NCF Nation: Ed Wesley

TCU youth forced to learn on the fly

October, 23, 2012
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Trevone BoykinAP Photo/Cal Sport MediaTrevone Boykin has racked up 863 yards and nine touchdowns since taking over for Casey Pachall.
Gary Patterson walked onto the practice field on Sunday unsure of what he'd find.

The Horned Frogs have played 16 true freshman this season, tied with Texas for the most in college football. Before this season, Patterson had never played more than six true freshmen.

It has just 11 scholarship seniors and nearly 70 percent of the 76 players who have taken the field this season for the Frogs have been either freshmen or sophomores.

On Saturday, Patterson's Tadpoles rallied from a double-digit deficit in the game's final three minutes to force overtime, but lost an emotional home game in triple overtime.

How his young players' spirits would respond was anyone's guess.

What he found brought a smile to his face: His team practiced better after the emotional loss than it did after a road victory at Baylor the previous week.

Coaches love to say the true measure of a team is how it responds to a loss. Patterson's got his answer in the toughest of scenarios.

"They’ve done what they have to. We’ve got to keep showing up and find a way to win, but really, through everything, they’ve handled it well," Patterson said. "They’re good kids."

Truth is, they've only had to play because TCU's faced unprecedented losses since the end of last season. The most high-profile case was earlier this month when junior quarterback Casey Pachall left the team to seek treatment for addiction after a DWI arrest. In January, four players were removed from the team after being swept up in a campus drug sting as part of nearly 20 student arrests.

One of three 700-yard rushers from a year ago, Ed Wesley, left the team for personal reasons after the spring and entered the NFL supplemental draft. The team's best remaining running back, Waymon James, suffered a knee injury earlier this season and will miss the rest of the year. Matthew Tucker missed last week's game, too, leaving much of the backfield duties to freshman B.J. Catalon.

True freshman Devonte Fields only earned a starting job after one of the team's leaders, Ross Forrest, injured his knee in the preseason and will miss the season.

Totaled up, more than 20 players Patterson thought he'd have this fall after the 2011 season are missing from the roster.

"Some years you just have those kinds of years. What I’ve always told them is in great programs, the next guy always steps up and that’s what has to happen, the next guy has to step up," Patterson said. "I think they’ve been good. Freshmen don’t know any better. They came in here to win championships."

Doing that in 2012 will be difficult with undefeated Kansas State looking strong in the driver's seat and TCU trying to weather the tougher back half of its schedule with redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin at the helm, replacing a seasoned veteran in Pachall.

Still, Patterson's been impressed with his team's response.

"What the kids understand is what we haven’t done as a coaching staff is we haven’t quit. We just keep coaching ‘em up and trying to find a way to win and I think kids respond to that," he said. "We’re trying to coach them like they’re juniors and seniors, get them to grow up and they have, even though we lost last week, I think we played better than we did last week against Baylor, as a football team."

The inaugural season in the Big 12 hasn't gone as planned, but there's still plenty on the table to play for in Fort Worth. Most of all, respect, and sending a message to the rest of the Big 12 that personnel losses won't affect the Frogs' ability to compete. So far, it hasn't, with wins over Baylor and a near-upset of a top-15 team in Texas Tech.

Patterson has no choice to play freshmen and sophomores now, but when those players become juniors and seniors, they'll be plenty tested and ready to chase those championships they signed up to earn for TCU.

"The kids have played hard, we’ve just got to keep moving forward," Patterson said.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
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Here's what I learned after five Big 12 games in Week 8:

K-State is the unquestioned leader for the Big 12 title. Any questions? Kansas State has three road victories against Top 25 teams this year and walked into Oklahoma and West Virginia and handed both Big 12 contenders humbling losses. Coach Bill Snyder has this team playing up to its potential, doing the same things it did last year ... just better.

