Colleges: Joel Hasley
OFFENSE: You have to wonder what could have been for TCU in Year 1 in the Big 12 if Casey Pachall had stayed on the team, Ed Wesley hadn't left in May and Waymon James' knee had remained healthy more than a couple games into the season. Ifs and buts, candy and nuts, etc., but that wasn't the case. The early season was plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities in the red zone even with Pachall, and that's factored into this grade. The toughest thing for this offense to swallow was how strong its receivers were, but Pachall's replacement, Trevone Boykin, couldn't get Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter the ball consistently enough to make this an offense good enough to hang in the upper half of the Big 12. Boykin played gutsy ball and used his legs well, and had an ability to hit the big play when TCU often needed it, and clearly grew throughout the season. After TCU got blasted at home by Iowa State, I all but eulogized TCU's season. A bowl game was out. And then it wasn't. Against K-State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the offense looked really, really rough, and let winnable games slip out of reach. The Frogs had a really impressive season, but the post-Pachall offense wasn't the reason why it happened. GRADE: C
DEFENSE: The Frogs got my vote as the Big 12's best defense. Stansly Maponga was a bit underwhelming on the defensive line, but Devonte Fields was better than anyone could have ever thought, winning the league's Defensive Player of the Year honors as a true freshman who only started to begin the season because DE Ross Forrest missed the season with a shoulder injury. Jason Verrett emerged as the league's best shutdown corner, a far cry from his awful outing to begin 2011 when RG3 torched Verrett and the Frogs. Elisha Olabode and Sam Carter filled out a strong secondary that forced 32 turnovers, tied for the most in the Big 12. Joel Hasley and Kenny Cain played well for an underrated linebacking corps that was gutted by the loss of Tanner Brock before the season and rising star Deryck Gildon being ruled ineligible and leaving for junior college. Nobody dealt with losses as heavy as TCU, and they happened on both sides of the ball. Gary Patterson strung together an amazing defense, despite it all, and led the league in total defense and yards per play. The Frogs gave up just 4.92 yards per play, nearly half a yard per play fewer than any other team in the Big 12. GRADE: A+
OVERALL: It's tough to grade the Frogs, whose seven-win season felt like a 10-win season, considering the circumstances. The offense had to play with one hand tied behind its back at times, without basically its entire offensive backfield. The defense lost almost as much, but filled in the holes at linebacker and Fields was a breakout star. Every win down the stretch was emotional, but you can't ignore there were only two of them in the final seven games of the year. TCU's impact on the Big 12 in Year 1 was bigger than its number in the win total. It showed a lot of toughness and to some degree, answered the "depth" question. Still, 7-6 is 7-6. GRADE: B-
Week 14 record: 3-1 (.750)
Overall: 55-20 (.733)
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
West Virginia 41, Syracuse 38: Geno Smith finally gets the best of the Orange after going 0-2 in his career and the Big 12 finally gets a win in snowy New York City. Stedman Bailey catches a pair of touchdowns and Tavon Austin rushes for 100 yards and tops 100 yards receiving to help outpace a 350-yard passing day from Ryan Nassib. This wasn't where WVU wanted to finish its season -- in chilly NYC or against a Big East team -- but it gets a satisfying end to an unsatisfying first season in the Big 12.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL
No. 13 Oregon State 27, No. 23 Texas 23: Oregon State continues to wildly fluctuate between overrated and underrated. Texas might lean toward the latter; the Longhorns fall victim to the "Who wants to be here most?" factor. The Beavers have gone two years without a bowl game. Texas' BCS dreams crashed and burned with a Thanksgiving night loss to TCU. David Ash plays OK, but not well enough, and the Longhorns didn't have a running back go over 100 yards. Cody Vaz shrugs off the pressure to get the Beavers a big win in San Antonio.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU 21, Michigan State 17: The Frogs' defense was the Big 12's best this season and even though its strength is in the secondary, the front seven plays well. Chucky Hunter, Kenny Cain and Joel Hasley slow down Le'Veon Bell enough, who reaches 100 yards but it'll take 30 or more carries to get there. TCU's offense makes enough plays and the defense proves its opportunistic nature with a couple of forced turnovers to set up a game-deciding score.
The Cyclones rank third in the Big 12 in scoring defense and have forced 12 turnovers, fourth-most in the Big 12. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are as talented as any two linebackers in the league, and the secondary is way, way underrated. Jacques Washington is tied for the Big 12 lead with three interceptions and the unit ranks fourth in total defense.
TCU has had to replace a lot of personnel, but true freshman Devonte Fields has been as good as any defensive end in the league. Linebacker Joel Hasley has flown around for the defense, and is ninth in the Big 12 with 37 tackles. The Frogs have forced a Big 12-high 14 turnovers, including three picks from Jason Verrett, tied for the most in the Big 12. The Frogs have played a good schedule and are second in the Big 12 in total defense. They're giving up just 13.2 points a game, the lowest mark in the Big 12.
The Sooners have had a tough time forcing turnovers, but Oklahoma is giving up just 16 points a game, and ranks third in the Big 12 in total defense. Aaron Colvin has broken up six passes and to this point, looks like a breakout star on the Sooners defense.
K-State's slow pace helps its defense put up good numbers, but the Wildcats have been big-time thieves this year, their 13 takeaways good for second in the league. That's helped K-State rank second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, and the Wildcats went on the road and held Oklahoma to just 19 points. The Wildcats, though, rank fifth in total defense.
Texas Tech is no longer the nation's No. 1 overall defense after giving up 41 points in three quarters to Oklahoma, but the Red Raiders are easily the most improved unit on this list after finishing 114th in total defense a year ago. That knocked Tech to fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense, but the Red Raiders are still No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense. Can they force a few more turnovers? Tech has just seven so far this year.
Best offensive performance: J.W. Walsh, QB, Oklahoma State. Cowboys fans weren't sure what to expect when Wes Lunt went down in a heap clutching his knee. Walsh was ready, and proved why the OSU QB race this spring was so close. He also proved why you don't immediately transfer if you lose a position battle. He threw for 347 yards on 21-of-30 passing and ran for 73 yards and a score on just six carries, helping Oklahoma State roll over Louisiana-Lafayette, 65-24.
Best team performance: Texas. It's not easy to go on the road against anyone and assert dominance, but Texas did it in a game that was never very close against Ole Miss. The Longhorns had 350 yards rushing and 326 yards passing. The defense didn't have a good night tackling, but the Longhorns haven't put up that kind of offensive balance since the national title year of 2005. Honorable mention: Oklahoma State
Best play: Kye Staley, FB, Oklahoma State. Staley's story will never stop being incredible, but the rumbler's comeback tour had another big moment on Saturday, when he took a short pass and turned it into a 52-yard score. A major knee injury had Staley out of the game, but he's back, and he's a fan favorite in Stillwater. His story got more front-page treatment in a quiet week across the Big 12. Honorable mention: Marquise Goodwin, Texas
Worst play: Take your pick, TCU. The Frogs had a snap go between Casey Pachall's legs in the red zone early, leading to a loss of possession and a 30-plus yard loss. Late in the game, Pachall fumbled for a touchback at the 1-yard line, too. Waymon James coughed up a fumble inside the KU 10 and Pachall was sacked for another fumble just outside the KU 20-yard line. That's quite a lowlight reel, and I didn't even get to the Frogs' missed 27-yard field goal yet.
Worst moment: Lunt's knee injury. Injuries are probably the worst part of this game, and Lunt's future looks bright. To see him go down and immediately clutch his knee? Nothing short of sickening. It doesn't sound like a major injury, but here's hoping the 18-year-old gets back to health soon.
Best moment: Late Saturday night, when this terrible week of Big 12 football ended. No marquee matchups. No games decided by fewer than 14 points. Can we move to next week yet?
See more fall camp previews.
Next up: TCU.
Media's predicted finish: Fourth (received one first-place vote).
Biggest story line: TCU always wanted to be in the Big 12, and now, the Horned Frogs legitimately won their way into rejoining their former Southwest Conference rivals in Texas. But after a steady diet of schedules with only a few featured opponents, can TCU handle a tougher week-to-week schedule in the Big 12? Depth could be an issue, but so could preparing for a brutal line of great opponents in the Big 12.
Biggest question mark: Linebacker. Depth questions were going to come all season long, but the Horned Frogs are now razor thin in the middle of the defense. Tanner Brock was kicked off the team before spring after being arrested in a campus drug sting, and promising linebacker Deryck Gildon is off the team because of academic issues. Kenny Cain is back in the middle of TCU's 4-2-5 defense, but look for Joel Hasley to grab the other spot. It was a disappointing offseason for the Frogs.
Who needs to step up: The safeties. Sam Carter, Elisha Olabode and Jonathan Anderson will likely start the season as the three safeties, but this unit struggled last season in spots. Safeties coach Chad Glasgow is back in Fort Worth after a disastrous season coordinating the defense for Texas Tech, but we'll see if he's able to step right back into his old gig.
Possible distractions: None were bigger than the recent news that quarterback Casey Pachall failed a Feb. 1 drug test and admitted to police he had used cocaine and ecstasy. Gary Patterson earned some criticism for not coming down harder on Pachall considering the recent drug issues on TCU's team, but he did what was required of him in the school's student handbook. Pachall apologized and pledged he'd do better. We'll find out if that's the case.
Don't forget about: DE Stansly Maponga. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor get all the accolades down in Austin, but don't be too surprised if Maponga blows up in his first year in the Big 12 and outshines either one of them or both. He's got plenty of experience and made nine sacks while also forcing five fumbles. That earned him first-team All-Mountain West honors, but he's a preseason All-Big 12 honoree, too. Expect him to validate it.
Breaking out: WR LaDarius Brown. You know about the trio of Josh Boyce, Brandon Carter and Skye Dawson. They're outstanding. Brown might end up being better than all of them. Maybe not this year, but expect the freshman to show flashes. He's 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and coming off a redshirt year. Beware.
2011 overall record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 7-0
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0
QB Casey Pachall, RB Waymon James, DL Stansly Maponga, RB Ed Wesley, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain, DB Jason Verrett
LB Tank Carder, LB Tanner Brock, S Tekerrein Cuba, S Johnny Fobbs, WR Antoine Hicks, S Devin Johnson
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Waymon James* (875 yards)
Passing: Casey Pachall* (2,921 yards)
Receiving: Josh Boyce* (998 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Cain*(72)
Sacks: Stansly Maponga* (9)
Interceptions: Tank Carder, Kris Gardner, Greg McCoy (2, none return)
1. Filling a hole at linebacker: TCU was ready to lose Tank Carder, but the loss of Tanner Brock was unexpected. Thus, TCU entered spring with big questions at linebacker. Danny Heiss and Joel Hasley have stepped in to help fortify a position with a lot to prove in 2012. TCU has a feel for who its guys will be, but are those guys good enough?
2. Beware of the TCU receivers: TCU already felt good about Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson after 2011, but sophomore Brandon Carter is bigger and better this spring. LaDarius Brown may join the fold as a big factor, though. It's not impossible for him to become one of the team's best targets. Casey Pachall has to love adding a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder to his targets, and freshman Kolby Listenbee proved he can contribute right away after enrolling early this spring. He'll play.
3. A change in identity: There's no doubt TCU has big questions on defense, especially at linebacker and in the secondary. But offensively? The Horned Frogs have to shore up the offensive line, but its skill-position players are as deep and as talented as any in the Big 12. It's not often that offense has to carry the load for a Gary Patterson team, but it looks like that'll be the case this year.
1. How will TCU handle the jump? Complain about the question all you want, Frogs. It's not that anyone's beating it into the ground, it's that TCU hasn't had a chance to answer it. Fact: The Big 12 will be much more difficult than the Mountain West Conference. TCU brings back a good amount of talent that's built to have success in the Big 12 immediately. Can they do it, though? I'm betting yes, that TCU will flirt with double-digit wins.
2. Will the secondary, especially the safeties, improve? TCU's rise under Gary Patterson has been marked by suffocating defense, but TCU slid to a finish outside the national top 30 in total defense last season after leading the nation in total defense in 2009 and 2010. The loss to Baylor personified those struggles more than any game all season. Patterson wasn't happy with his secondary this spring, either. The bad news: There are lots of Baylors in the Big 12. The good news: Safeties coach Chad Glasgow is back after serving as defensive coordinator at Texas Tech for one season.
3. Can TCU handle gut-punching defensive losses? The Horned Frogs suffered the biggest off-field scandal in the Big 12 this offseason when four players were arrested in a campus drug sting. That's a problem of its own off the field, but on the field, TCU still has to replace 2011 big contributors in Tanner Brock, Devin Johnson and D.J. Yendrey. How much will those losses hurt in the fall?
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Baylor coach Art Briles discusses the incredible progress the program has made over the past two seasons, the challenges of having three different starting quarterbacks in three years, the parity in the Big 12 and more.
Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Bob Stoops' recent comments about the SEC and the pending college football playoff, what appears to be an unpredictable Big 12 in 2013, how the Aggies will handle expectations and more.
Play Podcast Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin talks about the improvements being made to Kyle Field, what those improvements will to for the program, the success of last year, Johnny Manziel's offseason and the expectations for the Aggies in 2013.
Play Podcast Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo talk about Texas A&M's decision to expand its stadium and say although the Aggies had a fantastic year, the school must also be careful not to overextend its resources based on a single hot stretch.
Play Podcast Baylor head coach Art Briles joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what kind of player the Cowboys are getting in Terrance Williams.
Play Podcast Arlington and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett to discuss the draft, coaches and advice from his dad.
Play Podcast Florida Gulf Coast athletic director Ken Kavanagh joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his school's Cinderella story and playing in the Sweet 16 at Cowboys Stadium.
Play Podcast Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby joins Fizsimmons & Durrett to discuss Cowboys Stadium as a venue, the state of Big 12 basketball, the new 2014 college football format, why there's no hurry to have a Big 12 football championship and much more.