Fred Faour: UH football’s next stop is the Big 12, and it could be a win/win for everyone

Houston Cougars football head coach Dana Holgorsen prior to the team’s game against South Florida on Oct. 29 at TDECU Stadium. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)

Fred Faour: UH football’s next stop is the Big 12, and it could be a win/win for everyone

Next football season will be an interesting one for the local college football teams. The Big 12 will have a season involving Oklahoma and Texas, who are headed to the SEC in 2025 if not sooner. The four new additions will join in time for the 2023 season, so for at least a year it will be a 14-team Big 12.

But we want to look beyond that to what the new Big 12 will look like when it is actually 12 teams.

You simply can’t replace the brand names that Texas and Oklahoma bring to the table. They will help solidify the SEC as America’s best college football conference.

But the Big 12 did as well as it possibly could by adding the four best Group of Five teams that were available. BYU is a little out there, but the Cougars bring a national following and reputation on par with anyone in the conference. UCF brings the Florida market and a track record of recent success. Cincinnati brings a program that was in the playoff a year ago but does appear to have downgraded at coach. Regionally, however, it gets them in the Florida market, the midwest, and nationally with BYU.

Then there’s Houston. These Cougars get the Big 12 back into a foothold in Houston, which was and probably still is becoming SEC country, especially with Texas moving on. But the Cougars bring a large undergrad population, first-rate facilities, and a still-new, expandable stadium. Plus, it is a program with a New Year’s Six bowl win.

In a way, this could work out for everyone. Texas and OU could easily raise their profile in the SEC, and the remaining Texas schools should be just fine in the Big 12. (And please, save your “my team has been more successful on the field than Texas. The SEC is adding brands, and few are on par with UT in that regard, not even OU).

Of the remaining Big 12 teams, only West Virginia and Iowa State had losing records in the regular season. Of the newcomers, UCF and Cincinnati notched nine-win seasons, Houston had a down year but still won eight games, and BYU did the same. How will that translate into the new league? Houston was supposed to dominate the American in its last year but failed miserably. All of these teams will have to be better in the new league. Oklahoma State is perennially good. Baylor had an off year but won the conference a year ago. TCU is in the playoff, and Kansas State will play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Not to mention Kansas suddenly playing decent football, Texas Tech on the improve; this league has a chance to be very interesting moving forward. With the playoffs expanding, it should be a good thing for the new Big 12.

UH coach Dana Holgorsen has won in the Big 12 before, but the group he trotted out this year would have likely had a losing record. The Cougars lose quarterback Clayton Tune and are hitting the transfer portal to replace him. The key to the new league will be a bell cow program emerging. Can Sonny Dykes do it at TCU beyond this season? Can Mike Gundy take the next step at Oklahoma State? Can Holgorsen at UH? Gus Malzahn at UCF? The key to success is having the right coach in the right situation. One major program stepping up while the others remain competitive will be what sets the league apart. They will need a Clemson to emerge.

Meanwhile, the new Big 12 could be one of the best basketball conferences in the country. Even tossing Texas, which sits at No. 6, the future lineup would have the No. 3 team (Houston), No. 4 (Kansas), No. 12 (Baylor), No. 18 (TCU), and No. 24 (West Virginia). That stacks up pretty well with just about anyone.

While basketball was not a driving force behind the additions, it makes for a nice bonus.

It also helps Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars basketball team moving forward. They will only face one team currently in the top 30 (Memphis, who received some votes in the latest AP Poll) in their final year in the American Conference. They open that slate Wednesday against Tulsa. Next season, they will get all the teams listed above plus Top-40 programs Texas Tech and Kansas State.

But basketball still has a ways to go, and UH could be carrying another Final Four banner – maybe more – into next season.

For football purposes, however, and for UH, the Big 12 begins now. And it should be a hell of a ride.

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