 16 teams. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will come into the league from the picked-apart Pac-12 next season when Texas and Oklahoma leave for the Southeastern Conference.
That next round of newcomers will bring the actual “Holy War” matchup between instate rivals BYU and Utah into the Big 12. Utah is a public university where at least one-third of the students identify as Latter-day Saints. They last played in 2021, and aren’t scheduled to play this year, but there have been 101 meetings. The Cougars recognize only 95 games since they officially began playing intercollegiate football in 1922.
BYU-Utah is listed as one of the top-10 most intense FBS rivalries at KnowRivalry.com, a site that highlights ongoing research by Cobbs and UMass associate professor David Tyler.
TCU has played BYU 11 times, most of those in their past conferences together, though their last meeting in 2011 was the season the Cougars became an independent team. Baylor and BYU have met four times, including the Cougars’ 47-13 win at home early in the 1994 season that they finished undefeated.
All rise, there should be a lot more opportunities to play each other now.