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Arizona football: What the move to the Big 12 will mean for Wildcats on, off the field

arizona-wildcats-football-big12-future-opponents-travel-recruiting-changes-big12-2024 Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Change can be scary, but also exciting. It should be an equal mix of both for Arizona football when it starts play in the Big 12 Conference in 2024.

A new league will mean new opponents, which in turn means new locales to travel to for games. It also means new competition for recruits, and very likely some new recruiting territory.

“I think it’s a very good football conference,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said Sunday. “Cincinnati two years ago, TCU last year in the college football playoffs, so two out of the last two years. UCF is a great program. Gus Malzahn. I think, is one of the best coaches in the country. So that conference right now is sitting in a spot where there’s some really, really good football, and we’re excited for our conference and be one of those contenders.”

It’s still more than a year away, but here are some things to look forward to when Arizona moves to the Big 12:

The competition

Arizona will be jumping into a 16-team conference, a lineup that includes some familiar faces—hello Colorado and Utah … oh, and you, too, ASU—but also some programs it either has never played or hasn’t lined up against in decades.

All told, the Wildcats hold a 112-145-9 record against the field, but a large chunk of that comes from the matchups with their current Pac-12 brethren. Take out those three and their record is 34-53-6, with more than half of those games against BYU (12-12-1) and Texas Tech (5-26-2).

The difference, though, is that Arizona and BYU have met six times in the past 17 years, including the 2021 season opener in Las Vegas, while before the UA beat Texas Tech 28-14 in Tucson in 2019 they hadn’t met since 1989.

f the rest of the Big 12 lot, the Wildcats have played on three others this century. They lost both ends of a home-and-home to Houston in 2017-18, the latter a 45-18 beatdown on the road (that ironically followed a home loss to BYU) to get the ill-fated Kevin Sumlin era off to an ominous 0-2 start.

The last clash with Oklahoma State came in 2012, a 59-38 home win that was the first indication of Rich Rodriguez’s offensive genius. It also avenged back-to-back lopsided losses to the Cowboys, a 23-point defeat in Stillwater in 2011 and a 36-10 crushing in the 2010 Alamo Bowl.

The other Big 12 school Arizona has faced in the 21st century is TCU, though at the time the Horned Frogs were still in the Conference USA and a long ways away from the program that just reached the CFP title game. That 2003 meeting, a 13-10 home loss, holds a special place in UA history because it was the final game of the John Mackovic era.

As for the rest of the Big 12, Arizona last played Baylor in 1992, Kansas State in 1978, Iowa State in 1968 and Kansas in 1966. It has yet to battle league newcomers Cincinnati or UCF as well as West Virginia, but when that first matchup happens there has to be some sort of a rivalry trophy incorporating RichRod and Kerr Kriisa.

he UA was supposed to play K-State in 2024-25, but that home-and-home series will get scrapped since they’ll eventually meet up in league play.

The travel

Next year the Big 12 will span 10 states and three time zones, four when you factor in Arizona not adjusting its clocks twice a year for Daylight Savings. This will make for plenty of long trips to get to games, but that had already been the case in the Pac-12.

Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State were all more than 1,300 miles from Tucson, and the UA played in one of those states every year since joining the Pac-10 in 1978.

But now eight of the 15 potential road destinations are more than 1,000 miles away, and a few others are just shy of that mark. The furthest is Orlando, home of UCF, which is a 2,301-mile trek if you decided to drive it, while Morgantown, WV is 2,067 miles away.

ome Big 12 schools are located very close to major airports, however, like Cincinnati, Houston, TCU (Dallas/Fort Worth) and UCF, while Ames (home of Iowa State) is 37 miles outside Des Moines, Lawrence (Kansas) is 40 miles outside Kansas City, Provo (BYU) is 45 miles from Salt Lake City, Morgantown is 62 miles from Pittsburgh and Stillwater (Oklahoma State) is 64 miles north of Oklahoma City. Waco (Baylor) is a little more than 100 miles south of DFW, about the same distance that Manhattan (Kansas State) is from KC.

Arizona is already familiar with travel to Utah (Salt Lake City) and Colorado (Boulder), and ASU is still only a 2-hour drive away.

Overall, the travel aspect of this expansive conference won’t have nearly the same impact on Arizona as it will for other sports, both because road trips are limited to one game and because it won’t be going to more than four of the 14 out-of-state venues each year.

With a 9-game conference schedule, and assuming the Territorial Cup is played annually, the Wildcats may only have to visit each other school once every three or four years.

“It’s a lot shorter flight from LA to Houston than LA to Newark Airport,” Fisch said.


That last Fisch comment was a veiled slight at Arizona’s Big Ten-bound Pac-12 brethren, particularly UCLA and USC, who will end up playing games at Rutgers every few years. That’s not going to be an enticing trip for recruits (and parents) from Southern California.

The UA will continue to make SoCal one of its primary recruiting focuses, along with the state of Arizona, as is the case with the 2024 recruiting class. Of the 20 known commitments, nine are from the Golden State and seven from the Grand Canyon State.

“We’re gonna spend a lot a lot of time focused on Southern California and Arizona like we always have,” Fisch said. “But now this is an opportunity to recruit nationally. It’s an opportunity for us to really put a footprint in Texas. I recruited Florida my whole life, every time I’ve ever coached at a college program. Coaching at Florida, going to (school in) Florida and then be able to recruit Florida now that we’re playing Central Florida in the future will be great.

Two members of the 2024 class are from Texas, the same number as in 2023, while the 2022 and 2023 classes have each included a Florida signee and one of the two players the UA signed in 2021 after Fisch was hired (safety Isaiah Taylor) is from Fort Lauderdale.

And if you’re wondering how Arizona may stack up with its future conference foes in the recruiting rankings, it looks pretty good. The 2024 class is ranked 30th nationally by 247Sports, and that happens to be tops among Big 12 schools. Second-best is Texas Tech, at No. 32, followed by Cincinnati (37), UCF (39), West Virginia (41), Kansas (44) and ASU (45).

And Arizona’s 2023 class, which ranked 40th, would have been 6th-best among the 16 schools that will be in the Big 12 school next year.