Big 12: LaDarius Brown

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 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
4:30
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in 1,339 receiving yards last year and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. Who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. But the good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.
Life will go on after TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Brown, the Horned Frogs’ second-leading receiver with 393 yards in 2013, was arrested over the weekend and is no longer a member of the program, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

With a roster full of talented receivers, the Horned Frogs shouldn’t bat an eye at the loss of Brown. Brandon Carter, Ty Slanina, David Porter and Josh Doctson all return as playmakers at the position. And multi-talented Trevone Boykin could be the best of the bunch. So a lack of pass-catching talent won’t be an issue for TCU’s passing offense.

Yet in another way, Brown is still a tough loss. Receivers with his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), speed and athleticism don’t grow on trees. He flashed exceptional ability during his first two seasons and arguably had the biggest upside of the receivers on the roster.

However, his unique ability means nothing if it’s not utilized. Brown never had more than 400 receiving yards in a season and made a poor off-the-field decision over the weekend.

There’s no doubt that TCU will miss Brown, but the Horned Frogs could be better off without him.

Big 12 lunchtime links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
PM ET
Good luck not watching all 11 minutes, 17 seconds of this.
Now is the time when the foundation of future success is built.

The offseason is when players start to emerge as potential stars of the future or contributors who will change the fortunes of their teams. Here are some names to keep an eye on during the offseason in the Big 12:

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: At this time last season, people were talking about the Bears landing Rhodes, the No. 35 player in the 2013 ESPN 300. He finished with 10 receptions for 157 yards as a freshman. The sophomore has terrific speed, athleticism and big-play ability and could emerge as the replacement for Tevin Reese in Baylor’s explosive attack.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Eric GayIt's important for Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to have a productive spring in 2014.
Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: It’s an important offseason for Knott, who is recovering from hip surgery. Knott, the younger brother of former Cyclone star Jake Knott, started five games as a redshirt freshman and recorded 45 tackles before the season-ending hip injury. If he returns to full health for his sophomore season he should be a major part of ISU’s defense in 2014.

Quarterback Montell Cozart, Kansas: After an up-and-down freshman season, Cozart will have to compete hard to remain atop KU’s depth chart this offseason. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will enter the competition alongside Cozart and Jake Heaps, so it will be critical for Cozart to make a jump to another level during the offseason.

Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: This offseason provides an opportunity for coach Bill Snyder to decide the best way to use the dynamic Sams. Sams could be a playmaker at several different positions in the Wildcats’ attack so seeing where the junior ends up is intriguing.

Tight end Blake Bell, Oklahoma: It’s been an amazing first four years in Norman, Okla., for Bell, who went from making a name for himself as the Belldozer to leading the Sooners on a game-deciding drive against Oklahoma State, which changed the destination of the Big 12 title rings. Now he will make the transition to tight end for his final season.

Receiver Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: The quarterback battle will garner its share of attention but Seales' continued development is just as important. Top receiver Josh Stewart is NFL-bound so whoever wins the quarterback derby will need a top target. Seales could be the perfect candidate with his size, athleticism and ball skills, but he needs to continue to develop if he hopes to become a consistent threat in 2014.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: Swoopes saw spot duty as a freshman, never really making an impact during Mack Brown’s final season as coach. The offseason will be a critical time for the sophomore to start making an impression on new coach Charlie Strong and cement himself into the plans at quarterback.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The junior combines terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and exceptional athleticism. Brown tied for the team lead with 36 receptions as a sophomore but it’s time for Brown to take his game to another level and emerge as a consistent playmaker for the Horned Frogs' offense. His goal next season should be to make his 2013 game against Texas (7 receptions, 87 yards, TD) just another Saturday.

Receiver Jordan Davis, Texas Tech: With Eric Ward and Jace Amaro heading to the next level, the Red Raiders are searching for playmakers at the receiver spot. Davis can help fill the void. He stepped up at various times in 2013, finishing with 28 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown, so he could be ready for a bigger role.

Running back Dreamius Smith, West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ second-leading rusher behind Charles Sims, Smith faces stiff competition to win the starting running back spot in 2014. Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and Rushel Shell could emerge as the main in the WVU backfield so it’s important for Smith to have a strong offseason with quality competition nipping at his heels.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
3:00
PM ET
Here are the unsung heroes in the Big 12 for Week 9.

