Baylor Athletics loses old foes, faces new rivals in coming season

Baylor football shows off its Armed Forces Bowl and Big 12 patch on its jerseys before the 2022 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl game, which took place on Dec. 22, 2022, at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. Roundup file photo

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

From familiar foes to new faces, the 2023-24 Big 12 season will be filled with first times and last times, meaning the Baylor Bears are in for one of the most hyped seasons of all time.

There has never been a college sports season quite like the one the Big 12 will soon experience. Not only is the conference introducing four new schools this year, it’s also adding four more next year, compensating for the departure of the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. The door is wide open for new Big 12 faces to rise to the top.

Baylor and the rest of the “hateful eight” will usher Brigham Young University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Houston and the University of Central Florida into the conference this season, creating pivotal first-time matchups. The new squads will look to find sure footing while the green and gold will try to assert its dominance.

“It’s just different; it’s going to be an adventure for us this season,” Baylor volleyball head coach Ryan McGuyre said. “To me, it excites me. I think as a staff, we have to adapt. … Preparing for the unknown means we have to do things unlike how we’ve done it before.”

The recent news of the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and the University of Utah joining the Big 12 in 2024 has elevated how paramount the upcoming athletics season will be. The league just finished one of the biggest seasons for the conference after Texas Christian University’s football team made it all the way to the national championship game, and seven men’s basketball teams (70% of the Big 12) made it into the NCAA Tournament.

“Knowing some of the coaches that are in the [Pac-12] league, [our] league just got tougher,” Baylor football head coach Dave Aranda said when addressing the expansion of the Big 12. “[There will be] a lot of quality [and] physical teams. I’m excited for it, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”

The conference’s stability helped inspire the “Four Corners” schools to join. Baylor has newly added pressure in 2023-24 to prove to the league its reputation as a top-end program. So long to the Power Five conferences, as the national eye is now fixated on four conferences. With the Big 12 being one of them, success can lead to more than just current time in the spotlight, but also cementing that spot in the future.

For the green and gold, the yearlong sports calendar will be juiced not only with new matchups that will be seen for years to come, but it also holds last time in-conference matchups sure to leave an impression. Oklahoma and Texas will be departing the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2023-24 season, giving the Bears the perfect opportunity to close those rivalries on a high note.

UT and OU, seen as well-rounded powerhouses throughout their tenure in the Big 12, have taken a few steps back in recent years. The Longhorns’ football squad has tallied only one 10-win season in the past 13 years. For the Sooners, the 2022-23 season was the first time both football (6-7) and basketball (15-17) finished with sub .500 records in the same season since 1965.

The Bears will have the chance to kick the former conference bullies aside and get the last laugh. While matchups on the gridiron, court and diamond will all seem bigger to Baylor, there could be more pressure for the Longhorns and Sooners. With both departing institutions looking to go out on top, the hateful eight — along with the four newcomers — have the chance to be spoilers.

It’s no lie that most eyes will be fixated on football and basketball, but every sport on campus will experience significant change. From Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field to the Hurd Tennis Center, each match is expected to bring renewed excitement.

The bottom line is the stakes feel higher than ever for Baylor and each team in the Big 12. The deck is stacked, and the cards have been dealt. The Bears have the chance to run the table and cement their name at the forefront of the new Big 12.