Baylor has work to do to get into the postseason. The Bears are stuck in a three-game losing streak and are slumming at the bottom of the Big 12 standings at 0-3, just ahead of Kansas at 0-4. Baylor is a pretty good team, but the Big 12 is deep, and somebody has to get swallowed up. Baylor has four ranked teams left on its schedule and stands at just three wins overall. With Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma State left, the opportunities will be there for the Bears, but only KU looks like a gimme, and the Jayhawks nearly beat Baylor last year, even with RG3.

TCU is playing gutsy, gutsy football. The Horned Frogs have lost more players than anybody in the Big 12, but they keep chugging along and nearly grabbed a huge win against Texas Tech. Trailing by double digits with three minutes to play, Trevone Boykin hit LaDarius Brown for a 60-yard score to get the Frogs back in it. TCU played without Brandon Carter for much of the game, and its best offensive lineman, Blaize Foltz, was missing, too. Preseason All-Big 12 DE Stansly Maponga was out, and the team's top two backs after spring football, Ed Wesley (left team) and Waymon James (knee), are gone this season. Boykin is playing only because of the Casey Pachall mess earlier this fall, but TCU keeps hanging on. Saturday would have been one of the most emotional wins in a long time for the Frogs, but this team is still good and will be scary in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
Richard Rowe/US PresswireJ.W. Walsh and Oklahoma State could still defend the Big 12 title, but a murderers' row awaits.
Texas Tech is a force to be reckoned with. The Red Raiders have one bad loss to a very good team in Oklahoma and eked out a triple-overtime, comeback win on the road against a good TCU team. How good are the Red Raiders? Well, they're one of just three teams (K-State, Oklahoma State) to control their fate in the Big 12 title race, so we'll find out exactly how good next week when they travel to Manhattan, Kan. The Red Raiders look legit, but in case you weren't watching on Saturday night, so did K-State, and significantly more so.

There is still hope for Oklahoma State. Beating Iowa State by three touchdowns isn't easy, even if the Cyclones' offense is struggling. Oklahoma State did it, and did it with its backup quarterback, J.W. Walsh. I generally think the quarterback "controversy" is a joke. This offense is built to run with Wes Lunt commanding things, and it will be his when he comes back, but when will that be? Oklahoma State is crazy if it hasn't had a frank conversation about a medical redshirt at this point. The Cowboys have just one Big 12 loss but a whole lot to prove with five more ranked teams on the schedule in the next five weeks. OSU still hasn't really beaten anybody, but it'll have plenty of chances.

West Virginia has hit rock bottom ... I think. Geno Smith said it after the game, and he's right: This is a terrible, terrible time for a bye week. The Mountaineers have two weeks to do some soul searching before hosting a young but improving TCU team. Those offensive issues last week against Texas Tech may have been a sign of things to come, and TCU knows a thing or two about playing some defense. Coach Gary Patterson learned a lot from these past two games, I'm sure. We know the WVU defense can't stop anybody, but will the offense regain its form? We won't know for another couple of weeks.
Just when you thought the offseason couldn't get worse for TCU, it does. Arguably the team's most talented rusher will leave the team.

TCU running back Ed Wesley will leave TCU because of family reasons, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Coach Gary Patterson confirmed Wesley's exit, which leaves the Frogs with two 700-yard rushers entering fall camp in August.

Wesley was second on the team with 726 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. The Irving, Texas native was the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2009 and earned all-conference honors in 2010. He was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and would have been a senior in 2012.
Waymon James and Matthew Tucker will pick up the slack for the Frogs, and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green will be ready to go in 2013, but losing James is still a big gut punch. The senior was a leader, and accounted for 120 carries in 2011. James and Tucker will have to handle more of the load.

It could get worse for the Frogs, too. The Star-Telegram also reported linebacker Deryck Gildon, offensive lineman Carter Wall and fellow lineman Nykiren Wellington were off the team because of grades.

That's the last thing TCU needed this offseason. The Frogs already lost their top defender, Tanner Brock, after a campus drug sting before spring camp. Safety Devin Johnson, DL D.J. Yendrey and reserve OL Ty Horn were also removed from the team.

