NCF Nation: Aviante Collins

FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, TCU stuck to an offensive philosophy built around trying to out-physical foes and trick them with play action. That style won the Horned Frogs five conference titles while in the Mountain West and Conference USA. They have not won many Big 12 games.

After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU coach Gary Patterson brought in new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to change the team's offense.
“We’re going to a style of offense that I thought evened the playing field,” Patterson said.

He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.

But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.

The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).

The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.

Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.

“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”

He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.

Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.

He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.

As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.

Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.

“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”

[+] EnlargeTy Slanina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Ty Slanina caught 19 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season.
Installing the new attack meant coming up with new terminology, since at least three other Big 12 programs run similar sets, and new answers to how to outsmart opponents.

“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”

The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.

TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.

At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.

“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.

Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.

“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”

That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.

No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.
The timing couldn't have been much better for Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun to turn a corner -- both literally and figuratively.

Michigan State needed a rally in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU and, as usual, relied on its defense for a lift. The Spartans' most talented defensive lineman, junior end William Gholston, was playing his final college game. Leading 14-13, Michigan State needed a stop in its own territory. Calhoun, already with a tackle for loss to his credit, beat TCU tackle Aviante Collins around the edge and dropped quarterback Trevone Boykin for his first career sack. Although TCU converted a long field-goal try, Michigan State only needed three points to answer and got the game-winning field goal from Dan Conroy moments later.

"Before the sack, I felt like I was underachieving," Calhoun told ESPN.com "I didn't feel like I played to the best of my abilities. But after that performance, it showed me I could go a lot harder and work more. It kind of catapulted me into this year.

"It's given me a lot of pride in my game, a little more than I had before."

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsShilique Calhoun showed his pass-rushing potential in Michigan State's bowl win over TCU.
The charismatic Calhoun doesn't seem like a guy who lacks confidence, but the bowl game gave him the boost he needed entering a crucial offseason. When Gholston announced a week later that he'd forgo his final season and enter the NFL draft, Calhoun went from a promising young reserve to a likely starter at end opposite Marcus Rush.

"There would be a lot more playing time," he said. "I’d be a little more exhausted. That was the first thought."

To prepare for a bigger role, Calhoun had to add weight in the winter. He's about 255 pounds these days and hopes to be around 260 for the season.

Calhoun knows the added weight can help his game, as long as it doesn't come with a cost.

"The best aspect of my game is my speed, so for me to lose that, it would be a crucial mistake," he said. "With this style of play at Michigan State, it's a great opportunity for me to make plays with my speed.

"As long as I can maintain it, I’ll continue to gain weight."

Calhoun typically lines up on the field side, where he has to cover more green against dual-threat quarterbacks and the like. Michigan State has built its defense around speed, and Calhoun fits the scheme extremely well.

The redshirt sophomore opened the spring listed as a starter on the depth chart, but several others are in the mix at end, including veteran Denzel Drone and young players like Jamal Lyles and Joel Heath.

"I want it to be a dogfight, I want to fight for my position," said Calhoun, a standout on the scout team in 2011 who finished with six tackles, 2.5 for loss, and two pass breakups last fall. "Competition makes me work a lot harder, and I don't want to ever stop working hard. There's guys who are working just as hard as me. I want them to keep pushing me because I want to keep working hard."

Calhoun sees a similar attitude throughout Michigan State's defense, which has ranked sixth and fourth nationally the past two seasons.

"The coaches, my teammates, we're all striving to get better," Calhoun said. "Last year was a good year, yes, but we need to be better ... until we’re No. 1, and even then, we're not going to stop trying to be the best."
Recruiting is a fickle beast. Even if your school lands an elite prospect there's no guarantee that player will develop into an difference maker at the college level. It's a realization that makes evaluation just as important as recruiting and landing top prospects. Each year relative unknowns on signing day emerge as playmakers for their college programs in the fall. Here's a look at a signee from each Big 12 school during the past two recruiting cycles (2011 and 2012 signing classes) who has already exceeded expectations.

Baylor

Linebacker Eddie Lackey wasn’t a highlight signee in February 2012. Yet the junior college transfer stepped right in and finished second on the squad with 104 tackles. He had five games with nine tackles or more and intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns.

