Utah picked to win Big 12 by league media in first season; BYU tabbed 13th

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is the favorite to win the Big 12 in its first season as a league football member — but not by much.

The Utes were picked to win the Big 12 by conference media, the league announced Tuesday, one week ahead of its annual conference media days that will be held July 9-10 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Utah claimed 20 first-place votes for 906 total points in the sampling of conference reporters and broadcasters. That was just 17 points ahead of Kansas State, which received 19 first-place votes.

Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II was named Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. Colorado cornerback Travis Hunter took preseason defensive player of the year honors, and UCF quarterback KJ Jefferson — a transfer from Arkansas — was the league's preseason newcomer of the year.

The Utes went 8-5 with a 5-4 record in its final season in the Pac-12 a year ago, but the return of quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe has bolstered optimism in a team that averaged 23.2 points per game last year to get back to the 38.6 points and 36.1 points per game it managed during back-to-back Pac-12 title years in 2021-22.

Kuithe, who led Utah's pass catchers in receiving yards in 2021 and 2022 before missing the 2023 season with an injury, was named to the preseason offensive All-Big 12 team, the conference announced Tuesday.

Utah was also picked first in the Big 12 by Phil Steele Magazine, but like league media, it wasn't by much in a year where it will skip the Kansas schools in the regular season and face fellow contender Oklahoma State on the road Sept. 21.

The Cowboys were picked third with 829 points, including 14 first-place votes, Kansas was fourth with 772 points and five first-place votes, and Arizona fifth with 762 points and three first-place votes.

It wasn't all rosy for the league's newcomers of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah; the Sun Devils, who went 3-9 in the final year of the Pac-12 including a 59-23 loss to the rival Wildcats in Territorial Cup play, were picked last in their new league.

BYU was tabbed 13th in the now-16 team league with 215 points — just behind Baylor (268) and ahead of fellow "sophomore" schools Cincinnati (196) and Houston (157).

The BYU football team walks off the SAB outdoor practice fields after practice at the start of spring camp in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.
The BYU football team walks off the SAB outdoor practice fields after practice at the start of spring camp in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

The Cougars went 5-7 in their first season of Big 12 play, including a 2-7 mark in the league that tied for 11th after a pair of losses to conference departures Texas and Oklahoma.

Ninth-year coach Kalani Sitake's squad returns quarterback Jake Retzlaff, who is locked in an offseason-long competition for starter's minutes with former Baylor signal caller Gerry Bohanon, as well as starting running back LJ Martin and return five of their top-seven pass catchers (including Keanu Hill, who has moved from wide receiver to tight end).

Leading pass rusher Tyler Batty, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior from Payson, was named to the preseason defensive All-Big 12 team Tuesday.

No. 13 is a familiar position for BYU, whose men's basketball team was picked to finish 13th in the league a year ago. After joking that 13 was his favorite number due to his Taylor Swift fandom, head coach Mark Pope led the Cougars to a fifth-place finish in conference and an NCAA Tournament berth that led to his own move to Kentucky and the beginning of the Kevin Young era in Provo.

Can BYU football pull the same type of turnaround?

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