The biggest question for TCU heading into its inaugural Big 12 season was: Do the Frogs have the depth to win big? Offseason attrition is doing its part to make the answer to that question very clear.

3-point stance: A stat to watch

May, 29, 2012
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1. One of my favorite preseason statistics, one that I find a reliable predictor for success, is the number of career starts returning on the offensive line. According to the 2012 Phil Steele College Football Review, which arrived over the weekend, Ball State is first in the FBS with 115 career starts, followed by NC State (112), West Virginia and Tennessee (105), LSU (104), FIU (103) and Oklahoma (102). Rice has the fewest career starts (15), followed by Penn State, Virginia Tech and UAB (17).

2. As the first anniversary of Jim Tressel’s resignation from Ohio State passes, think about the changes in the Big Ten. Half of the 12 schools have head coaches in their first or second season on campus. By contrast, four of the 10 coaches in the Big 12 have spent at least 11 years in their job: Bill Snyder of Kansas State (20), Mack Brown of Texas (14), Bob Stoops of Oklahoma (13) and Gary Patterson of TCU (11). That’s one more reason the Big 12 is looking resurgent.

3. I interviewed TCU tailback Ed Wesley in Fort Worth 14 months ago and found an uncommonly mature, level-headed player, exactly what the Horned Frogs needed as they came off a Rose Bowl victory. Wesley spoke of how TCU had to put its success behind it and move on in order to achieve more. Wesley, who has rushed for 1,800 yards in the past two seasons, is leaving TCU for family reasons, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and hopes for the NFL supplemental draft. The guess here is that the setback is temporary.
TCU FansCal Sport Media/AP ImagesThe Horned Frogs move to the Big 12 next season, an AQ conference with a perfect geographic fit.
We'll cap our moving week by introducing a new team to the big stage: TCU, welcome to the Big 12.

Our former Southwest Conference teams surely remember the Horned Frogs, but it's time to get everyone acquainted. To help me out, we've got College Nation blogger Andrea Adelson.

David Ubben: Andrea, you've been around this program the last year or so. Most fans won't have to travel far when they make it to the newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium, but what can they expect for a game-day experience?

Andrea Adelson: TCU might not have a stadium as big as Texas or Oklahoma, but fans sure get loud and provide a really good home-field advantage. The Horned Frogs have won 26 of their last 27 home games, and coach Gary Patterson has lost only seven times there in his 11 seasons as head coach. The newly renovated stadium should provide even more of a home-field advantage as the student section has now been reconfigured to run goal line to goal line behind the opponent bench. Students typically get dressed up all in purple and there is one spirit organization known as the HyperFrogs that leads chants throughout the game to get everybody fired up. Word is that playing a full slate of Big 12 competition is going to spur even more excitement at games and lead to many more sellouts.

DU: I'm excited to see it. I've done baseball and basketball at TCU, but I've never been to a football game. I'll have to end that this year. I'm definitely buying the idea that TCU's attendance issues have been accentuated by some less-than-stellar opponents. I'm not impressed by the home record, though.

The Horned Frogs already have their hand signal ready, a signature of Texas teams from that old Southwest Conference, but what's this move, getting reacquainted with some old friends, mean to TCU?

AA: It means everything, David. TCU was so desperate to get into an automatic qualifying conference, it agreed back in 2010 to join the Big East and then tried to tell everybody that geography did not matter and making the move was the perfect fit. The truth is, TCU always had designs on the Big 12, but the league had no interest in the Horned Frogs. Maybe that is because they were viewed as the pesky little brother that needed to be kept locked in his room. But the shifting sands of realignment made it increasingly obvious that TCU was the no-brainer choice to join the Big 12. It is no wonder TCU jumped ship for a conference closer to home without ever having played a down of football in the Big East. The Horned Frogs have finally achieved the goal set when the Southwest Conference broke up -- and it took only three (and a half) league homes to get there.

DU: Yeah, people want to knock TCU for conference jumping, but how can you not when the non-AQ leagues are shifting as much as they have in the past couple of decades. There's no doubt about it: TCU is home. I was at the news conference when they announced the move, and I've never seen so many people in suits wearing enormous smiles.

Big 12 fans may know TCU's combo of quarterback Casey Pachall and receiver Josh Boyce, but who are a few names Big 12 fans should keep an eye out for in 2012?

[+] EnlargeEd Wesley and Waymon James
Troy Babbitt/US PresswireEd Wesley and Waymon James are part of TCU's deep running back corps.
AA: TCU has a three-headed running back trio in Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James, and all three return for this season. The three nearly split their carries evenly in 2011 -- each getting over 100 -- and combined for 2,337 yards and 24 touchdown runs. On the defensive side of the ball, watch for DE Stansly Maponga, a first-team Mountain West selection who really blossomed in his sophomore season. Maponga had nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles and will be expected to anchor what should be a solid defensive line. I am also going to be intrigued to see how receiver Brandon Carter does in his sophomore season. He did play as a true freshman and had 352 yards and three touchdowns, but bigger things will be expected. He was one of the big gets in the 2011 recruiting class, a four-star prospect out of Euless, Texas.

DU: OU fans may remember Brandon Carter. He was almost a Sooner, but they wanted him to play corner. Safe to say he's feeling good about his decision now.

Time to put you on the spot, AA: Forecast the Horned Frogs' first year in the Big 12. Win total, conference record, bowl game and Big 12 finish.

AA: Without knowing the actual schedule, as in home games and away games, I am going to say at least eight wins and a finish in the top four. So that would project out to Alamo or Insight, and of course that depends on who else is eligible to be selected.

DU: Yeah, the Big 12 isn't really making this one easy on us.

I like what TCU's got coming back. This is a team that could run the table outside of the Big 12, but they may hit a few speed bumps in the transition. I'll say TCU wins nine games, finishes fourth in the Big 12 and heads to the Insight Bowl. Not a bad debut for a program that could see its success sky-rocket in years to come.

Poinsettia Bowl Keys

December, 21, 2011
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You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for TCU and Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl:

TCU (10-2)

1. Move on: No doubt, the Horned Frogs have to be a little disappointed after failing to reach a BCS bowl game after going in back-to-back years. But head coach Gary Patterson said that's in the past and they have moved beyond it. We know Louisiana Tech wants to be there. Every year there is at least one team that feels like it is playing below its station in life. If TCU is anything but 100 percent ready to go, the Bulldogs will jump all over them.

2. Something special: Greg McCoy, the Mountain West Conference's special teams player of the year, is a difference maker in the return game -- averaging 31.6 yards per return, good for fourth in the nation. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns of 94 and 99 yards. TCU's vaunted defense creates a lot of punts, which means McCoy should have a chance to make an impact on this game -- be it in the field position battle or potentially breaking a touchdown.

3. Share the love: TCU has three stellar running backs in Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker. Each brings their own skill set to the position and each will rotate throughout the game liberally, assuring that the Horned Frogs always have a fresh pair of legs running the ball. They'll run some option and misdirection with multiple-back formations. Once they get into a running rhythm, that will open things up for quarterback Casey Pachall to start looking downfield and make good use of play-action.

Louisiana Tech (8-4)

1. No home? No problem: Louisiana Tech has a hike from its Ruston campus to Qualcomm Stadium -- (temporarily renamed Snapdragon Stadium by the opportunistic folks at Qualcomm to promote their new processors) -- 1,609 miles to be exact. So what? The Bulldogs have won five straight on the road by a combined score of 140-76. In fact, it will have been almost three months since Louisiana Tech dropped a game away from home. The last road loss was on Sept. 24, a 26-20 defeat at the hands of Mississippi State in overtime.

2. Point of attack, and beyond: One of Louisiana Tech's advantages is its defensive line -- where 340-pound nose tackle Justin Ellis eats up space. Just as TCU rotates backs, look for a steady rotation of defensive linemen from the Bulldogs. They are also one of the better teams in the country at getting after the quarterback, ranking 17th nationally with better than 2.5 sacks per game. Christian Lacey and Matt Broha are outstanding defensive ends who could create havoc in the TCU backfield.

3. Good decisions: Louisiana Tech hasn't dropped a game since Colby Cameron got the starting gig. He can make all of the throws downfield to a solid group of receivers -- Quinton Patton (74 catches, 1,135 yards, 10 touchdowns) being his primary guy. But TCU hasn't been one of the best defenses in the nation for half a decade for nothing. It knows how to create pressure, disguise its coverages and blitz packages and keep quarterbacks guessing with its 4-2-5 formation. Cameron is a very good athlete, but his mental skills will be put to the test.
TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

TCU take by college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: After dropping the season opener to Baylor, and then falling to SMU four games later in overtime, people were starting to wonder if TCU could really overcome the loss of quarterback Andy Dalton. But the Horned Frogs went on a tear after the SMU loss, winning seven straight, including a thrilling 36-35 win at Boise State.

Quarterback Casey Pachall has been excellent, tossing 24 touchdowns to six interceptions while completing nearly 68 percent of his passes. TCU has a deep backfield, headlined by Waymon James (98-786-4), Matthew Tucker (109-629-10) and Ed Wesley (96-615-4). The three-headed rushing attack has the Horned Frogs averaging 210 yards per game -- ranked 20th nationally. That high-powered offense averages better than 41 points per game.

The defense isn't as stout as its been the past couple of seasons, though Stansly Maponga has been solid in the pass rush, generating six solo sacks and assisting on five others.

Not to be overlooked, TCU has the No. 1 kick return team in the nation -- boasting an average of 28.57 yards per kick and three kick returns for touchdowns.


Louisiana Tech take by college football Matt Fortuna: The Bulldogs entered 2011 with just four returning starters on each side of the ball, were picked to finish fourth in the Western Athletic Conference and had no real answer at quarterback. Despite close losses against eventually ranked opponents Southern Miss and Houston, their only win in their first five games was by six points against Central Arkansas, an FCS school.

They then won their final seven games to finish 8-4, won their first WAC title since 2001 and earned a berth in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Go figure.

The seven-game winning streak was Louisiana Tech's first since 1973-74. It featured three turnover-free games and six defensive touchdowns for the Bulldogs. It included a blowout win at an SEC school (Ole Miss) and a 44-0 shutout against Nevada to close the regular season.

The defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 10 of 12 games. It recorded a conference-best 20 interceptions and ranked 11th in the nation in turnover margin. The Bulldogs even got help from their punter, Ryan Allen, a Ray Guy Award semifinalist who was largely responsible for the nation's No. 8 punting unit.

Boise-TCU could come down to defense

November, 9, 2011
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Whenever people talk about Boise State, they talk about Kellen Moore. It is only natural, considering all Moore has done as a four-year starter for the Broncos.

But if the past two games between the Broncos and TCU are any indication, defense is going to take center stage. It was Boise State that harassed and bothered Andy Dalton in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, forcing him into three interceptions. One of them was returned for a touchdown, making a difference in the Broncos' 17-10 win.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireGary Patterson's TCU defense has held Boise State star quarterback Kellen Moore without a touchdown pass in two meetings.
In the Poinsettia Bowl in 2008, TCU limited Boise State to just 250 total yards. Moore had no touchdown passes and one interception as the Horned Frogs won 17-16.

So it might be a safe bet to pick a defensive battle Saturday when TCU travels to play No. 5 Boise State with the Mountain West championship on the line.

"It's just one of those things in a game like that between two great teams, usually the most physical team wins," Boise State nickel back Hunter White said in a phone interview. "Their defense has been great the last few years. They always say defense wins championships. We feel it does, especially when you have two caliber teams like this."

You can bet TCU coach Gary Patterson enjoys trying to game plan for Moore, who has never thrown a touchdown pass against TCU. In fact, TCU is one of three teams to hold Moore without a touchdown pass, and the only team to do it twice. Moore has averaged 216.5 passing yards a game and completed 60.8 percent of his passes in two games against the Horned Frogs, both below his career averages -- 272.8 yards and 69.2 percent.

But Patterson says he only has fooled Moore once with a coverage. It was a zone blitz that resulted in a sack.

"That's a great compliment," Patterson said. "We feel we can play pretty decent defense around here. He's a guy who has an answer for all those things."

Boise State is no slouch in the defense department, either, especially along the defensive front. TCU presents a unique challenge, though, because the Horned Frogs are varied in what they can do. They have an excellent trio of running backs in Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley -- each of whom has more than 500 yards rushing.

Casey Pachall has taken over for Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback and has not really missed much of a beat, throwing for 1,940 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a standout receiver in Josh Boyce, who already has 704 yards receiving and six touchdowns this season.

"They do the same things," White said. "They're successful at what they do and they don't care who's at what position. They run what they're going to run."

The magnitude of this game is not lost on White or his teammates. The intensity level at practice has shot up a notch, knowing they are playing the two-time defending Mountain West champs. Though this is their first and only conference meeting, White and his teammates are looking forward to putting on a show for their fans on the blue turf.

Even if it means a defensive show.

"We know the quality of the team, caliber of the players. They're better, bigger, faster so we can't just approach it like another game like its Colorado State or UNLV," White said. "They are a great team. They have been the last few years. The two games we have played have been close. We have to find that extra edge, bring that extra effort. We know this is going to be a physical game. We need to bring that edge this week."

Midseason report: TCU

October, 11, 2011
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TCU HORNED FROGS

Record: 4-2 (2-0, MWC)

The Horned Frogs had a banner year in 2010, winning the Rose Bowl and finishing undefeated. But they knew there were some challenges ahead, having to replace quarterback Andy Dalton and several key players on defense, including safety Tejay Johnson. The offense has not been the problem. It has been the defense that has had some issues to work through, which is uncharacteristic for a Gary Patterson-coached team. TCU ranks No. 69 in the nation in total defense, on pace to be the worst since ranking No. 99 in 2004. This is a group that finished the last three seasons ranked No. 1. But the Horned Frogs have been hurt by the loss of starting linebacker Tanner Brock and an inexperienced secondary. In losses to SMU and Baylor, TCU put itself in position to win after giving up huge leads. But the defense could not hold long enough for the Horned Frogs to prevail. Patterson says the unit is getting better, and the biggest challenge left remains its game at Boise State on Nov. 12. Meanwhile, Casey Pachall has done a fine job replacing Dalton. The rushing game also has proved to be invaluable thanks to its quality depth. TCU is averaging 209.7 yards a game on the ground. Ed Wesley has been banged-up, so Waymon James has taken on a bigger role, rushing for 398 yards and two scores while Matthew Tucker has seven rushing touchdowns. Josh Boyce is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season, with 580 yards and five touchdowns. But no matter what has happened on the field this season, perhaps the biggest story has been off the field, where TCU is now set to join the Big 12 for 2012. The Horned Frogs spurned the Big East for an opportunity to stay closer to home, its years of BCS busting paying off in a big way.

Offensive MVP: QB Casey Pachall. There are plenty of candidates here, with James and Boyce having great seasons, too. But questions about Pachall have been answered with his play so far -- going 118-of-171 for 1,391 yards with 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Defensive MVP: DE Stansly Maponga. Patterson has repeatedly praised Maponga for his strong play this season. Maponga leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and he also has forced four fumbles and recovered one. Linebacker Tank Carder has not quite been 100 percent but he is nearly there.

TCU ready for motivated Baylor

August, 30, 2011
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TCU receiver Josh Boyce knows how badly Baylor wants to take down the Horned Frogs on Friday night.

He and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III played together in high school, and the two traded texts throughout the summer about the season opener for both teams. Baylor was embarrassed 45-10 last season, and Griffin was totally stymied in the game, going 16-of-28 for 164 yards while gaining just 21 on the ground.

"We know there will be a lot of motivation from them," Boyce said.

[+] EnlargeAntoine Hicks and Ed Wesley
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Horned Frogs trounced the Bears 45-10 in last season's meeting in Fort Worth.
TCU should be just as motivated. The No. 14 Horned Frogs are going into their final season in the Mountain West with their share of doubters, after losing Andy Dalton and several other key players to graduation. This is the first time since the 2006 season that TCU will play a game without Dalton, who guided TCU to 25 straight regular-season wins.

In fact, TCU has the second-longest winning streak in the nation at 13 games and the longest road winning streak in the nation at 11 going into the opener. But the Horned Frogs face a doozy of a challenge to open the season. Not only will they be facing what should be an improved Baylor team on the road, they then have to travel to Air Force, which always presents a challenge because of its unique ground attack.

"For us, like any team, the first game of the season is always the toughest -- especially when you go in with a new quarterback," coach Gary Patterson said Tuesday. "We have quite a challenge ahead of us in the first two weeks. We've been talking about it since January as a football team: What do we need to do to get where we need to get to? Now that time is getting a lot closer."

Casey Pachall takes over for Dalton at quarterback. Though he missed a few days during fall camp with a sore shoulder, Pachall is ready to take over on offense. But he will not be expected to do everything. TCU has a talented backfield, with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James. There is talent at receiver, too, with Boyce, Antoine Hicks and Skye Dawson, and several true freshmen who could make an impact as well.

The biggest question is on the offensive line, where there are four new starters. When asked how that group has come together, Patterson said, "We'll see. Like anything else, you find out at your first ball game. We've lost four tackles to NFL camps in the last two years and we have younger guys there. That question will be answered against a really good front in Baylor."

Indeed, Patterson praised the hire of new Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and expects to see a much different group than the one from last season. Still, TCU has owned this series of late. TCU has won the last three meetings against Baylor, the longest string since a run of eight straight victories from 1964-71.

Once again, the TCU defense should be good even with several new starters. All-American Tank Carder returns at linebacker, and he was among the players who helped contain Griffin last season.

"I’m pretty confident they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder," Carder said. "They’re going to be ready to go."

So will TCU.

TCU in the Big East

June, 2, 2011
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For those of you who may not know, I spent the last year on the college football nation blog at ESPN, where a big chunk of my time was devoted to covering TCU and the non-AQ schools. With TCU joining the Big East next year, I thought it would be a good idea to give you some of my thoughts and impressions on the program.

What can be expected from TCU?

Great defense. TCU has led the nation in total defense three straight years. In fact, TCU has now finished first in that category more times (five) than any other program since the NCAA began tracking statistics in 1937. Coach Gary Patterson expects to be just as good in 2011, though one point to note -- its top defensive player, Tank Carder, will be gone just in time for 2012. TCU runs a 4-2-5 defense, which allows it to take better advantage of the speed on defense. It is an excellent alignment to run against spread teams, which means TCU will be prepared to face the likes of Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

How about on offense?

TCU is loaded in the backfield this season with Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker, and that should help take the pressure off new starting quarterback Casey Pachall. The quarterback does run in the TCU system. Andy Dalton broke for some big gains throughout his career there. The Horned Frogs have some young talent at receiver in Josh Boyce and are looking forward to several freshmen coming in, including Brandon Carter, LaDarius Brown, David Bush, David Porter and Cameron White. TCU must replace four starters on the offensive line this year, but keep in mind -- the bulk of its offensive starters will return for 2012.

Where will TCU wind up in Year 1 in the Big East?

I definitely think TCU will have to be considered one of the favorites. Go ahead and roll your eyes, West Virginia and Pitt fans and everybody else. I understand the perception that TCU has been in a non-AQ conference and therefore has beaten up on inferior competition like UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico. But the Horned Frogs have proven to be up to the task in all their major tests. They won the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin. They have beaten Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Clemson. It is really difficult to go undefeated, no matter the conference. Patterson has done a nice job building his program into a Top 25 outfit by recruiting athletes and then fitting them into his schemes. Plenty of offensive players have come in and been turned into stud defensive players. Will there be an adjustment period? Sure. There are no easy outs in the Big East. But TCU has what it takes to make an impact immediately.

