Big 12: Ja'Juan Story

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We continue today with TCU, which released an official two-deep after wrapping up spring ball. After its recent addition at QB, here’s our take on what the Horned Frogs’ depth chart now looks like:

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Matt Joeckel (Sr.) OR Trevone Boykin (Jr.), Zach Allen (RFr.)

Joeckel announced last month he will transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, but the paperwork isn’t officially done so TCU has made no formal announcement. When he does arrive in Fort Worth, expect Joeckel to become the frontrunner for the QB spot due to his experience running the Air Raid offense. Boykin will fight for his job but is versatile enough to be a legitimate contributor at receiver. Freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein arrive in the summer.

[+] EnlargeCatalon
Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesB.J. Catalon is the most experienced player in a crowded, unsettled TCU backfield.
RB: B.J. Catalon (Jr.) OR Kyle Hicks (RFr.) OR Aaron Green (Jr.) OR Trevorris Johnson (RFr.)

The three-OR move isn’t about Gary Patterson refusing to tip his hand. It’s more a sign that the Horned Frogs will rely on a committee of backs, and by the end of spring Catalon, Hicks and Green had all suffered injuries. The competition to find that No. 1 back continues in the fall, and freshman Shaun Nixon will be in the mix then, too.

WR-X: Ja'Juan Story (Jr.) OR Kolby Listenbee (Jr.)

WR-H: Ty Slanina (So.), Deante' Gray (Jr.)

WR-Y: David Porter (Sr.), Cameron Echols-Luper (So.), Griffin Gilbert (So.)

WR-Z: Josh Doctson (Jr.), Jordan Moore (Jr.)

TCU will need several of these guys to step up to make the high-speed passing game thrive. Two-year starter Brandon Carter is not listed on the post-spring depth chart but is still a member of the program. The athletic Moore might’ve finally found his position after moving over from running back. Gilbert moved over from tight end and could be a factor, while Cliff Murphy and Buck Jones are now the options at tight end in short-yardage situations. This group gets better and deeper in the summer when touted signees Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride show up.

LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Jr.), Tayo Fabuluje (Sr.)

LG: Jamelle Naff (Jr.), Bobby Thompson (Jr.)

C: Joey Hunt (Jr.), Brady Foltz (Jr.), Patrick Morris (So.)

RG: Frank Kee (Jr.), Matt Pryor (RFr.)

RT: Joseph Noteboom (RFr.), Aviante Collins (Jr.)

Patterson felt much better about the strength and depth of this group following spring ball. Noteboom was the surprise of the group, and Kee made a big impression coming out of junior college. Collins was listed as the starter at left tackle entering the spring, but “Big V” Vaitai impressed, and Fabuluje should contribute again after leaving the team last fall. Don’t be surprised if Thompson eventually wins the job at left guard. TCU adds four freshmen, and each one could redshirt if the depth holds up.

DEFENSE

LE: James McFarland (Jr.), Josh Carraway (So.), Bryson Henderson (RFr.)

DT: Chucky Hunter (Sr.), Mike Tuaua (Jr.)

DT: Davion Pierson (Jr.), Tevin Lawson (So.)

RE: Devonte Fields (So.), Terrell Lathan (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsNow healthy, Devonte Fields is working to returning to his All-Big 12 form of 2012.
Fields is listed as the backup right end on TCU’s official post-spring depth chart, but that’s more a measure for motivation. The former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and hungry. Hunter and Pierson forms one of the Big 12’s better defensive tackle combos. McFarland, Carraway and Lathan will all compete for the left end job, and Lathan and Tuaua can play several spots on the line.

MLB: Jonathan Anderson (Sr.), Paul Whitmill (RFr.)

SLB: Marcus Mallet (Sr.) OR Paul Dawson (Sr.), Sammy Douglas (So.)

The Horned Frogs bring back their entire linebacker corps this fall and have some nice pieces for these two starting spots. Dawson will continue to push Mallet and let the team with 91 tackles in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see what Douglas, a special teams contributor last season, and Whitmill can provide in their second year in the program.

CB: Kevin White (Sr.), Travoskey Garrett (Jr.)

CB: Ranthony Texada (RFr.), Cyd Calvin (RFr.)

SS: Sam Carter (Sr.), Denzel Johnson (So.), George Baltimore (RFr.)

FS: Derrick Kindred (Jr.), Geoff Hooker (Sr.), Steve Wesley (RFr.)

WS: Chris Hackett (Jr.), Kenny Iloka (Jr.)

With Jason Verrett gone, White is the leader of the corners now, and TCU needs several others to be ready to contribute by August. Texada was consistently praised by his coaches this spring and is the favorite to take the vacant starting spot after redshirting last season. Carter, Hackett and Kindred form a talented safety trio, but don’t sleep on Iloka and Johnson. Both are expected to see the field a lot in 2014.
TCU is searching for solutions at wide receiver this spring while one of its best sits out.

Brandon Carter is not practicing while he works to get his academic affairs in order. That means extra reps for a group that will need them.

TCU coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he's hopeful Carter will be able to rejoin the program in August.

“If he makes his academics,” Patterson told the paper. “He’s got to pass. Why take reps away from somebody if he’s not eligible?”

If Carter is unable to get back on track, TCU would be losing one of its best playmakers as it transitions to an offense that has been described as an Oklahoma State-Texas Tech hybrid.

Carter followed up a promising 2012 season with a frustrating junior year, finishing with 370 receiving yards and no touchdowns on 31 catches. He also struggled in the return game. He took a leave of absence from the team last November to deal with personal issues and is now trying to find his way back to the field.

The offseason dismissal of receiver LaDarius Brown and the absence of Carter is forcing TCU to test its depth this spring. Leading receivers Josh Doctson and David Porter do return, but the rest will have to step up going forward. Ja'Juan Story, Kolby Listenbee and Jordan Moore, a converted running back, are all worth keeping an eye on.

Help arrives this summer from four incoming freshmen, including four-star signees Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride, and Patterson knows these rookies will need to chip in.

“We’re going to need to just because we don’t have the numbers,” Patterson told the Star-Telegram.

If Carter can take care of his business and rejoin the program for fall camp, it'll be a major boost. TCU's returning receivers can't gain any more game experience before then, but they do have an opportunity now to load up on first-team practice reps and start proving themselves.

And as all those Oklahoma State and Texas Tech offenses have proven in the past, if the system is working and the quarterback is dealing with confidence, it might not make much of a difference who's split out. The promise of what this scheme can do for his talents ought to give Carter plenty of extra motivation to get back.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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This week's Power Rankings feature a new No. 1, as last week's No. 1 takes a tumble:

1. Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): The Sooners take over the top spot after delivering the most impressive Big 12 win of the season. Notre Dame is not the same team as last season, but the Irish hadn't lost in South Bend since October of 2011. OU has been a different team since Blake Bell took over at quarterback, and Bell was fabulous Saturday, throwing for two touchdowns without a turnover while churning out first downs with his arm and his legs. The OU defense is clearly better, too, picking off QB Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's first two possessions, with linebacker Corey Nelson returning one for a touchdown. The Sooners were clearly a team overlooked in the preseason, and, after five weeks, are looking like a clear Big 12 favorite along with Baylor.

2. Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): After the off week, the Bears' offense will get its first real challenge this weekend from West Virginia's defense that appears to be the most improved unit in the league. Baylor has been unstoppable so far, but the level of competition is about to undergo an uptick. Can the Bears keep it up? They've shown no signs they can't.

3. Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 4): Despite having the week off, the Red Raiders move up a spot with Oklahoma State's loss. The big question in Lubbock is who will be starting at quarterback for Tech come Saturday against Kansas. Baker Mayfield? Davis Webb? Michael Brewer, who has been progressing well from the back injury? The Red Raiders have been solid defensively, and the skill talent is legit. If Tech can get better play from its quarterback, this team could be a handful -- even for OU and Baylor.

4. West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12, last week 8): What a difference a week makes. The Mountaineers produced the most impressive in-conference win of the season with a 30-21 victory over preseason favorite Oklahoma State. West Virginia's defense continues to play at a high level (Maryland's 37 points were somewhat of an anomaly because of West Virginia turnovers) and Clint Trickett sparked the offense with his energy and leadership. West Virginia's offense is still pretty limited, but at least it no longer looks completely inept with Trickett at quarterback. The Mountaineers can't score with Baylor this weekend, but maybe they can slow the Bears down? Nobody thought West Virginia could slow Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, either, though Baylor's offense is at another level. We'll see.

5. Texas (2-2, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): The Longhorns have a couple of interesting games looming. Thursday, Texas travels to Iowa State, which looked much better offensively in a 38-21 win at Tulsa this past Thursday. Then, Texas gets surging Oklahoma in Dallas. This figures to be the defining two-game stretch of the season for the Longhorns. Win the next two, and the season -- as well as Mack Brown's status in Austin -- looks totally different than it did two weeks ago. The off week could not have come at a better time for the Longhorns, giving acting defensive coordinator Greg Robinson another week to acclimate to his defense and quarterback David Ash another week to recover from the head injury that knocked him out of the Ole Miss and Kansas State games.

