No. 6: T.C.U.
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 27, 2010
If you think Boise State is too gimmicky — I don’t know why you would, but if you do — then you’ll love T.C.U., the Crimson Tide of the Southwest. The Horned Frogs play non-B.C.S. conference football at a B.C.S. conference level, dominating opposition with a pounding, physical run game; a level-headed quarterback worthy of far more national acclaim; and a powerful defense obsessed with stopping the run. T.C.U. and Alabama match up on a statistical level: they finished one-two in total defense, in the top four in yards per play allowed and in the top four against the run. Both finished in the top eight nationally in rushing but in the middle of the pack in passing, indicating a desire to control the tempo, win the turnover battle and knock opponents in submission. Mission accomplished, both in Tuscaloosa and Fort Worth.
Fort Worth, Tex.
16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 4
Oregon St. (at Cowboys Stadium)
- Sept. 11
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 2
at Colorado St.
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
- Oct. 23
- Oct. 30
- Nov. 6
- Nov. 13
San Diego St.
- Nov. 27
at New Mexico
Last year’s prediction
Though I have the Horned Frogs as the best non-B.C.S. conference team in the country in 2009, it’s going to be hard for T.C.U. to bust its way into a B.C.S. bowl. The schedule has me worried: road dates at Virginia and Clemson in non-conference play (though Virginia should be a clear win) and, as always, B.Y.U. and Utah in the Mountain West. Would I love to see the Horned Frogs get there? Yes, few things would make me happier. However, as good as this team may be, I predict at least one stumble.
In a nutshell Clemson and Air Force provided the blueprint for beating T.C.U.: run the ball well, do your best to control the clock and control your turnovers. The blueprint was there. Unfortunately, after Clemson and the Falcons gave the Horned Frogs a scare, no other team in the regular season came close. Few teams in the country matched T.C.U.’s devastating combination of high-octane offense and stifling defense. The Horned Frogs finished in the top seven nationally on both sides of the ball — first in total defense. What didn’t T.C.U. do well? Nothing, at least in the regular season. The offense failed to show up against Boise State, sadly: 308 yards of total offense, only 36 yards on the ground, with three turnovers and a 1-12 conversion rate on third down. So the Broncos did what no one else could do: quiet the Horned Frogs. Don’t feel too bad, T.C.U.; Boise State quieted everyone in 2009. The two teams will be competing again in 2010, with the prize a shot at both a B.C.S. bowl and a national championship.
High point A solid resume of wins, though not spectacular. T.C.U. posted wins at Clemson, Air Force and B.Y.U. and a home win over Utah. The Clemson victory came by four, the Air Force win by three. No other team came within 16, while B.Y.U. and Utah lost by 31 and 27 points, respectively.
Low point That single loss, by a touchdown to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Horned Frogs were able to win a similar style of game – close, low-scoring – against the Broncos in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, but found scoring opportunities slip away due to ineffectiveness on third down (1 of 12) and turnovers (three interceptions).
Tidbit Last season saw T.C.U. outscore its opponents by 332 points (498 points scored, 166 allowed). That 332 point scoring differential would amount to the 12th-highest scoring season in program history.
Tidbit (defense edition) Why does T.C.U. place such a premium on defense? Because under Patterson, the Horned Frogs are 59-6 when holding opponents at or under 300 yards. On the other hand, the Horned Frogs are only 26-22 when allowing more than 300 yards of total offense.
Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader Burnt Orange, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Washington preview earned him the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Texas, but since the Longhorns were already taken, he went with the local Horned Frogs. Take it away, Burnt Orange:
TCU must be considered a darkhorse national championship contender. Offensively, the Frogs return 9 starters including four year starter Andy Dalton at quarterback and two pro prospects at receiver in Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young. Defensively, the Frogs return seven but lose three starters in the secondary and All American end Jerry Hughes. The attacking, 4-2-5 unit is usually one of the nation’s best but the secondary is a concern. TCU’s season will turn on the Oregon State, SMU, BYU, and Utah games, but only the BYU game is at TCU where the Frogs are 27-2 since 2005.
Former players in the N.F.L.
19 RB Aaron Brown (Detroit), CB Quincy Butler (St. Louis), CB Drew Coleman (New York Jets). LS Clint Gresham (Seattle), LB David Hawthorne (Seattle), LB Robert Henson (Washington), LB Stephen Hodge (Dallas), DE Jerry Hughes (Indianapolis), DT Marshall Newhouse (Green Bay), LB Jason Phillips (Baltimore), DE Jared Retkofsky (Pittsburgh), OT Nic Richmond (San Diego), S David Roach (Detroit), C Blake Schlueter (Atlanta), OT Herb Taylor (New York Giants), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (New York Jets), OT Michael Toudouze (Tennessee), LB Daryl Washington (Arizona), S Marvin White (Cincinnati).
