Meet the Next-Gen Big 12

As the U enters a new power athletic conference, get to know the history, traditions, and unique flair of each member.


Get ready for a game-changing moment in University of Utah athletics. This fall, the U debuts as a proud member of the Big 12 athletic conference, now 16 schools strong thanks to a realignment that brought in four former Pac-12 members. The incomers bring athletic prowess to an already competitive conference with strength across its 23 sports. It’s widely considered the best men’s basketball league, for example, and is one of the elite “power” conferences—along with the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC—that dominate the college gridiron. The infusion of fresh talent promises an electrifying season. As we gear up for the drama ahead, let’s get to know our adversaries, old and new. To traveling U fans, expect charming college towns and exciting cities. To the rival bands of college fans, we’ll meet you in The MUSS. Just prepare yourself for the third down jump.

Jump to individual universities:

Arizona State University Baylor University Brigham Young University
Iowa State University Kansas State University Oklahoma State University
Texas Christian University Texas Tech University University of Arizona
University of Central Florida University of Cincinnati University of Colorado Boulder
University of Houston University of Kansas University of Utah
West Virginia University

 

What’s in a Name (or Number)?

The Big 12 and Big Ten may share a “big” title, but don’t be fooled—they’re separate conferences. The U joins the 16-strong Big 12, while across the divide, the Big Ten grows to 18, with new additions including USC and Washington. And pay no attention to the numbers. Even though each conference has expanded, they’ve both made the decision to keep their legacy names.


Where to Watch Big 12 Games

The Big 12 has media rights deals with ESPN and FOX Sports. Games are mostly broadcast on the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPNU, and Big 12 Now/ESPN+), as well as FOX and FS1. Other TV partners may carry non-conference games and tournaments. Check utahutes.com for info on upcoming games.


Oklahoma State University

STILLWATER, OK

ENROLLMENT: 26,000 / NICKNAME: COWBOYS / MASCOT: PISTOL PETE / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 54, INCLUDING 34 IN MEN’S WRESTLING / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 1945 (46-6 OSU)

Welcome to Stillwater, Oklahoma, known as one of the friendliest cities in America and a true college town. A charming downtown full of shops and restaurants hugs the southeast corner of Oklahoma State University. On campus, you’ll find Georgian architecture, lush trees, and expansive lawns. Strolling past Theta Pond, you can’t miss the 650,000-square-foot OSU Student Union—the largest in the world, with a hotel, 550-seat theater, lounges, food court, shops, the Rancher’s Club restaurant, and even an esports arena. It’s also home to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. After exploring campus, there’s only one thing to decide: where to eat. Will it be the world-famous Eskimo Joe’s, Hideaway Pizza, the first-ever Sonic Drive-In, or something else?
—Aaron Lovell, U of U Health Associate Director of Marketing

Back to top


University of Kansas

LAWRENCE, KS

ENROLLMENT: 29,000 / NICKNAME: JAYHAWKS / MASCOTS: BIG JAY AND BABY JAY / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 15 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 1996 (45–42 UTAH)

Do Kansas fans tend to brag about their men’s basketball program? Probably. Are they justified? Absolutely. KU holds the most NCAA championship titles (four) of any Big 12 school and the most conference titles in the entire country. What else from the school whose first coach was James Naismith, the founder of the game itself? Kansas pride is on display at every game, as fans cheer on their team by “waving the wheat” (swaying their arms) and chan-ting “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.”

Back to top


University of Cincinnati

CINCINNATI, OH

ENROLLMENT: 51,000 / NICKNAME: BEARCATS / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2, IN MEN’S BASKETBALL / FUN FACT: THE BEARCAT, AKA THE BINTURONG, IS NATIVE TO ASIA AND REPORTEDLY SMELLS LIKE POPCORN / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: NONE

In a city where urban bustle meets Midwest charm, UC is “an exciting place to be,” says Ryan White PhD’07, UC’s divisional dean of natural sciences. The vibrant campus features architecture by Frank Gehry and UC alum Michael Graves, with Nippert Stadium at its heart. You’ll often catch students studying in the stands or jogging on the field. Like alum Travis Kelce, the football program is grabbing attention recently, making history in 2020-21 as the first non-power-conference team to make the playoffs. Basketball legend Oscar Robertson broke records here as three-time leading NCAA scorer and three-time College Player of the Year. The men’s college basketball outstanding player trophy is now named in his honor.

