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

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Watching T.C.U. for the Wrong Reason

Heading into September, I thought the date with Air Force would cause T.C.U. the most trouble: the Horned Frogs are young, as last Friday proved, while the Falcons are as experienced — both in terms of age and experience in Troy Calhoun’s system — as any team in the Mountain West. And no, while I thought Baylor would give T.C.U. some trouble I did not the Bears could actually win the game, which they did in extremely dramatic fashion. Here was where I stood: at worst, T.C.U. would depart its two-game road trip to open 2011 at 1-1; at best, the Horned Frogs would be 2-0 in convincing fashion.

Now, T.C.U. is a team to watch — and for the wrong reasons altogether. Could the Horned Frogs really go from 13-0 and the Rose Bowl champs to 0-2, well behind the eight ball not just in terms of the B.C.S., which is an impossibility, but also in terms of landing another 10-win season and taking home the Mountain West.

That’s quite a drop: Auburn’s taken a slide, but the Tigers are still 1-0 — an ugly 1-0, but still — and can move to 2-0 with a win over a hot Mississippi State team this Saturday. This drop, the one at T.C.U., is not just unforeseen but unforeseeable, in essence. Not just because the Horned Frogs are seemingly too good to scuffle early, but because the program’s overwhelming history of results we have at our disposal point to the simple thought that T.C.U. can’i possibly open 0-2.

Not that the signs weren’t there heading into 2011. The Horned Frogs were breaking in a new quarterback, though Casey Pachall certainly wasn’t the reason why T.C.U. lost to Baylor last Friday. In fact, Pachall played well beyond early expectations, fighting off cramps to lead the Horned Frogs to a near-comeback in the fourth quarter.

T.C.U. is retooling along the offensive line. The receiver corps lacks proven depth. The running back rotation remains intact, but T.C.U. missed the impact of Ed Wesley against Baylor, as while the junior did break free for one big run he was first sidelined thanks to a slight violation of team rules and then limited to a shoulder ailment.

Above all else, while there were some lingering concerns offensively the consensus was that T.C.U. could maintain its winning streak in the early going on the back of its defense, which has always been superb under Gary Patterson: come rain or shine, in September or January, whether raw or inexperienced, the defense has delivered.

And the defense was ripped to shreds by Robert Griffin III and the Bears. Not just 50 points, though that’s the total that stands out: the Horned Frogs couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback, gave up yards in bunches and landed abysmal cornerback play, with the latter — along with the pass rush — doing much to propel Griffin III well into the Heisman mix.

Maybe Chad Glasgow will be missed more than some expected? T.C.U.’s former safeties coach left over the winter to become Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator, and the play of the secondary against Baylor can certainly be tied back, at least in part, to his departure. The spotlight remains on the secondary as we look ahead to Saturday, but the focus should be on the defense at large.

Questioning the T.C.U. defense feels strange. But you can’t help it, not after Baylor and not when looking ahead to Air Force, which will put forward an entirely different attack to the one seen last Friday. Pass? Maybe six or seven times, perhaps a bit more. Run? On every down, to every side of the ball, whenever possible. Can the Horned Frogs tighten their belts?

The whole year hinges in the balance: the B.C.S. is gone, but any hope of another double-digit win season depends on a win over the Falcons. And that’s the current baseline for success for T.C.U., which did dip to 8-5 in 2007 but has won 11 or more games in five of the last six years.

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  1. Misthaufen says:

    It should be a very hard-fought game with the Falcons in Colorado Springs for TCU, but it always is at the Academy (not so for AFA @ TCU).

    And while the Falcons may be prepped to take on the Frogs in a nice spot, the Air Force defense appears that it might be taking a step or two back, missing Tim DeRutyer now for a second season (A&M’s defense has sure grown under him).

    With no weather factor in Colorado, unlike in 2009 in the ice storm, TCU should do very well on offense (40+ points likely), giving the defense some room to get up to speed.

  2. Ezra says:

    why the confidence that TCU’s offense will score 40 or more? AFA has a much better defense than Baylor’s; I’ll be thrilled with 30+ points, but I expect more like 24 or 27.

  3. Misthaufen says:

    Simple — Air Force’s defense is down from where it was with DeRuyter (who transformed A&M’s defense last season, but had AFA in the top 10 in defense the previous years).

    TCU just scored 48 on Baylor — and effectively equaled the offense from last season. Pachall is ready and able. TCU has a strong and deep RB corps. The WRs are sick. The O-line looks as good as last season….

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