6. TCU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): Did TCU's offense finally uncover an identity during a rainy fourth quarter against SMU? The Horned Frogs poured on 31 points in the final quarter and did it with some new faces, as Ty Slanina, Ja'Juan Story and Cameron Echols-Luper all factored into the scoring onslaught in the first real action of their TCU careers. The Horned Frogs can really turn their season around with a win in Norman this weekend. That won't be easy, though, if All-American cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) and defensive end Devonte Fields (foot) can't play.

7. Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 1): The Cowboys plummet six spots after an uninspiring performance in Morgantown. It was just one loss, but it was a loss that exposed weaknesses across the board. For the first time in seemingly forever, Oklahoma State's kicking game is awful. The Cowboys' secondary gave up 320 yards to a West Virginia passing attack that previously had been completely futile. And on the other side of the ball, when the Mountaineers dared QB J.W. Walsh to beat them deep, he couldn't do it. That allowed West Virginia to stuff the Cowboys' running game, which also doesn't appear to have that bell-cow running back Oklahoma State has been accustomed to featuring. The Cowboys are better than they looked at West Virginia -- but how much better?

8. Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 7): Bill Snyder maintains the Wildcats will stick with the two-quarterback system, which has yielded mixed results. K-State has moved the ball better when Daniel Sams has been in at quarterback. But when he's in, the Wildcats are virtually no threat to pass. Sams has 29 rushes and only four passing attempts. Is Sams really that poor of a passer? Maybe it's time for K-State to find out.

9. Iowa State (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): It's hard to believe a center could make that much of a difference. But the return of Tom Farniok sure seemed to do wonders for Iowa State's offense, which finally got going in a 38-21 win at Tulsa. The Cyclones also finally involved running back Aaron Wimberly, who ignited the running game with Iowa State's first 100-yard performance in more than a year. With former blue-chip junior-college transfer E.J. Bibbs emerging now at tight end, QB Sam Richardson no longer appears to be on his own. Jack Trice will be rocking Thursday night for the Longhorns, as Iowa State has a chance to land a signature win to build off of for the rest of the season.

10. Kansas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks have a winning record but have been mostly unimpressive. Can they turn around the offense against Texas Tech? That will hinge almost entirely on quarterback Jake Heaps, who has talent but has been unable to find any rhythm so far with a collection of unproven wideouts. If the Jayhawks can be competitive this weekend, it will be a good sign they are moving in the right direction. If they get blasted, it could be a long season, especially with Iowa State and West Virginia seemingly having found their stride.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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The Sooners notched a big nonconference road win for the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense came up big in an upset of Oklahoma State, and TCU finally found some offense against SMU.

What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 5:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsQuarterback Blake Bell, making his second career start, was 22-of-30 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns in leading Oklahoma past Notre Dame.
The Sooners are a different team with Bell: This question has to be asked: How did Blake Bell not win the starting quarterback job during the preseason? Since taking over for Trevor Knight, Bell has been superb, leading the Sooners to a big 35-21 victory Saturday at Notre Dame. Bell completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns for a Total QBR of 79.1 (scale of 0 to 100), which almost certainly will go up once the strength of Notre Dame’s defense is factored into the equation. Bell also didn’t turn the ball over, as OU controlled the game from beginning to end. Save for a Nov. 7 showdown in Waco, the Sooners’ remaining slate doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did a month ago. With Bell running the show at this level, OU is very capable of winning every game left on its schedule.

The West Virginia defense appears legit: The performance against Oklahoma State was the best by a West Virginia defense since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers controlled the line of scrimmage to shut down OSU’s vaunted running game, and the secondary laid the lumber, knocking receivers Josh Stewart and Jhajuan Seales out of the game with big hits. The 21 points, in fact, were the fewest scored by a Cowboys offense in a loss since the 2009 Cotton Bowl. West Virginia did give up 37 to Maryland a week ago, but the six turnovers from the West Virginia offense had a lot to with that. In holding the Bedlam schools to a combined 37 points, Keith Patterson’s unit has now locked up, perennially, two of the Big 12’s highest-scoring offenses. The Mountaineers will get their shot at another on Saturday in Waco, and Baylor’s high-flying attack will provide the toughest test to date. But the West Virginia defense will give Baylor its toughest challenge yet as well.