In 2013: Lackey could be even better with a year under his belt. His ability to be comfortable playing in space, while bringing the physical mindset of a linebacker is one of the reasons he could be poised to earn All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

Iowa State

Receiver Quenton Bundrage wasn’t considered a “can’t miss” prospect when he signed with the Cyclones out of Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee High School in February 2011. After a redshirt season, he emerged as a threat for the Cyclones offense as a redshirt freshman with 20 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.

In 2013: Fellow redshirt freshman Sam Richardson started ISU’s final three games at quarterback, overshadowing Bundrage’s contributions as a newcomer. But the duo could become a important foundation for ISU’s offensive attack over the next three seasons. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Bundrage brings a size/speed combination that can be difficult for Big 12 defenses to handle.

Kansas

Jake Love played small school football at Tonkawa (Okla.) High School, making it unclear how he would transition to the rigors of playing linebacker in the Big 12. Yet, he made an immediate impact after a redshirt season, starting four games in 2012. He finished with 36 tackles, including eight tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman.

In 2013: Love’s playmaking ability became clear in 2012 so he should emerge as a mainstay in KU’s defense. His eight tackles for loss, which ranked second on the squad, are a sign of his active and aggressive approach when he’s on the field.

Kansas State

ESPN.com had him as a two-star prospect along the offensive line, so it’s hard to imagine Cody Whitehair being more overlooked when he signed with the Wildcats in 2011. A versatile lineman who started at guard and tackle at different points during KSU’s Big 12 title season, Whitehair earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

In 2013: He should join center B.J. Finney as one of the anchors of the Wildcats’ offensive line. His versatility should allow KSU to get creative as they look to find ways to get their five best offensive linemen on the field in 2013.

Oklahoma

Folks in Norman, Okla., barely noticed when Arizona Western running back Damien Williams signed with the Sooners in February 2012. Senior Dominique Whaley was set to return alongside talented juniors Roy Finch and Brennan Clay, making it appear unlikely the junior college transfer would make an immediate impact. But Williams didn’t get the memo, earning the starting job at the beginning of October and finishing with 176 carries for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns.

In 2013: Williams will have to hold off a bevy of talented backs angling for carries in the Sooners backfield, but the senior has proven game-breaking ability that will be difficult to ignore.

Oklahoma State

Receiver Austin Hays was an afterthought on Signing Day 2012. The overlooked prospect outperformed several Cowboys receiver signees who were much more highly regarded in February. He started six games and finished with 29 receptions for 394 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013: His dependability, ball skills and competitiveness should make him a mainstay in the Cowboys lineup, even though he’s not a game-breaking receiver in the mold of Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon.

Texas

ESPN.com had Joe Bergeron as a three-star recruit who appeared to be destined to a career buried on the bottom of the depth chart behind the elite running backs the Longhorns were inking. Yet Bergeron made an immediate impact as a freshman and continues to be a productive force in UT's offensive backfield. He's scored 21 touchdowns in two seasons including 16 touchdown runs as a sophomore in 2012.

In 2013: He enters his junior season as UT's best short-yardage runner and should continue to earn carries at running back thanks to his toughness and physical running style.

TCU

Offensive tackle Aviante Collins was a three-star prospect on ESPN.com, far from a recruit with expectations to start immediately. Yet that’s exactly what Collins did, starting all 13 games of his true freshman season. And he showed some versatility by starting games at right and left tackle in 2012.

In 2013: Collins will be a foundational member of TCU’s offensive attack this season. There’s no reason he cannot be a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs and leave a legacy as one of the most productive signees in the Gary Patterson era.

Texas Tech

Jakeem Grant was never going to be considered the prototypical receiver prospect. At 5-foot-6, 163 pounds, it’s a given to have people notice Grant’s size (or lack thereof) before his ability. Size didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most explosive players on the Red Raiders offense as a redshirt freshman, averaging 11.7 yards per touch thanks to his quickness and speed.

In 2013: With Kliff Kingsbury taking over, the new Red Raiders coach will undoubtedly find ways to take advantage of Grant’s speed and open-field ability. His physical gifts are difficult for most opponents to match up with.

West Virginia

Safety Karl Joseph wasn’t a complete unknown when he stepped on campus. Yet nobody could have envisioned Joseph becoming one of the best players on WVU’s defense. He led the Mountaineers with 102 tackles and brought a physical mindset to the secondary.

In 2013: Joseph provides an excellent base upon which a foundation can be built as WVU looks to rebuild its defense. He will bring a physical presence to the Mountaineers secondary for years to come.

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