Baylor receiver Levi Norwood: Nobody even mentions Norwood when the Bears come to mind. Yet he has been a solid contributor throughout the season and was one of five Bears to record at least 100 all-purpose yards (104), including six receptions for 66 yards, in their 59-14 win over Kansas. His returns and open-field ability provide yet another weapon for Art Briles’ squad.

Kansas linebacker Victor Simmons: Simmons has been consistently among the most productive defenders for the Jayhawks, recording at least five tackles in KU’s past five games. He continued his productive play with six tackles, two forced fumbles and one tackle for loss in KU’s 59-14 loss to Baylor.

Kansas State receiver Curry Sexton: The junior provided a quality No. 2 receiving option for the Wildcats against West Virginia with six receptions for 112 yards in KSU’s 35-12 win. He was starting to emerge with Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson sidelined in the Wildcats’ previous two games then continued his solid contribution to the offense on Saturday.

Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage: The Cyclones receiver made two superb touchdown catches against Oklahoma State, beating standout cornerback Justin Gilbert in one-on-one situations. He finished with four receptions for 50 yards in ISU’s 58-27 loss.

Oklahoma running back Damien Williams: The senior had a quiet but enormous impact on the Sooners’ 38-30 win over Texas Tech. A lot of the attention went to Blake Bell for his solid performance, but Williams had 19 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns and added a 30-yard reception to finish with 127 all-purpose yards.

Oklahoma State offensive line: The Cowboys passed for 78 yards yet scored six offensive touchdowns. OSU’s offensive line has been much-maligned after the offense’s struggles this season, but they played their best game of the season on Saturday, paving the way for 342 rushing yards including 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns from Desmond Roland in OSU’s 58-27 win.

Texas defensive tackle Chris Whaley: With Jackson Jeffcoat earning Big 12 defensive player of the week honors alongside him, Whaley was almost as productive. He finished with three tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack against TCU. The Longhorns’ overall dominance up front played a key role in UT’s 30-7 win.

TCU receiver LaDarius Brown: The sophomore receiver finished with seven receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown in the Horned Frogs’ 30-7 loss. He’s a big, talented. target at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds but he needs to be more consistent and productive to provide a spark for TCU’s offense. in the final month of the season.

Texas Tech safety Tre' Porter: It was a rough day for the Red Raider defense but it would have been even worse without Porter. He had 13 tackles, including nine solo stops, and forced a fumble. He often ended up in one-on-one situations in the open field with OU’s talented playmakers and Porter won his share.

West Virginia safety Karl Joseph: The sophomore provided an early spark for the Mountaineers, forcing a fumble on Kansas State’s first possession. He finished with a team-high 12 tackles, all solo, including two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Big 12's biggest shoes to fill

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
3:00
PM ET
Jeremy Smith isn’t the lone non-quarterback in the conference with big shoes to fill. As the Oklahoma State running back aims to replace Joseph Randle, here are some other Big 12 players looking to make a mark on the conference like their predecessors.

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: As the Bears aim to replace Terrance Williams, coach Art Briles has been raving about Rhodes during preseason camp. The No. 35 player in the ESPN300 for the Class of 2013, Rhodes appears poised to become a featured receiver in BU’s offense after recording five receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown combined in the Bears’ first two scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIExpectations are high for Texas nickelback Quandre Diggs, who will take over the role previously filled by NFL rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
“As he gets more involved, the threat becomes more dangerous for our offense, no question,“ Briles said.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: A former defensive back, Brackens has moved down to play outside linebacker and will be counted on to help fill the void left by A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. A tad undersized, he’ll bring speed into the lineup, which will help handle the wide open spread offenses in the Big 12, but will have to adjust quickly to secure his spot in the defense.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: Johnson chose KU out of Iowa Western junior college because the Jayhawks needed immediate help at safety. Now he’s set himself up to be a starter at free safety for KU, and the Jayhawks will need him to match the playmaking production of Bradley McDougald.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: In a rare and unselfish move, Slaughter redshirted last season instead of finishing his Wildcat career as a backup to Arthur Brown. Now he enters his senior season set to replace him. He started four games as a sophomore in 2010, recording 47 tackles. It's unlikely Slaughter will be the defensive terror in the mold of Brown, but his maturity and experience will be key assets for KSU's defense.

Tackle Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Thompson is the odds-on favorite to replace Johnson as the Sooners’ left tackle. Junior college transfer Josiah St. John was signed in February to ramp the competition at the position but didn’t arrive until right before preseason camp began, and Thompson appears to have a solid hold on the starting spot. Thompson is supremely talented so don't be surprised if there is not a major drop off at left tackle for the Sooners despite losing Lane Johnson, the No. 4 pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

Nickelback Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been anointed as the Longhorns’ new nickelback to replace Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick. Fellow NFLers Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams have also manned the position, which has become a highlight spot in UT’s defense. Diggs has been a key part of UT's defense since his freshman year and the nickelback spot could be a terrific fit for the junior.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The Horned Frogs have a bevy of talented receivers to replace Josh Boyce, but Brown could have the highest upside of any of them. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and brings terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athleticism to the table. No Boyce could mean more opportunities for Brown to emerge in the Horned Frogs' offense.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: Porter has played various different positions during his Red Raider career and could be the answer at free safety to replace ultra-productive former safety Cody Davis. He enters the season with 130 career tackles and has been a consistent performer since he stepped on campus in 2010. Porter's background at several different positions in the secondary make him the ideal guy to be the face of the Red Raiders' defensive backfield.

Receivers Kevin White and KJ Myers, West Virginia: The Mountaineers won’t be able to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin with just two receivers. But White and Myers are candidates to get plenty of opportunities in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. White, a junior college transfer, brings terrific size at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds and Myers, a redshirt sophomore, has stepped up during camp.

“He’s one of the guys that I’ve got a big plus by,” Holgorsen said of Myers' preseason performance.

Opening camp: TCU Horned Frogs

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
4:00
PM ET
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."

Plenty to prove: TCU Horned Frogs

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
2:30
PM ET
Every season, every player feels they've got at least something to prove. Otherwise, all the work wouldn't be worth it. That said, some guys have more to prove than others.

These are the guys with the most to prove on their respective teams.

Next up: TCU

More guys with plenty to prove.

Plenty to prove: WR Brandon Carter

This was a really tough call since TCU's entire team has a ton to prove this season. It's the first year the Frogs really have a roster that looks capable of winning a Big 12 title. After a two-game suspension to start the season and a quiet second half of the season, defensive end Devonte Fields has plenty to prove.

And then that's that Casey fella crouched under center after returning from rehab for drug and alcohol addiction and missing the last nine games of 2012. We've written plenty about Casey Pachall this offseason, though, so I'm taking Carter as the Frog who's got the most to prove this season.

Last season, with Trevone Boykin learning on the go and clearly not quite prepared to take over TCU's offense, the production at receiver suffered. For Josh Boyce and Carter, topping 1,000 yards was difficult in a run-heavy offense with a quarterback learning to make quick decisions and struggling to be consistently accurate.

Boyce is gone, though, and Pachall's got tons of experience and accuracy. There should not be an excuse this time around. Carter has to prove he can be an elite receiver in this offense if the Frogs are going to make a Big 12 title run. I'm talking something like 1,300 receiving yards by season's end.

Carter's shown an ability to make the showstopping play, but we're talking about a player who has yet to log a 600-yard season and never had more than two catches in a game in the final seven games of the season. That's just not acceptable. He snagged an 80-yard score in a close loss to Oklahoma, but that was his only catch of the day. He caught six balls for 94 yards in Boykin's first start -- a blowout loss to Iowa State -- but what the heck happened over the rest of the season?

With Pachall back in the lineup, can Carter get back to the outstanding production he had before?

In wins over Kansas and Virginia, Carter caught 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He had just two scores the rest of the season after beating the Cavaliers. He'll have some help in guys like LaDarius Brown and Cam White, but Carter's a junior who's been a big part of this offense for two seasons. He should be ready to take the reins as one of the Big 12's best receivers. That means being consistently productive and setting an example for how receivers should carry themselves on and off the field.

If you want to win big in the Big 12, you have to be able to score points and move the ball through the air. If Carter can't step into a bigger role and easily clear 1,000 yards, you can pretty much write off TCU's Big 12 title hopes.

Most indispensable player: TCU

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
10:30
AM ET
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's wrap up with TCU.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: QB Casey Pachall

2012 stats: Completed 64-of-97 passes for 948 yards, 10 touchdowns and an interception.

Why TCU can't afford to lose him: Haven't we been here before? There's a reason Pachall grabbed this label last year, and you saw what can happen when he takes a seat. TCU was 4-0 with Pachall in the lineup and finished 3-6 without him. Trevone Boykin did well filling in a tough spot, and he's improved this year, but I really think it's this simple: TCU can win a Big 12 title with Pachall. It cannot with Boykin.

By my count, TCU wins games against Texas Tech, Iowa State and Michigan State with Pachall in the lineup. Beating Oklahoma would have been close, too. Going 10-3 is a lot different than going 7-6. Might TCU be a preseason top 5-10 team if it hadn't lost Pachall last season? They'd definitely be the Big 12 favorite.

We saw up close what TCU would look like with Pachall, who's one of the most prudent distributors of the ball in the league when he's at his best. He threw just seven picks with 343 attempts in 2011 and just one in his 97 attempts last year. Boykin tossed 10 picks in just 292 throws last year.

The Frogs' receiving corps took a hit with the loss of Pachall's favorite target and workout buddy Josh Boyce, but Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown could both be poised for breakout seasons this year. Last year, those two and Boyce were underrated across the league because Boykin struggled to get them the ball on target with consistency.

Pachall could provide, but even this designation requires a clarification: TCU's most indispensable player was the 2011 and 2012 version of Pachall. He naturally had rust after missing the final nine games of 2013 while seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. If he's not back to his old self, he's anything but the Frogs' most indispensable player.

I'm betting a summer of work getting back in the weight room and in 7-on-7 with the team will get him back in the swing, and a fall camp full of scrimmages will get him close enough to his old self to officially win his job back. We'll see just how close he is to the Casey Pachall we're used to seeing once TCU tees off its season opener against LSU in Cowboys Stadium.

TCU Horned Frogs spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
8:30
AM ET
2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: DE Devonte Fields, CB Jason Verrett, WR Brandon Carter, S Sam Carter, S Elisha Olabode, RB Waymon James, K Jaden Oberkrom, RB B.J. Catalon

Key losses: WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain, DE Stansly Maponga, C James Fry, OG Blaize Foltz, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Skye Dawson

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Trevone Boykin* (2,054 yards)
Rushing: B.J. Catalon* (584 yards)
Receiving: Josh Boyce (891 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Cain (86)
Sacks: Devonte Fields* (10)
Interceptions: Jason Verrett* (6)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line getting straightened out. James Fry and Blaize Foltz were big losses on the interior of the offensive line, and replacing them was a big concern for the Frogs' quiet spring. The spring ended with senior Eric Tausch atop the depth chart at center and sophomore Jamelle Naff winning the right guard job to replace Foltz. Tausch started at left guard last season and moved over, but sophomore Joey Hunt slid up to replace him. Neither Naff nor Hunt have much experience (Hunt earned his lone career start in a loss to Iowa State), but they'll be leaned on this season.

2. New targets acquired. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson took their talents to the next level, leaving the Frogs in search of a pair of new starters. LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter were sure things, but strong springs helped fellow juniors Cam White and David Porter win starting jobs at receiver. There aren't many open gigs for a team returning 15 starters, but that's one that will have a big impact.

3. Mallet dropping the hammer. Junior Marcus Mallet emerged late last season and finished with five tackles for loss and a forced fumble among his 18 stops. Now, he looks like the likely candidate to replace departed Kenny Cain and a possible breakout talent on a loaded TCU defense. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder finished atop the depth chart after a good spring.

Fall questions

1. Is Casey Pachall back to his old self? It's probably safe to operate under the assumption that Pachall will win his job back in fall camp, but beating out Trevone Boykin isn't the same as leading the Big 12 in passing efficiency, like he was last year before his DUI arrest that ended his season. You don't win a Big 12 title with average quarterback play, which brings me to my next question.

2. Can TCU really handle a Big 12 schedule? TCU was competitive last year, sure, and only had one game that it wasn't competitive in. But TCU's not trying to be competitive. It didn't come to the Big 12 to do that. It came to win, and it's proven exactly nothing in that realm just yet. Managing a difficult week-to-week schedule is one thing. Winning just about every week is another. Ask K-State's 2012 team and Oklahoma State's 2011 squad how easy that is.

3. Is the defense for real? On paper, this unit should be absolutely dominant after finishing No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense and returning nine starters, including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields at defensive end. That sounds like Texas' defense from last year, who fell off the map and allowed more rushing yards than any team in school history. Sometimes, you just never really know. This is a new season and last year means nothing. Prove it again.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- It didn't take long for Gary Patterson to figure out his 2012 freshman class he'd signed in 2012 was different from most he'd encountered as TCU's coach.

For one, it was the first class he'd ever signed with the promise that each player would play out his career in the Big 12 Conference. More than that, though, when Patterson was forced to play 17 of his true freshmen in 2012, he wasn't too surprised when the result wasn't a disaster.

Instead, stars like defensive end Devonte Fields emerged. He won the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year award, and running back B.J. Catalon, place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom and offensive lineman Aviante Collins earned time as starters. Cornerback Deante' Gray played in the secondary and scored a touchdown on TCU's first touch of the season, a punt return in the season opener against Grambling.

"The freshman class, we knew they were a bit of a different class than what we’d had in the past anyway," Patterson told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "Just the way their mindset is, to the way they approached the summer time and the classwork they did and the offseason work they did with [strength and conditioning] Coach [Don] Sommer."

Before 2012, Patterson had never played more than six true freshmen as a head coach.

Twelve more redshirt freshmen like quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver LaDarius Brown showed the ability to play immediately and contribute in a tougher conference than the Frogs were used to. Chris Hackett earned a starting safety job less than a third of the way through the season.

Now, it's time for those 28 first-year players to take the next step for the Frogs in one of the most highly anticipated seasons in school history.

"'I want to play and play well,' but playing, you already achieved that," Patterson said of his freshmen. "The biggest thing going forward now, it’s setting goals team-wise, winning championships and playing big and playing well in these kinds of ballgames."

Patterson saw inconsistency in games like losses to Oklahoma State, when the Frogs led 14-9 at halftime but were outscored 27-0 in the second half of the 36-14 loss. He wants consistency, but consistency at a high level.

"So, how do you do that? That comes with maturity and all the other things," Patterson said. "We spent a lot of time talking about the things we have to do to make sure that [inconsistency] doesn’t happen again."
We'll take a look at some of the Big 12's breakout stars this spring, but we'll move forward with a series looking at guys who will be stepping into bigger roles this season and what they have to provide. Some are going from being role players to starters. Some are going from starter to star. Some from stars to bona fide superstars.

Let's move on with TCU.

TCU's spring steps forward: WR Brandon Carter

I do feel bad for great receivers who get stuck with inaccurate or inexperienced quarterbacks. That was the case for Carter and Josh Boyce a year ago when Casey Pachall left the team and the Frogs had no choice but to turn to Trevone Boykin, who was more suited to make plays with his feet than string together bunches of completions and move the chains consistently.

Pachall is back, but Boyce is gone, and that means opportunity for Carter. TCU's running game is solid, but you've got to be able to sling it in the Big 12 to light up scoreboards and, consequently, win with consistency. Carter showed big-play ability last year, and the ability to snag one-handed catches in unlikely situations. He's got to be even more for TCU's offense this year after catching 36 balls for 590 yards and six scores. He needs to step forward this spring and prove his worth as a big-time receiver. If TCU doesn't have a 1,000-1,500-yard receiver this season, it's not going to win a Big 12 title. LaDarius Brown is a solid player, and so is Cam White, but Carter's third year on the field awaits this fall, and the time is now for him to make good on the potential he's shown over the first half of his career at TCU. He's the guy in TCU's passing game next year -- if only because he has to be. If Boyce had returned for his senior season, the Frogs offense had the potential to look very scary. For now, it's just very good. Without Carter stepping up and crossing quadruple digits in receiving next season, it'll be tough to call TCU's offense anything close to very good.

See more Big 12 spring steps forward.
We're back again looking at a different Big 12 team with title aspirations next fall. The Frogs limped (literally) through their first season in the Big 12, dealing with more injuries and personnel losses than any team in the Big 12, but still managed to finish 7-6 and earn a whole bunch of respect in its first season as a team in a BCS automatic qualifier conference.

SportsNation

What do you think of TCU's 2013 Big 12 title chances?

  •  
    57%
  •  
    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,255)

So what happens in Year 2? Do you buy that a Big 12 title is in reach? Vote in our poll whether you believe TCU has a real chance or not. With Casey Pachall back on the field and back in practice, hopes are certainly high, but the Frogs' biggest asset is the Big 12's No. 1 defense from 2012 that returns nine starters.

Pachall still has to officially beat out Trevone Boykin, who was streaky but showed some promise filling in for Pachall over the last 2/3 of the 2012 season.

Defensive end Devonte Fields, the AP's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, highlights the Frogs' hyped defense alongside cornerback Jason Verrett, the league's top shutdown corner from a year ago who led the league with six interceptions and 16 pass breakups. Great secondary play is a must-have in the Big 12, and TCU's got it.

The Frogs have to deal with the loss of receiver Josh Boyce, but the position is still strong with Brandon Carter returning and LaDarius Brown looking ready for an increased role after catching 27 passes for 385 yards and five scores last season.

The running backs will be a strength for the Frogs next season with Waymon James returning from a knee injury and B.J. Catalon and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green providing depth and variety to James' powerful running style.

Will it be enough to truly contend for a Big 12 title for the first time ever? Or are the Frogs a paper tiger bound for disappointment in 2013? Cast your vote. We'll revisit the results later.
Signing day has come and gone, but we'll have plenty of coverage looking more closely at each Big 12 team's class. This morning, we're looking at how each team filled its needs. We ran down the top of the Big 12 alphabet earlier today. Here's the second half:

OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Needs filled: The Cowboys once again lost both starters at defensive end, and junior-college transfer Sam Wren could have an immediate impact. ESPN 300 member Vincent Taylor is a big presence and might contribute early, too. In all, OSU signed six defensive linemen. In this offense, you can never have too many receivers, especially gifted ones. Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples will have some fun in Stillwater.

Holes remaining: The Pokes lost one starter at linebacker and will have two seniors on next season's team, but didn't sign a linebacker in this class. We'll see if they can make up for that with development and recruiting in 2014.

TEXAS LONGHORNS

Needs filled: Texas is getting some big upgrades on the offensive line, headlined by the nation's No. 1 center, Darius James. Kent Perkins and Jake Raulerson are also top-10 tackles nationally and guard Rami Hammad and juco tackle Desmond Harrison fill out the class, which was one-third offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: Texas kept striking out with defensive linemen and ended up signing zero, despite losing Alex Okafor and Brandon Moore, and with Jackson Jeffcoat a rising senior. That could be a problem soon, but the Longhorns lost Daeshon Hall and missed out on Andrew Billings, who went to Baylor.

TCU HORNED FROGS

Needs filled: The running backs were drained after last season, but the Frogs had one of the league's best hauls at the position, grabbing ESPN 300 member Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson, two of the best backs in Texas. The Frogs are also loading up on 6-foot, 200-pound linebackers who'll be able to cover in the open field. Paul Whitmill headlines that group, but the Frogs signed three linebackers with that profile.

Holes remaining: Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are gone, and though LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter will be there for 2013, you need a lot more big-time receivers than that to win in the Big 12. TCU signed four athletes, but no pure receivers in this class.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Needs filled: Receivers are always a must in this offense, and Tech got a pair of good ones in Dylan Cantrell and Justis Nelson. After Seth Doege graduated and Scotty Young transferred, Tech needed a quarterback to follow Michael Brewer and Davis Webb, the nation's No. 24 pro-style passer, could be that guy.

Holes remaining: The Red Raiders might be a little thin at defensive tackle after signing just one in this class. Kerry Hyder will be a senior and Leon Mackey graduated. Tech will have to develop that position and maybe put some weight on some defensive ends -- a position where Texas Tech is well-stocked.

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Needs filled: Defense, defense, defense. West Virginia needs some talent upgrades all over the field, and landed linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and ESPN 300 member Darrien Howard. Hodari Christian is another talented linebacking prospect and Dontrill Hyman will try to have an immediate impact as a pass-rusher out of junior college. WVU signed four outside linebackers and two defensive ends.

Holes remaining: Where are the cover guys? WVU needs help in the secondary and got it in safeties Malik Greaves and Jeremy Tyler, but didn't sign a pure cornerback in this class.

SPONSORED HEADLINES