Assessing the contenders: TCU
1. Experience on offense. TCU is throwing out two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore on the offensive line, including one of the league's best in Blaize Foltz at right guard, with James Dunbar helping form another solid piece on the right side of the line at tackle. Quarterback Casey Pachall grew up a lot on the field as a sophomore first-year starter and has what should be four great targets, if you count LaDarius Brown. We know Josh Boyce will be an elite talent at receiver. Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter might join him. And at running back? Forget any questions there, even with the loss of Ed Wesley. Waymon James and Matthew Tucker are more than capable of handling the load.
2. They're well-equipped to handle the transition. The framework that Gary Patterson built his program upon is still very much in place. The players know what's expected of them in this program, even if they don't know what to expect in the fall. Never underestimate that. Patterson's studied up on Big 12 teams and recruited many of the same players he'll be facing. That's a big deal, too. There's plenty of familiarity for TCU and the rest of the league, and that's got to inspire confidence.
3. Big games? Who cares? That's nothing new. So TCU's been in the Mountain West? News flash: The Mountain West has been better than the Big East the past few years, where West Virginia's coming from. The bottom of the league is nothing short of awful, but at the top? Boise State and TCU played a classic last year, and BYU and Utah are solid teams, too. TCU also took down a very good Wisconsin team to win the Rose Bowl. TCU hasn't played quite as many Top 25 teams as the rest of the Big 12, but they've played 11 since 2008. And which Big 12 team has the best record against Top 25 teams over that period? That would be the Horned Frogs.
Why TCU won't win the Big 12
1. The defensive losses are just too much. TCU played without Tanner Brock last season, but he probably would have been the best player on this defense. He's gone after the drug scandal in the offseason. Grades took down Deryck Gildon, one of the players on the defense with the biggest upside who could have broken out this year. Likely starter Devin Johnson is gone, too. The Horned Frogs are replacing two more safeties. Defensive end Stansly Maponga is a load, but one impact player on the entire defense won't be enough.
2. It can handle big games, but can it handle them (literally) every week? Scoff if you want, but it's going to be an issue late in the season for the Frogs. They may be favored in their first seven games of the season, but TCU closes its season with five games against the other five teams on my list of Big 12 contenders in six weeks -- who could all be in the Top 25. Three of those games (Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State) are on the road. That's just absolutely brutal. The Frogs close with Oklahoma at home. Anybody believe TCU can get through that stretch 4-1? That's what it will take to win the Big 12.
3. It doesn't have enough high-level Big 12 talent. TCU's first team is definitely good enough to win this league. No doubt in my mind. However, injuries happen and guys get banged up, especially in a stretch like I described in my last point. TCU's recruiting hasn't been strong enough to the point where freshmen and sophomores are going to be serviceable replacements in the Big 12 that will allow the Frogs to keep winning. Ask Texas Tech. A handful of injuries can turn you from a truly great team into a very mortal one.
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