Though BYU joined the Big 12 Conference over two months ago, the school’s first head-to-head contest against a league foe has yet to be played in any sport. That will all change Thursday evening when the No. 1-ranked Cougars welcome TCU to Provo.

“I think this group is used to going into games knowing that we’ll get our opponents’ very best and that we have to be prepared for that.” — BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood

BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood expects a great environment when her team takes the field that night and officially begins a new era of BYU Athletics.

“We have an amazing fan base and home support,” she said. “I think we’ll have people come out excited to see Big 12 soccer and a chance for us to play … a very good opponent on South Field.”

The Cougars will begin their inaugural Big 12 schedule as the team to beat after preseason polling picked the newcomers as the favorites. For Rockwood and her squad, that’s right where they thrive. 

“We want to be someone’s target,” the longtime BYU coach said. “We want to play with the target on our back. The last four or five years we’ve typically been a top-10, top-15 team. So I think this group is used to going into games knowing that we’ll get our opponents’ very best and that we have to be prepared for that; that they’re going to come after us and for some teams it’s the biggest game on their schedule. … So I think we’re well prepared just in the past couple of years of knowing that going into any game.”

BYU is no stranger to being the top dog of a conference, having won the West Coast Conference eight times before making the switch to the Big 12 this year. The school hopes its previous success will follow it into a new league. 

“We were in a very strong soccer conference in the WCC and our goal was to always win it,” Rockwood said. “So we always had that high expectation. … But (we) were able to win it the majority of the years that we were in the WCC so I think that just kind of carries over to the Big 12. I think (the WCC) has really prepared us to go into a P5 conference.”

Though the Cougars have become accustomed to success and lofty expectations, they don’t take the recognition they have received lightly. 

How BYU soccer earned a historic victory in win over top-ranked UCLA

When asked about her team being picked to win its new conference, Rockwood said, “It’s definitely an honor and we’re humbled by it. We appreciate the fact that people are recognizing the success of our program.”

BYU feels it will bring a unique style and added strength to the Big 12. 

“The Big 12 has tremendous soccer teams,” Rockwood said. “I think top to bottom it’s going to be very competitive, and we’re not familiar with the teams. … But also, they haven’t seen a team like us and they haven’t ever played on a place like South Field. So we still feel like there’s some huge advantages we have going into this new conference.”

The Cougars hope to use those competitive advantages when they begin conference play against TCU. The Horned Frogs are pegged to be one of BYU’s toughest tests in the league after getting picked to finish second in the league’s preseason voting.

“When the conference … schedule came out and we saw that we got TCU at home, obviously we were very excited about that,” Rockwood said. “They’ve done a tremendous job the last several years and have been kind of the top team in the conference recently and have had great success nationally. … So we were real excited that we got them at home and especially for the very first Big 12 game that any BYU team plays.” 

The Cougars have a little familiarity with the Horned Frogs after competing in the Mountain West Conference together for six years and prior to that in the Western Athletic Conference for three. During that time, BYU never lost a conference contest to TCU, going 9-0 before ultimately losing to the Horned Frogs in the schools’ most recent matchup in the 2018 NCAA tournament. 

Ultimately, BYU can’t wait to get things underway. Though the Cougars’ league has changed, their approach will be much the same.

“We just have the same goals, the same aspirations,” Rockwood said. “It might be a tougher journey. … But it’s something new and exciting; new teams, new places, new competition.”

BYU and Utah Valley compete in a soccer game in Orem on Sept. 12, 2023. The Cougars begin Big 12 play Thursday night when TCU pays Provo a visit. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo