No. 19: T.C.U.
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 15, 2011
A healthy Oregon State, then ranked No. 24 in the nation, hung around for most of three quarters in the season opener. San Diego State made things interesting with 14 early points and 14 late points in November. Wisconsin came within a two-point conversion of overtime in the Rose Bowl. No one else sniffed T.C.U.; no one else seemed to be in the same stratosphere at the Horned Frogs, winners of 27 of their last 28 games, winners of 98 games over the last decade. Like a wind-up doll, pull their string and watch the Horned Frogs go to work: they’ll run down your throat, hit you deep, dominate on special teams, not let you do squat on the ground, intercept your attempts, break your back, break your heart. Last year’s team wasn’t just vintage T.C.U., though it was vintage T.C.U. under Gary Patterson. Last year’s team was vintage football, like the kind of football Vince Lombardi espoused in Green Bay — like the kind you may see on a football how-to video. How do you go 13-0? At its most basic, you run the football and stop opponents from doing the same. T.C.U. does that and more.
Fort Worth, Tex.
9 (3 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 2
- Sept. 10
at Air Force
- Sept. 17
- Sept. 24
- Sept. 30
- Oct. 8
at San Diego St.
- Oct. 22
- Oct. 28
B.Y.U. (in Arlington, Tex.)
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
at Boise St.
- Nov. 19
- Dec. 3
Last year’s prediction
Now, what if T.C.U. does run the table: can it play for a national title? Don’t think about whether the Horned Frogs deserve to, because, well, they would. Perfect two years in a row, with wins in 2010 over Oregon State, Baylor, S.M.U., Air Force, B.Y.U. and Utah? If T.C.U. is one of two undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, it would be highway robbery if it didn’t meet the other 12-0 — or 13-0 — team for the title. So that’s what T.C.U. needs: to run the table and have a few teams ahead of it — at least three, maybe four — drop a game in the regular season.
In a nutshell The Horned Frogs won two games by five points or less: the Aztecs and Badgers. Another team, Oregon State, got within single-digits. The rest? T.C.U. won by an average final score of 45.0-8.1 against the remaining 10 teams on its schedule. Carnage. Defense? The best in the land for the third straight season. Against the run? After leading the F.B.S. in 2008 and finishing third in 2009, T.C.U. tumbled — tongue firmly in cheek — all the way down to sixth. The horror! Offense? Fourth nationally in scoring, 10th in rushing and 12th overall. Special teams? Fifteenth in kickoffs, seventh in kickoff returns and sixth in punt returns. The most solid, well-coached, consistent, error-free team in the country? Yes, in my opinion. Now, the big question: T.C.U. and Auburn on Monday, Jan. 10 — who wins? I’m not going to say who wins if the two meet 100 times; I’d probably go with Auburn, though not by very much. On that specific night, however, I really, truly, firmly believe that the Horned Frogs would have won. And that means nothing, but still…
High point Remember all that talk about Utah wanting some revenge over 2009’s blowout loss in Fort Worth? I’m not going to say it was over before the two teams stepped on the field, but it was over after about five minutes. The final score, 47-7, does the game justice. A Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin was pleasing to anyone who adores traditional football values — the work done in the trenches — over flash.
Low point Not applicable. Maybe we can point towards the win over San Diego State, which hurt T.C.U. with some national voters who look only at the final score.
Tidbit T.C.U. has played a whole bunch of teams more than once over its decade under Gary Patterson, but only four such opponents have posted a winning record over the Horned Frogs. One is Boise State, which was has sandwiched a pair of wins over T.C.U. with a loss in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. The others are U.A.B., which lost in 2003 but won in 2001 and 2004; Cincinnati, which lost in 2003 but won in 2002 and 2004; and East Carolina, which beat T.C.U. in 2001 and 2002.
Tidbit (rush defense edition) How good has the T.C.U. run defense been since 2008? Over the last three years, the Horned Frogs have allowed a total of 2,951 yards on the ground — 1,296 last fall, 1,043 in 2009 and a ridiculous 612 yards in 2008. That three-year total would have ranked T.C.U. 118th nationally in 2010, ahead of New Mexico and Kansas State and just four yards behind East Carolina. The 2,951-yard total would been 117th in 2009 and 118th in 2008.
Tidbit (starters edition) T.C.U. returns only 18 players with one or more career starts heading into 2011. That’s a quite a drop from last fall, when the Horned Frogs returned 16 full-time starters and roughly 15 more with past starting experience.
Former players in the N.F.L.
23 RB Aaron Brown (Detroit), OT Marcus Cannon (New England), CB Drew Coleman (Jacksonville), QB Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), TE Evan Frosch (Cleveland), LS Clint Gresham (Seattle), LB David Hawthorne (Seattle), DE Jerry Hughes (Indianapolis), CB Alex Aliboye (Dallas), WR Bart Johnson (Cincinnati), S Colin Jones (San Francisco), WR Jeremy Kerley (New York Jets), OG Jake Kirkpatrick (Indianapolis), OT Marshall Newhouse (Green Bay), LB Jason Phillips (Baltimore), S Rafael Priest (Atlanta), OT Herb Taylor (Denver), CB Jason Teague (Houston), RB LaDanian Tomlinson (New York Jets), OT Michael Toudouze (Arizona), LB Daryl Washington (Arizona), CB Malcolm Williams (New England), WR Jimmy Young (Chicago).
Arbitrary top five list
All-time Washington Redskins quarterbacks
1. Sammy Baugh (1937-52).
2. Sonny Jurgensen (1964-74).
3. Joe Thiesmann (1974-85).
4. Billy Kilmer (1971-78).
5. Mark Rypien (1988-93).
Gary Patterson (Kansas State ’83), 98-28 after a decade with the Frogs. He is the first coach in university history to post more than two 10-win seasons (2002-3, 2005-6, 2008-10), and his .778 career winning percentage through 126 games is the program’s best mark of the modern era. Minus an unexpected 5-6 season in 2004, the Horned Frogs have been consistently strong each season since 2002. Patterson’s forte is defense, and his attention to that side of the ball has manifested itself in the top units T.C.U. has put together over the last half-decade. Patterson spent three years as the T.C.U. defensive coordinator (1998-2000) before being promoted following Dennis Franchione’s departure for Alabama. It is altogether fitting that Patterson was hired to replace Franchione, given how important the former Texas A&M head coach was to his career. Patterson’s professional fortunes mirrored those of his professional mentor; he followed his predecessor up the coaching ladder, from Pittsburg State to New Mexico up to T.C.U. Patterson has built upon Franchione’s success — the Frogs went 10-2 in 2000, his final season — pushing T.C.U. into the top stratosphere of non-B.C.S. conference programs. T.C.U.’s 92-21 record since 2002 trails only Boise State for the best record among non-B.C.S. conference programs. Already a major figure, Patterson’s stature will grow immensely once T.C.U. heads to the Big East and dominates the nation’s weakest B.C.S. conference.
Players to watch
Few quarterbacks enter the 2011 season under a brighter spotlight than T.C.U. sophomore Casey Pachall: all he needs to do is replace a four-year starter in Andy Dalton, one who fits very nicely into the program’s fine history of excellence at the position. Pachall landed barely a taste of playing time as a freshman last fall, cleaning up the mess in eight games with roughly half of his nine attempts — and his one touchdown pass — coming in a 49-point win over New Mexico. His numbers against the Lobos did come in the first half, to be fair, when Dalton went down to injury, but any snaps — garbage time or no — against U.N.M. do little to prepare a youngster for this endeavor. What I like about Pachall: most of all, he’s very Dalton-like in his size, throwing arm and running ability.
He may slide very seamlessly into the starting lineup. That T.C.U. opens with a pair of tough road games, however, won’t be great for Pachall’s confidence. In a perfect world, the Horned Frogs could ease into the year with an F.C.S. opponent and a lower-tier Mountain West team. That’s life, for Pachall and the Horned Frogs, so look for him to stumble a bit coming out of the gate. But there’s no doubting the talent that lead Pachall to land offers from across the nation, B.C.S. conference and otherwise, coming out of high school. He’ll get things going in time, but Pachall will be learning on the fly. I’m not going to say how quickly he develops will decide T.C.U.’s season, as the Horned Frogs can get things done offensively in other ways; how he develops will decide just how good this offense can be, however.
The backfield remains intact. While changes are underway with the rest of the offense, one thing hasn’t changed: once again, T.C.U. will have one of the best group of running backs in the country. What’s not to like? You have the two-headed monster of Ed Wesley (1,078 yards and 11 scores) and Matthew Tucker (709 yards, 7 scores); few teams can do better than that, both in terms of production and experience. Then you have sophomore Waymon James (513 yards and 5 scores), who will push that pair for more and more snaps as he continues to develop. Add in junior Aundre Dean (223 yards, team-best 6.9 yards per carry) and you have as good a quartet as can be found anywhere. Have issues at quarterback? Then run the ball, run it again and run it again. T.C.U. can do that. Yeah, the Horned Frogs can do that.