▶  Oscar Robertson went on to play for the Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Back to top


Baylor University

WACO, TX

ENROLLMENT: 21,000 / NICKNAME: BEARS / MASCOTS: BRUISER AND MARIGOLD (COSTUMED) AND INDY AND BELLE (LIVE BLACK BEARS) / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 14 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2023 (20–13 UTAH)

From Tuesday Dr. Pepper Hour to the Diadeloso (“Day of the Bear”) spring fest, traditions abound at this private Baptist university. If you visit on game day, go sailgating on the Brazos River before heading to McLane Stadium. There, you’ll witness the famous Baylor Line: a stampede of gold jersey-clad freshmen cross the field and form a human tunnel for players to make their entrance, all the while shouting their rallying cry, “Sic ’em, Bears!”

Back to top

University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, UT

NEW TO THE BIG 12 / ENROLLMENT: 35,000 / NICKNAME: UTES / MASCOT: SWOOP, A RED-TAILED HAWK / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 30 (16 IN SKIING, 10 IN WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS, 3 IN MEN’S BASKETBALL, 1 IN WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY)

Here’s a riddle for you: “I’ve hiked to the white Block U and posed at the red Block U. I’ve graffitied the wall at the Pie. I’ve sprinted uphill from a class on Presidents Circle to a class at HPER. I’ve taken midday billiards breaks at the Union, lost my voice at the Huntsman Center, lost my hearing at Rice-Eccles, bused with The MUSS, clapped at Kingsbury, cheered at Kerfuffles, and flashed the U till my thumbs gave out. Who am I, sir?” 

The answer is something U alumni proudly shout at every game, our yell ringing across what could very well be the country’s most beautiful campus. We may have chosen the U for different reasons. Maybe it was the research opportunities, nationally ranked medical/business/law school, well-respected arts and humanities programs, or the proximity to multiple ski resorts (hey, we all have our priorities). But there’s one thing we alums have in common—we’re Utah fans, sir, and will be till we die. Go Utes!

Back to top

Texas Christian University

FORT WORTH, TX

ENROLLMENT: 13,000 / NICKNAME: HORNED FROGS / MASCOT: SUPERFROG / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 5 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2010 (47–7 TCU)

First things first: what is a horned frog? It’s actually the Texas horned lizard, reported to have once swarmed TCU’s football field. If you visit campus, look for the horned frog statue and rub its nose for luck. In the stadium, catch fans with their horned frog sign of two curled fingers. And get ready for the smoke-spewing Frog Horn that celebrates touchdowns with an ear-splitting blast.

Back to top


Arizona State University

TEMPE, PHOENIX, AND LAKE HAVASU, AZ

NEW TO THE BIG 12 / ENROLLMENT: 146,000 / NICKNAME: SUN DEVILS (INSPIRATION: DESERT SUN + DUST DEVILS) / MASCOT: SPARKY / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 24 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2023 (3–55 UTAH)

ASU’s social work doctoral program may have been the main draw for alum Jason Castillo. But the fact that he could tailgate in shorts in November? Icing on the cake. Castillo, associate dean for academic affairs in the U’s College of Social Work, moved from windchilled Wyoming to sunny Tempe and Phoenix to attend one of the nation’s largest universities. “To me, ASU was this huge urban jungle,” he says. There’s always something to experience, from Tempe Town Lake paddleboarding to bustling Mill Avenue nightlife to ASU’s fiery football games. With a roaring student section called the Inferno and fireworks after every touchdown, the Sun Devils will be bringing the heat to the Big 12 this fall.

