Gus Malzahn is back in a Power 5 conference, with UCF prepping for its first season in the Big 12, where Houston coach Dana Holgorsen is again overseeing a team’s transition into the league like he did just more than a decade ago at West Virginia.
While BYU is giving up its football independence, coach Kalani Sitake has experience with a program moving up to the highest level. And Scott Satterfield’s first season with Cincinnati — and the Bearcats’ debut in the Big 12 — comes after four seasons in the ACC as Louisville’s coach.
They are the four new coaches, for the four new teams, in the expanded Big 12.
“It’s just the excitement of playing some of the best teams in college football week in and week out and that grind that goes with it,” former Auburn coach Malzahn said Thursday, as the Big 12 wrapped up its football media days. “That’s what excites me. Just the profile of our program taking that next step.”
Malzahn is going into his third season at UCF, which followed his eight consecutive winning seasons in the SEC. The Tigers made it to the BCS championship game in his 2013 debut season, the year before the start of the four-team College Football Playoff.
UCF proclaimed itself national champion after going undefeated in 2017 and beating Malzahn’s Auburn squad in the Peach Bowl, while one-loss Alabama won the CFP title game. The Knights, who left the American Athletic Conference with Cincinnati and Houston, have gone 18-9 overall under Malzahn with a 2-3 record against Power 5 teams.
The Big 12 media days were at AT&T Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and its conference championship game. It is also where two seasons ago Cincinnati lost to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl after becoming the first Group of 5 team to make the four-team CFP.
“I do think all four schools will be competitive in this league,” Satterfield said. “The thing that as a newcomer into the league, you don’t know the makeup of the teams. We haven’t played in this league. We haven’t played the teams that are in this league, so you don’t really understand the ins and outs of the teams that we’re getting ready to play.”
With the four additions coming a year before Oklahoma and Texas leave for the SEC, the Big 12 will have 14 teams this season. The conference now spreads over three time zones with schools from eight different states, stretching from Utah to West Virginia to Florida.
This is the first change in the league’s makeup since 2012, when West Virginia and TCU were added to then keep the Big 12 at 10 teams.
“Well, it’s exciting to be the new guy again,” said Holgorsen, who was with WVU for its first seven Big 12 seasons before going to Houston. “The last four years have been a little different for me, being in the American conference, and it really makes you appreciate a conference like the Big 12 by now being back. This thing goes so many different directions. The University of Houston has been looking forward to this day for a long, long time.”
Houston wasn’t part of the original 12-team Big 12 lineup when the league began play in 1996 after the members of the former Big Eight Conference joined with half of the defunct Southwest Conference. The Cougars went from the SWC to Conference USA and then the American in 2013.
Sitake, a former BYU fullback going into his eighth season as head coach of his alma mater, was on Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah when the Utes went from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Utah has had only one losing season since, and is coming off consecutive 10-win seasons that ended in the Rose Bowl.
“This is a lot of fun,” Sitake said. “Being an independent, I wasn’t able to experience this as a head coach. This has been a great dream for me, so please don’t wake me up.”
The Cougars were national champions under coach LaVell Edwards after going undefeated in 1984. They were in the WAC then, moved to the Mountain West in 1999 and became an FBS independent in 2011.
“This isn’t going to be easy, and we know that,” Sitake said. “Now that we’re here, there’s a high sense of urgency for us to get ready to go, and I feel really good about the progress that we’ve made as a team in the last couple [of] years, and there’s some really cool lessons that we’ve been able to learn about our skills but also the deficiencies that we probably have meeting some of those Power 5 teams that we’ve played in the past five years.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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