Dallas Colleges: Cam White
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.
|TCU head coach Gary Patterson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the maturation of quarterback Casey Pachall, the wide-open Big 12 conference, his expectations for his team heading into the 2013 season and his thoughts on Twitter.
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."
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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