Back to top


ZUMA PRESS, INC. / ALAMY

West Virginia University

MORGANTOWN, WV

ENROLLMENT: 27,000 / NICKNAME: MOUNTAINEERS / MASCOT: THE MOUNTAINEER / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 28, WITH 19 FOR THE RIFLE TEAM / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2017 HEART OF DALLAS BOWL (30-14 UTAH)

When the Utes play at West Virginia University, don’t be alarmed when a buckskin-clad mountaineer fires a musket into the air—that’s just how WVU kicks off the game. Appalachian spirit is strong here, and the university celebrates it with events like Mountaineer Week—picture bluegrass concerts and a beard-growing contest. “There were always a lot of undergrads who would grow those long ZZ Top beards,” remembers U Enrollment Management’s Steve Robinson, a WVU alum. If you make the cross-country trek, stick around after the game for the singalong to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” But, Robinson points out, “They only play it when the Mountaineers win, so Ute fans probably won’t want to hear it.”

Back to top


University of Arizona

TUCSON, AZ

NEW TO THE BIG 12 / ENROLLMENT: 53,000 / NICKNAME: WILDCATS / MASCOTS: WILBUR AND WILMA /  TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 22 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2023 (42–18 ARIZONA)

The University of Arizona is a paradise for snowbird students like Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson MSW’99 PhD’08. “I have fond memories of practicing flag football at midnight year-round,” says the U social work professor who attended UA for her undergrad. Vogel-Ferguson remembers hikes up Sentinel Peak to paint the “A,” followed by technicolor sunsets. In this desert landscape, the only thing hotter than Tucson’s temps is the scorching Arizona-ASU Territorial Cup, America’s oldest college football rivalry trophy. 

Back to top


University of Houston

HOUSTON, TX

ENROLLMENT: 46,000 / NICKNAME: COUGARS / MASCOTS: SHASTA AND SASHA / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 17, WITH 16 IN GOLF /  LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 1978 (42-25 HOUSTON)

In the heart of Space City, the University of Houston trains some of NASA’s next rock(et) stars, offering aerospace engineering degrees and the world’s only space architecture graduate program. The 2023 Big 12 newcomers are already proving themselves in the conference, with recent successes in football and basketball. If you’re ever in the stands among UH fans, look for the Cougar sign—one hand up, ring finger touching palm. It’s an homage to the live mascot who lost a toe in 1953.

Back to top


University of Central Florida

ORLANDO, FL

ENROLLMENT: 69,000 / NICKNAME: KNIGHTS / MASCOTS: KNIGHTRO (COSTUMED) AND THE UCF KNIGHT AND PEGASUS (LIVE) / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1 (NON-CONSENSUS) FOOTBALL TITLE / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: NONE

Kennedy Space Center? Disney World? Those are just a few student internship choices at this Orlando school. Nicknamed SpaceU, UCF was founded in the 1960s to train the space race workforce. Today it’s a compre­hensive university with 220+ degree programs. If you visit during Homecoming Week, watch for Spirit Splash—a favorite tradition where students jump into the campus’s huge reflecting pool. At the Bounce House (FBC Mortgage Sta­dium), keep an eye out for soaring rockets above the 50-yard line—it intentionally aligns with the latitude of KSP’s launch complex.

Image: Conor Kvatek/UCF Athletics

Back to top


Kansas State University

MANHATTAN, KS

ENROLLMENT: 20,000 / NICKNAME: WILDCATS / MASCOT: WILLIE THE WILDCAT / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 0 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: NONE

Smack dab in the heartland, K-State is full of agriculture wizards. The nation’s first land-grant university has won more national collegiate crops contests—32—than any other school in the country. The fierce football contenders have claimed the last 15 Sunflower Showdown titles against their almighty foe, University of Kansas. If you attend a game, stop by the campus dairy bar first for some Purple Pride ice cream.