Arbitrary top five list
Important battles of the Mexican-American War
1. Buena Vista.
3. Monterey (September 1846).
4. Cerro Gordo.
5. Resaca de la Palma.
Gary Patterson (Kansas State ’83), 85-28 after nine seasons with the Frogs. He is the first coach in university history to post more than two 10-win seasons (2002-3, 2005-6, 2008-9), and his .752 career winning percentage through 113 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 79-21 record since 2002 trails only Boise State for the best record among non-B.C.S. conference programs.
Players to watch
For a team that is known largely for its defense, T.C.U. can sure do some things offensively. Like score 38.3 points per game, as it did a year ago. Or rush 238.3 yards per game, the fifth-most in the country. Or hurt you through the air, with a four-year starting quarterback who needs only a marquee performance against a premier opponent — say, against Oregon State — to break into the Heisman mix. Did I mention nine starters return from last year’s offense? As I said in my opening, Alabama-like.
Andy Dalton is the most experienced quarterback in college football. If he’s not, his 29 career wins, which lead all active quarterbacks, surely stand for something. Dalton took a major step forward in 2009, improving greatly as a passer while being even more dangerous on the ground. He set new career highs in passing yards (2,756), touchdowns (23) and completion percentage (61.6), with his touchdown output more than doubling his previous career best. What’s not to like? Experienced, a winner, progressing with each snap as a passer. For what T.C.U. wants to do offensively, Dalton is a perfect fit. As I said, he’s on the cusp of the Heisman conversation, and will move up with each solid performance and each T.C.U. victory.
The running game follows the lead of a two-man committee, both sophomores: Ed Wesley (638 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns) and Matthew Tucker (676, 8 scores). The Horned Frogs must replace Joseph Tucker, who paced the team in rushing, but have options coming up the ranks. One is Waymon James, a highly-touted prospect coming off a redshirt freshman campaign. The other is former U.C.L.A. transfer Aundre Dean, who returns to his home state after making little headway in Pasadena. It will be tough to take carries away from Wesley and Tucker — both of whom are on the Doak Walker watch list — but the fresh-faced duo might have what it takes to earn some significant action. The Horned Frogs like to spread it around, so chances are we’ll see all four, perhaps more, land carries.
Short on numbers, long on production. T.C.U.’s top three at receiver are as dangerous as they come, each capable of making plays as a receiver, as a runner and on special teams. I’ve got my eye on a junior, Antoine Hicks, who nearly went to Texas before academics sent him to Fort Worth. How about this: Hicks scored a touchdown once every three times he touched the ball, give or take; 10 touchdowns on 32 touches, six receiving and four rushing. He joins seniors Jimmy Young and Jeremy Kerley as T.C.U.’s top receiving options. Young, who pulled in 33 catches for 517 yards in 2009, has been a consistent presence over the last few years for the Horned Frogs. Kerley is a do-everything option for the Horned Frogs, leading the team in receptions (44) and receiving yards (532) while scoring a pair of touchdowns via punt returns. T.C.U. likes to go four-wide, so look for seniors Curtis Clay and Bart Johnson to help fill out the top rotation.
T.C.U.’s starting offensive line is very good. Depth is a concern, however, with four redshirt freshmen and a sophomore composing the second group. As long as the Horned Frogs don’t suffer any meaningful injuries, they should be fine. Still, keep tabs on how these young reserve linemen develop. The line is keyed by a pair of potential all-Americans: center Jakes Kirkpatrick, one of the finest at this position in the country, and left tackle Marcus Cannon. The latter alternates sides in 2010, moving to the blind side from right tackle; he was a first-team all-conference pick on the strong side in 2009. Kirkpatrick will be flanked by guards Kyle Dooley and Josh Vernon, with junior Jeff Olson looking the starter at right tackle. Strong first line, questionable second.
With the offense all set, the only question regarding the Horned Frogs is whether the defense can remain one of top units in the country. Holes exist at each level of the defense, though nothing unsurmountable. The line must replace Jerry Hughes, the two-time all-American and pass rushing specialist. The linebacker corps lost another all-American caliber producer in Daryl Washington. The secondary, which I’ll touch on below, must replace both starting cornerbacks. So what does T.C.U. bring back? Seven starters. Most importantly, it brings back Patterson and coordinator Dick Bumpas, who have helped the Horned Frogs not allow more than 18.7 points per game in any of the last five seasons. Like I said yesterday with Virginia Tech, there’s really no reason for concern.