It’ll be a new-look receiver corps, as T.C.U. looks to replace three of its top four at the position. The one who returns, sophomore Josh Boyce, is coming off one of the finest seasons by any freshman receiver in the country last fall. He didn’t land the headlines, thanks to the three seniors, buy Boyce delivered in a big way: 34 receptions for a team-best 646 yards and 6 scores, leading the team with 19.0 yards per catch. Can he do the same as the lead target? He might not average another 19.0 yards a catch, but Boyce will see his touches rise as Pachall’s favorite option. T.C.U. is also hoping for a bounce-back year from senior Antoine Hicks, who led the team in touchdowns in 2009 but struggled last fall, making only 13 grabs for 175 yards. Injuries played a role, but the Horned Frogs need more from Hicks. Rounding out the starting lineup is junior Syke Dawson (12 catches for 170 yards), who needs to refine his game in order to take better advantage of his top-notch speed. Look for T.C.U. to rely heavily on some youngsters to round out the depth chart: seniors Jercell Fort and Jonathan Jones don’t fall in this category, but the opportunity is there for freshmen like Ethan Grant, LaDarius Brown and David Bush, among others, to see playing time.
New faces abound, talented faces are gone, but anyone looking for a significant decline from the T.C.U. defense had better look elsewhere: the Horned Frogs will still rank among the nation’s best, even if this year’s group is unable to extend the program’s three-year streak of leading the F.B.S. in total defense. In my mind, T.C.U. could break in 11 new starters are still push teams around; this is because the system and coaching stands is more important the players, and has been over the last decade-plus of T.C.U. football. Might there be some growing pains early, as on the offensive side of the ball? Maybe. But unlike the offense, you can say with 100 percent certainty that T.C.U. will be as tough defensively by November as anyone.
The first order of business will be rebuilding the five-man secondary without four of last year’s starters. The Horned Frogs also have a new defensive backs coach in Trey Harvey, a former graduate assistant who replaces Texas Tech-bound Chad Glasgow. Harvey will have three new safeties to work with, and that’s a trouble spot for a defense that landed superb safety play in 2010. Two of the projected starters are seniors; one of that pair, weak safety Tekerrein Cuba (49 tackles), started six games in 2010. His experience will come in handy. Johnny Fobbs will take over at free safety after serving behind Tejay Johnson, so let’s hope he learned a thing or two from the departed all-American. Nothing has been decided at strong safety: T.C.U. could go with sophomore Trent Thomas, redshirt freshman Sam Carter or even an incoming freshman, so it’s a position to watch.
Look for senior Greg McCoy to be the breakout star of this defense in 2011. He was a first-year starter last fall, one who struggled early but really came on strong over the second half of the year. If McCoy can recapture his late-season form, he’ll be the greatest weapon this raw secondary can have. Teams may shy away from his side, but when they throw towards McCoy keep an eye on his ability to make plays on the ball. He’ll probably be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Travaras Battle, who played quite a bit as a true freshman last fall. Another pair of sophomores, Jason Verrett and Elisha Olabode, could also push for time at cornerback, though Olabode is currently penciled in as a backup at free safety. Verrett was a JUCO transfer who arrived in time for spring practices.
Here’s what T.C.U. has at linebacker: the best starting pairing in the country. No worse than in the top five, at least. You know the names by now — if you didn’t before the Rose Bowl, you do now: one is senior Tank Carder, the bowl’s defensive M.V.P. last seen batting down Wisconsin’s failed two-point try. Carder was pretty good before that, ending the year with 60 tackles (9.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. All told, the bottom line, all you need to know: first-team all-American. Junior strong side linebacker Tanner Brock (team-best 106 tackles, 5.5 for loss) was only a third-team all-American. So he’s the weak link — that’s a joke. Brock and Carder. Carder and Brock. Tackle after tackle, big play after big play. No one does it better. T.C.U. is absolutely terrific on the second level.
The defensive line didn’t suffer quite as many losses as did the secondary, but there are some holes to fill. The two full-time starters who return have tremendous promise. The first, sophomore end Stansly Maponga (32 tackles, 2.5 sacks), was a freshman all-American in 2010. With time and added snaps, Maponga will begin to develop better pass rush ability. It’ll be senior Braylon Broughton on the opposite side, but T.C.U. has enough depth to have a nice rotation at end. Junior Ross Forrest, a former walk-on, started once last fall. Keep an eye on sophomore Matt Anderson, another high school running back placed at end by the T.C.U. staff. You’d like to see more pressure on the quarterback, so perhaps Maponga can pick up the pace in that regard as a second-year starter.
The other returning starter is junior tackle D.J. Yendrey (18 tackles, 3 sacks), an all-Mountain West pick a season ago. I don’t question Yendrey’s ability to make plays in the backfield, as he showed several times lat fall. I wonder about his lack of great size, however, as at 273 pounds Yendrey’s not a prototypical interior linemen, even in a defense predicated on speed. The interior of the line as a whole doesn’t have great size: former reserve Jeremy Coleman, now a starter as a junior, will line up at nose tackle weighing less than 300 pounds. Yendrey’s backup, redshirt freshman David Johnson, fits into the same mold: smaller but quick, he’ll get pressure but might falter against the bigger lines. This tackle group is smaller than in recent memory.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line Only one full-time starter returns, so T.C.U. is putting a lot on the plates of the additional three linemen with past starting experience. The full-time returning starter is senior left guard Kyle Dooley, who leads all returning players with 27 career starts. Dooley has played in the shadows over his first three years, behind several N.F.L.-caliber linemen, but will step into a key role in 2011. Patterson has been very blunt about the offensive line thus far, saying that outside of Dooley, the Horned Frogs aren’t where they need to be. It’s hard not to follow that logic: the three next-most experienced linemen bring nine career starts into 2011, and one, senior guard Spencer Thompson, should remain in a reserve role. But the right side of the line seems secure in the remaining pair: junior Blaize Foltz at guard, senior Jeff Olson at tackle. Their experience, though slight, is a nice sight to see along this rebuilding offensive front. It’ll probably be junior James Fry at center, replacing 2010 Rimington Trophy winner Jake Kirkpatrick. Those are some awfully big shoes to fill. The battle at left tackle remains far from decided. It was thought that sophomore James Dunbar had a strong enough spring to vault him into the starting role come September. That hasn’t been the case, as Dunbar has been pushed down the depth chart a spot by converted tight end Robert Deck, a senior. T.C.U. needs Dunbar to step up and grab the starting role. More than anything, actually, the new T.C.U. offensive line needs to develop a rapport, developing the sort of unity all good fronts seem to have. As at quarterback, this will only come with time.
Game(s) to watch
Several intriguing tests. Not that much tougher a schedule than a year ago, if roughly on the same plain, but how a younger team fares with this slate will be one of the more interesting storylines in college football. The season opens with back-to-back road dates two very talented teams in Baylor and Air Force. T.C.U. also gets B.Y.U. at a neutral site and Boise State and San Diego State on the road, so the five biggest games come away from home.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Last year’s group would have done no worse than 11-1 with this year’s schedule. This year’s team might have a hard time getting back to double-digit wins, though the Horned Frogs aren’t going to drop off the map. I don’t like the way the year starts: back-to-back road games against two pretty good teams — one very good team in Air Force — isn’t a good way for this young team to break into action, especially at key spots like quarterback and in the secondary. That T.C.U. gets five very, very good teams away from home — Baylor, Air Force, San Diego State, B.Y.U. and Boise State — is also a little troubling. If last year’s team was a flash in the pan, a one- or two-year wonder, I would have little compunction identifying T.C.U. as a team primed for a slide. Good thing that this program is built for the long, long, long haul. Yeah, Pachall is young, green and untested. Yes, he might struggle early. But his early struggles will yield dividends down the stretch. You can say that for the entire team, offense and defense: the T.C.U. you see in September won’t be the same T.C.U. you see in November and December. The Horned Frogs will get better and better each week, you can bet the farm on that. So what’s the bottom line? In terms of wins and losses, don’t be shocked if T.C.U. slips to 8-4. Be surprised, but don’t be shocked. I’m more likely to wager 9-3, with perhaps a 1-1 start but terrific play in October, November and December. In the small picture, this may look like a one-year lull. In the big picture, T.C.U. will get its slight growing pains out of the way before heading to the Big East in 2012 and running roughshod over all comers. But in 2011, the combination of youth and a tough schedule will lead to a few stumbles.
Dream season The program’s last season in the Mountain West feels eerily familiar: 12-0, back in B.C.S. play.
Nightmare season For the first time since 2007, T.C.U. wins less than 11 games; for the first time since 2004, T.C.U. wins less than eight games.
In case you were wondering
Where do T.C.U. fans congregate? The clear top choice is Killer Frogs, the largest and most fervent T.C.U. fan site. Recruiting coverage can be found at Purple Menace and Big Purple Nation. In terms of T.C.U. blogs, check out The Purple Wimple and Horned Frogs Sports.
Through 102 teams 317,998.
Who is No. 18? Tomorrow’s program has been outscored in a season only once since 1991 and only four times since 1957.
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Tags: Big East, Casey Pachall, Ed Wesley, Gary Patterson, Greg McCoy, Josh Boyce, Kyle Dooley, Matthew Tucker, Mountain West, Stansly Maponga, T.C.U., Tank Carder, Tanner Brock, Tekerrein Cuba
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