Back to top


Iowa State University

AMES, IA

ENROLLMENT: 30,000 / NICKNAME: CYCLONES / MASCOT: CY THE CARDINAL / TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 19 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2010 (68-27 UTAH)

When potential students tour Iowa State, they stop at the Campanile—a clock tower in the center of campus—and are asked the same questions: How many bricks did it take to build the Campanile, and how many bells does it have? Over 50,000 bricks and 50 bells went into the iconic structure, just one of many beautiful buildings at Iowa State. The university has one of the largest collections of public art in the nation and one of the most electrifying coliseums in college basketball. Jack Trice Stadium, the only CFB stadium named after an African American, hosts the Cyclones football team. If you attend a game, perk up your ears for the “Juicy Wiggle” and watch the crowd dance.
— Zeb Callahan, Assistant Athletic Trainer, U Gymnastics, Iowa State ’18

Back to top


Texas Tech University

LUBBOCK, TX

ENROLLMENT: 40,000 / NICKNAME: RED RAIDERS / MASCOTS: THE MASKED RIDER (LIVE) AND RAIDER RED (COSTUMED) / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 3 / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 1973 (29-22 TTU)

At this west Texas university, conference matches are more like Showdowns at the Big 12 Corral. A masked rider atop a black horse leads the football team onto the field, while the gunslinging Raider Red cowboy mascot paces the sidelines and fans throw tortillas from the stands. The atmosphere is no less intimidating in the basketball arena, which has birthed phenoms like Sheryl Swoopes. The WNBA legend led the team to NCAA victory in 1993 before beginning her pro career.

Back to top


Brigham Young University

PROVO, UT

ENROLLMENT: 35,000 / NICKNAME: COUGARS / MASCOT: COSMO / TEAM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 14, INCLUDING 1 IN FOOTBALL / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2018 (35-27 UTAH)

If you’re heading to Brigham Young University, a Big 12 member as of 2023, get ready to climb. From the west, it’s 192 stairs up to campus. But BYU students are used to climbing. After all, it’s another 1,000 vertical feet to the famous Y on the mountain. Visitors are often stunned by the majestic Wasatch Mountains seen from LaVell Edwards Stadium and outside the Marriott Center, the Big 12’s largest football and basketball venues. 

Sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU invites students to seek heights of secular and spiritual learning. They balance rigorous coursework in business, accounting, law, engineering, and more with religion classes and weekly forums with speakers from inside and outside the faith. As BYU students climb into their careers after graduation, they’re reminded: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”
— Aaron Lovell, U of U Health Associate Director of Marketing, BYU Class of ’04

Back to top


University of Colorado Boulder

BOULDER, CO

NEW TO THE BIG 12 / ENROLLMENT: 37,000 / NICKNAME: BUFFALOES / MASCOTS: RALPHIE (LIVE) AND CHIP (COSTUMED) / NCAA TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: 25, INCLUDING 18 IN SKIING / LAST U FOOTBALL MATCHUP: 2023 (23-17 UTAH)

“When this New England girl first saw Boulder, Colorado’s stunning, red rock Flatirons after driving 2,000 miles cross country, it was love at first sight,” writes April Goddard MPA’97, senior director of advancement at the U’s College of Social and Behavioral Science, about her alma mater. “After experiencing 300 days of sunshine, 45,000 acres of open space, 300 miles of bike trails, and world-class Eldorado Canyon climbing nine miles away, I waved goodbye to Maine winters forever. I quickly adapted to what Gallup and Forbes have named our nation’s fittest city. A quirky, campus-centered community with firm roots in its hippie past, Boulder is full of athletic, educated people—only Silicon Valley has more STEM jobs per capita. Before moving to Utah, my husband and I were married on Flagstaff Mountain, looking down on Boulder Valley’s breathtaking vista.”

Back to top

 

Lisa Anderson BA’02 is associate editor of Utah Magazine.

Comments

Comments are moderated, so there may be a slight delay. Those that are off-topic or deemed inappropriate may not be posted. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *