It’s easy to give Kansas the nod if you know where to look
Don’t worry, I’ll give the reasoning to you straight. There are two factors that I believe have the Jayhawks riding into next season on a stronger high than Utah, and those are their advantages in familiarity and trajectory. With the former being especially straightforward, we’ll get it out of the way first.
Regardless of where a school’s conference affiliation lies before and after realignment, its athletic programs will usually have to endure the change of scenery with a varying amount of trial-and-error.
In other words, while the Utes are good enough to compete in the Big 12 through the schedule that awaits them, common sense dictates that they will struggle in adapting to their five new league opponents (not including Baylor, an official non-conference opponent they beat last year) than the Jayhawks will to their three (one of which is Houston, as the Cougars didn’t face Kansas in their inaugural Big 12 run).
Secondly, we have the trajectory that the two teams are currently on, with the Jayhawks easily taking the cake in that department. While their 2023 finish (9-4) was only one game better than Utah’s (8-5), it was their best since 2007 and the latest of what has been a visible climb in the still-short Lance Leipold era (two wins to six to nine).
Meanwhile, Utah’s aforementioned results were visibly the program’s worst in recent memory, with the Utes not finishing with under nine wins in a full season since 2017 (which was also the last one in which they didn’t compete in the Pac-12 title game). Winning eight games is objectively decent, but when remembering their standard, I’m sure they would’ve preferred to get this next chapter of their football program started under prettier circumstances.
Building off of that, anyone who wishes to bring up how Utah was the only one to go the whole year without its QB1 needs to know that’s not the anti-Jayhawk zinger you think it is, as due to Rising suffering an injury far more severe than Daniels’, the Utes knew the low probability of him returning in 2023.
The same can’t be said for Kansas, who had Daniels ready to start the year all just to lose him a few games in. Therefore, Utah should have had its replacement(s) all the more prepared to lead its offense into battle than the Jayhawks had theirs to do the same.
And any strength of schedule argument does just as little, as even though the Pac-12 received great praise for how uncharacteristically tough it was, the Jayhawks encountered just as many 10+ win opponents in 2023 as the Utes did (3).
Okay, I think that’s everything, so let’s see here: The Big 12’s 2024 crown will come down between Kansas and Utah, with the Jayhawks entering the season on a stronger note headlined by both a schedule closer to their comfort zone, and a head coach who is yet to confirm just how much higher his ceiling reaches. With that, to say Oklahoma and Texas left behind a conference that is Kansas’s to lose would be putting it lightly.