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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

T.C.U. Goes From B.C.S. to Poinsettia

Barely miss out on a B.C.S. bowl? If you’re from a B.C.S. conference, your parachute drops you nicely in, say, the Cotton Bowl: disappointing, but there are worse places to be. Now, if you’re from a non-B.C.S. conference, the drop is significantly more precipitous. Take T.C.U., which finished two B.C.S. spots shy of an automatic B.C.S. bowl; 18th in the final standings, the Horned Frogs needed to finish at least 16th to reach a third straight B.C.S. bowl. But the slide from near-B.C.S. heights is steep if you’re in the Mountain West, for example, where T.C.U. recently closed its final non-B.C.S. regular season in style.

Instead of perhaps meeting Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Horned Frogs will meet Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl — a good game between two conference champs, but not quite the marquee postseason stage T.C.U. has grown accustomed to over the last two years.

It’s up to Gary Patterson and his staff to keep the Horned Frogs motivated. There’s little doubt that T.C.U. will keep its head in the game: this team didn’t flinch after a pair of potentially crippling losses — Baylor was bad, S.M.U. was worse — over the season’s first month. Louisiana Tech has no such worries over being properly motivated; the Bulldogs are back in bowl play for only the third time over the last decade.

For the second straight year, Patterson will need to replace a valuable member of his coaching staff. After last season, T.C.U. lost safeties coach Chad Glasgow to Texas Tech, where he became Tommy Tuberville’s second defensive coordinator in as many years; while there were reports that Glasgow would be relieved of his duties after one year, it doesn’t seem as if that’ll be the case.

The Horned Frogs have already lost co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis. Patterson will simply hand coordinator duties to Jarrett Anderson, who shared that task with Fuente, but the bigger concern lies at quarterback, where Fuente had done a wonderful job this fall with first-year starter Casey Pachall.

For now, receivers coach Rusty Burns will take over Fuente’s work with Pachall and the rest of T.C.U.’s quarterbacks; it’s also easy to see Burns take over that task on a full-time basis. He’ll have one of the nation’s best young quarterbacks — if not best quarterbacks overall — in Pachall, who hit the ground running against Baylor in September and suffered few of the growing pains associated with a quarterback’s first year in the starting lineup.

So what separated Rose Bowl-level T.C.U. with these Poinsettia Bowl-level Horned Frogs? Youth, inexperience and an up-and-down defense. The latter found its groove over the second half of the year, as most expected, but the spotty performances stand out: Robert Griffin III made T.C.U. look bad, even if he did the same to nearly everyone on Baylor’s schedule, but Air Force, S.M.U. and Colorado State also moved the ball well on the Horned Frogs.

The Horned Frogs saved their youthful missteps for the right year: come next fall, when T.C.U. joins the Big 12, this year’s inexperience will manifest itself in a far more battle-tested, secure and confident team on both sides of the ball. This game is a changing of the guard, in short. After decades among college football’s second class, the Horned Frogs join the party in 2012.

Louisiana Tech heads into tonight on a seven-game winning streak, six of which came in WAC play, which leads to the inevitable rumor-mongering: Sonny Dykes will be somewhere next fall, it seems, just not in Ruston. The latest innuendo has connected Dykes to Houston, which is still in the market for Kevin Sumlin’s replacement. At the very least, Dykes will be with the Bulldogs for one more game.

It would be a tough pill for Louisiana Tech to swallow. Two years ago, the Bulldogs saw Derek Dooley — who doubled as the university’s athletic director — leave for Tennessee. That was a clear step up; Houston is as well, especially with that program’s upcoming move to the Big East, but it would be difficult for Louisiana Tech to have lightning strike three times: Dooley and Dykes made it happen, Dykes even more so, but rarely do non-B.C.S. conference programs nail three consecutive hires.

If this is it, Dykes is going out in style. Louisiana Tech was the clear class of the WAC: 6-1 overall, one full game better than Utah State and Nevada, the Bulldogs also a WAC-best 11 Bulldogs earned all-conference honors. Dykes was the WAC Coach of the Year; linebacker Adrien Cole, who led the Bulldogs in tackles and tackles for loss, was the conference defensive player of the year.

It was about taking advantage of opportunities. Tech was plus-15 in turnover margin over its seven-game winning streak: this was particularly key in close wins over San Jose State and Nevada, the latter of which handed the Bulldogs the WAC crown.

It was a similarly story on offense, where the Bulldogs remain far from potent but did a nice job combining a mediocre passing game with the talented two-headed backfield of Lennon Creer and Hunter Lee. Tech seems set at quarterback with junior Colby Cameron — he did very well over the second half of the year — and freshman Nick Isham.

Most importantly, Dykes and Louisiana Tech took advantage of a depleted WAC. The league seemed wide-open following Boise State’s departure for the Mountain West, but the WAC also suffered from dreadfully disappointing seasons from Hawaii and Fresno State. The conference had a power vacuum: Louisiana Tech stepped into the void rather nicely.

The pick: T.C.U. 42, Louisiana Tech 21. The Horned Frogs leave the non-B.C.S. conference party in style.

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Comments

  1. Lee says:

    TCU will not have this issue in the future since they will be in the Big 12.

    They will consitently lose to Texas, OU, and Okst. So they will not have to worry about it.

  2. Lee says:

    consistently lose that is.

  3. Dave says:

    Lee, give it a rest. Focus on the “My Team Couldn’t Even Muster a Winning Record Gator Bowl.”

  4. Lee says:

    Dave,

    What’s your problem?

  5. Dr. Nick says:

    I think TCU will do just fine in the Big 12. Texas is still rebuilding, Oklahoma is good but inconsistent, and Okie State will be rebuilding next year without Weeden or Blackmon. I could see TCU winning the conference or coming in 2nd and snagging a BCS berth.

  6. Lee says:

    I was talking long term. Did you see how those guys struggled against LA Tech last night???

    They simply can’t play top caliber competition week after week and win 10-12 games a year.

  7. Rob says:

    Lee,

    Exactly what evidence do you have to support your theory that TCU cannot compete with top caliber competition week after week and win? The thing is we just don’t know, they have never had to play powerhouses like Kansas and Texas Tech in back to back weeks. Let’s wait to make judgments like this until they play out their Big12 schedule in 2012.

  8. Lee says:

    Ok..we will wait and see. That’s certainly fair. BUT The facts are that when TT and Kansas are your “soft games” then it makes for a lot more challenging season.

    You can’t have bad weeks and survive. That’s a luxury that Boise St and TCU have enjoyed over the last 8 or so years. It will be very interesting to see how they adjust.

    I give you Utah in the Pac 12 as an example…rough year for those guys. They averaged 9-11 wins for 5 years before this year.

    BCS leagues are just a more competitve brand of football. You have a bad week..you lose.

  9. Ezra says:

    I can’t wait for TCU to prove you wrong.

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