Oklahoma State not the same offensively: The Cowboys have basically played two teams with a pulse and scored only 21 points both times. The Pokes seems to really be missing former coordinator Todd Monken and running back Joseph Randle, maybe even more than anybody thought they would. The Cowboys never found a flow offensively in Morgantown with Mike Yurcich’s play-calling, and Randle’s successor, Jeremy Smith, finished with just 1 yard on 15 carries. Given J.W. Walsh’s limitations throwing the ball downfield, it’s been awhile since an Oklahoma State offense had this many vulnerabilities.

TCU offense gains confidence with new faces: The Horned Frogs offense finally came alive late in the third quarter of a 48-17 win against SMU. And it came alive via plays from some new faces. True freshman Ty Slanina hauled in a 20-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie. On TCU’s next possession, former Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story took a 56-yard pass to the house to ignite the rout. Then freshman Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 51 yards to set up another touchdown. Going into the SMU game, Slanina, Story and Echols-Luper had a combined five touches through three games. The trio, however, figures to be a big part of the Horned Frogs' attack going forward, including next weekend in Norman.

OU at Baylor looking like the Big 12’s biggest game: With the Cowboys’ loss in Morgantown, OU-Baylor in Waco on Nov. 7 is looking more and more like the game of the year in the Big 12. Several other pivotal matchups remain (TCU-OU, the Red River Rivalry, Tech-OU, Baylor-OSU, Baylor-Tech, Bedlam). And there are still other teams (Tech, TCU, OSU, even Texas) that could play their way to the top of the conference title race. But as of today, OU-Baylor is looking like the game that will have more conference title implications than any other.

Opening camp: TCU Horned Frogs

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
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Three Big 12 teams open fall camp on Thursday, but all 10 will be preparing for the season by next Thursday. We'll take a closer look at each team around the time camp begins. Let's get started.

Schedule: TCU opens camp on Thursday in preparation for its season opener on Aug. 31 against LSU at Cowboys Stadium.

Setting the scene: TCU returns 15 starters -- more than every Big 12 team but Texas -- from last year's seven-win team, but the return of quarterback Casey Pachall is the biggest story in Fort Worth this fall. The Frogs earned a ton of respect across the league in their first season, fighting for a successful season despite dealing with more injuries and losses than any team in the Big 12. It lost a couple of key players in Josh Boyce and Stansly Maponga, but no team in the Big 12 has more proven impact players on defense.

All eyes on: Pachall. For now, he's not officially the starter after returning to the team in January following a drunk driving arrest in October and a subsequent stay in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility. Coach Gary Patterson talked about bringing him to media days and has continually dropped hints throughout spring that Pachall is likely ready to reclaim his spot from Trevone Boykin. Boykin is a solid runner who played well considering his circumstances and inexperience a year ago (he practiced as a running back the week of Pachall's arrest before being moved to starting QB), but Pachall gives TCU a much higher ceiling. He didn't throw a ball from October to January, but he'll have to prove he can look like his old self through fall practices after a summer working out and throwing with teammates.

Stepping up: Boyce and receiver Skye Dawson are gone, but TCU needs a promising receiving corps to have big camps in preparation for a big year. Brandon Carter is the headliner who's proven himself as a situational playmaker in the past, catching 36 balls for 590 yards and six scores as a sophomore a year ago. Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story has turned heads this offseason, but LaDarius Brown and Cam White are a bit more experienced and should give Pachall plenty of great targets.

Outlook: The Big 12's media picked the Frogs to finish third in the league, but they garned nine first-place votes from 43 voters. That was more than every team but league favorite Oklahoma State. However, the players across the Big 12 apparently view TCU as the favorite to win the league. Expect TCU to be somewhere between No. 15 and No. 20 in the preseason polls heading into its opener against LSU.

On the mend: Waymon James is back on the field after suffering a knee injury against Kansas last season and missing the final 11 games of the season. He's the best back in a group of really good ones for the Frogs. Matthew Tucker and Aundre Dean are gone, but I spent some time with James during media days, and he was singing the praises of a much-improved B.J. Catalon heading into fall camp. Add in hyped Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and TCU should be well prepared for any injuries at that spot.

Quotable: Gary Patterson, on playing defense in the Big 12: "You've got to get it to where you have an advantage as far as you know it's a passing down. ... And you've got to minimize the big plays. You can't allow them to score within 1:30. It's really hard to win ball games if you allow people to do that. I said a year ago you've got to learn how to make people kick field goals, and we did that to an extent. It's one thing to play in the middle of the field, and it's another thing to play in the red zone. We've got to keep emphasizing that, along with everybody else, I'm sure, in the league is doing that."

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