T.C.U. plays a 4-2-5 base defense, so only Washington must be replaced at linebacker. The one returning starter, Tank Carder, can do it all. Carder is the team’s leading returning tackles (89, 10 for loss) as well as an adept defender in pass coverage. One area where Carder might be relied upon more heavily is as a pass rusher, particularly without Hughes. The Horned Frogs don’t typically land most of their pass rushers from the second level, however, so don’t look for Carder to explode statistically in that area. Tanner Brock, a sophomore, takes over for Washington on the strong side. He earned some national love for his play as a rookie, particularly as T.C.U.’s best coverage man on special teams.
Three starters return on the defensive line, but as noted, losing Hughes hurts. How will T.C.U. replace his lost production? One thing is certain: no returning lineman is going to demand the type of attention Hughes received in 2009. Nevertheless, there’s little reason to expect a significant decline in production up front.
That’s mainly due to the return of both starting tackles, Cory Grant and Kelly Griffin. Both are very stout against the run, keying that aspect of T.C.U.’s defense. This is particularly the case with Griffin, who lines up on the nose. Keep an eye on sophomore D.J. Yendrey, who despite being undersized for the interior of the line, warrants mention for the following reason: he is one of only two true freshmen to ever start under Gary Patterson. The onus will really fall on senior end Wayne Daniels to help pick up the slack without Hughes. There’s reason to believe he’s poised for a breakout season. He was a second-team all-M.W.C. pick last fall, when he made 50 tackles (9 for loss) and 5.5 sacks. Can he ramp up his production without Hughes drawing double-teams on the opposite side? The other side will be manned by sophomore Ross Forrest, who had won a meaningful spot in the rotation coming out of last fall but suffered a season-ending injury in the win over Virginia.
There is no question on special teams, where the Horned Frogs return first-team all-Mountain West kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton. Evans hit on 15 of hi 18 field goal tries, topping the M.W.C. in scoring with 106 points. Kelton can be a weapon: only 21 of his 59 were returned, helping give T.C.U. a distinct advantage in terms of field position.
Position battles to watch
Secondary Teams that return 16 starters are nice, as this section can stand to be a little shorter, saving me time and energy. Of course, what I’m currently writing is a waste of time and energy. As for T.C.U., moving back on topic, the Horned Frogs lost both their starting cornerbacks, Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders. These are significant losses, if only because of the experience each brought to the table in 2009. It’s good news, in that vein, that the projected replacements are far from rookies. The first is senior Jason Teague, who made 22 tackles and a pair of interceptions a season ago. The second is junior Greg McCoy, who, believe it or not, did the same: 22 tackles, 2 interceptions. Most importantly, both McCoy and Teague have started in the past; Teague one game in 2009, McCoy two — including the Fiesta Bowl. I’m very intrigued as to how this pair will fare in the starting lineup. Senior Malcolm Williams, a converted safety, provides some depth. The Horned Frogs look great at safety, thanks to the return of all three of last season’s starters. One might be supplanted in the starting lineup: senior Tyler Luttrell will have to fend off sophomore Jurell Thompson to hold onto his job. It’ll be senior Tejay Johnson at strong safety, senior Alex Ibiloye at weak, with Johnson the star of the bunch and Ibiloye, a converted cornerback, coming off a great rookie season in the lineup.
Game(s) to watch
Every game counts when you’re making a B.C.S. run. Of course, T.C.U. isn’t going there without a 12-0 mark, so the season opener with Oregon State is huge. Likewise with a game against Baylor two weeks later, though the Horned Frogs are heavy favorites. T.C.U. lands B.Y.U. at home but Utah on the road.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Let’s tackle T.C.U.’s chances at a perfect season. In my opinion, they’re very good. If last year’s group ran the table, why can’t the 2010 version? The team will be even better, thanks to the 16 returning starters. The schedule is a big tougher, to be fair. Oregon State is a fiercer opponent than Clemson, even if the game is being played close to Fort Worth. Baylor will be much improved, though T.C.U. should land a win at home over the Bears. Oregon State is a clear challenger to T.C.U.’s quest for perfection; the bigger danger, in my mind, is Utah. The Utes remember what happened last year, that humiliating thrashing in front of the loudest crowd in T.C.U. history. The folks in Utah will return the favor in 2010, with their team the most likely to knock the Horned Frogs from the ranks of the unbeaten. 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. It’s unfortunate that such things need to occur for this terrific team to land its shot, but that’s the unfortunate nature of college football in 2010. It’s still better than starting at, say, 15th and working your way up, right?
Dream season This time, a perfect regular season gives T.C.U. a shot at one of the big boys in a B.C.S. bowl. This time, it’s Alabama, and it’s for all the marbles.
Nightmare season A 9-3 finish isn’t out of the question, but it would nevertheless be a disappointment.
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.
Who is No. 5? The worst coach in this program’s history held a career mark of 15-34-1. (Or was it 27-22?) His dismal record paved the way for his successor, and the rest has been history.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Gary Patterson, T.C.U.
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