Oh, please.

Well, I am just being honest. But I do want to see two things in 2011 before I make any solid judgments. First, how TCU is going to look with Pachall at quarterback. Losing Dalton is potentially huge. Secondly, how Utah fares in the Pac-12. The Utes are going to be the guinea pigs for non-AQs moving on up the ranks. Utah and TCU are different, yes. But the big knock on the non-AQs is that they do not play the same grind of a schedule as all the AQ conferences. We shall see what affect that grind has on Utah this year.

This is all good for the Big East, right?

Yes. I am of the opinion that adding TCU was a slam dunk, no-brainer decision. You have a school that has gone undefeated in the regular season in 2009 and 2010 with two BCS appearances -- a school that brings major credibility to the table. Whether fans agree or not, that was in question last season with an 8-4 team representing the league in a BCS game. So just embrace the move and see where it takes the league.

Summer Stock: TCU

May, 31, 2011
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Next up in the Summer Stock series from ESPN Insider is TCU. For three weeks, this series will break down teams that have generated the most buzz out of spring practice. So Horned Frogs fans should take note that TCU is buzzworthy.

But what does Tim Kavanagh think about the Horned Frogs' chances this season? Kavanagh discusses many of the same concerns I have gone over in this space -- the loss of 26 seniors, four of five offensive line starters and some of their most valuable players. But he also has reasons for hope:
  • The Football Outsiders' Program FEI rankings put TCU at No. 11 after the 2010 season, an indication the program has had success in the past and is poised for success in the future.
  • TCU benefits from the return of Ed Wesley in the running game.
  • There is much promise on defense with a loaded front, including sophomore Matt Anderson -- potentially the next in a line of dynamic defensive ends.

There are obvious questions, of course. The schedule is not easy, with road games at Baylor, SMU and Boise State. But Kavanagh ends with this:
If there's one thing that TCU's recent dominance has illuminated, it's that the Horned Frogs belong to the class of programs that are in the hunt to contend for titles every year -- not just in their league, but in the BCS picture.

So who knows? If the Horned Frogs can take down the Broncos on Nov. 12, they could be in a position to beat the BCS system a year before joining it.

Also of note: TCU is the only non-AQ that will be profiled in this series.

TCU spring wrap

May, 10, 2011
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2010 overall record: 13-0

2010 conference record: 8-0, champions

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense 6, punter/kicker 2

Top returners

LB Tank Carder, WR Josh Boyce, RB Ed Wesley, LB Tanner Brock

Key losses

QB Andy Dalton, WR/PR Jeremy Kerley, S Tejay Johnson, DE Wayne Daniels

2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Wesley* (1,078 yards, 11 TDs)

Passing: Dalton (209-of-316 for 2,857, 27 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Kerley (575 yards, 10 TDs)

Tackles: Brock* (106)

Sacks: Daniels (6.5)

Interceptions: Johnson (three)

Spring Answers

1. The defensive line looks strong. But then again, when does it not look strong? Coach Gary Patterson always does a tremendous job with his defense and 2011 is shaping up to be no exception. Patterson said coming out of spring that this unit has a chance to be even better than last season, despite losing Daniels. Braylon Broughton had a great spring, and so did Stansly Maponga.

2. Safeties looking good. TCU loses three of its five starters in the secondary, including safety Tejay Johnson. But Patterson was encouraged this spring by Johnny Fobbs and Sam Carter, who both had excellent springs. Fobbs, a senior who has waited for his opportunity, is penciled in at Johnson’s spot. Carter is a converted quarterback who made plays throughout practice and is listed as the backup behind Trenton Thomas.

3. Casey Pachall the man. Pachall and Matt Brown split the reps during the spring, and as expected, Pachall is the man to start at quarterback for TCU going forward. He simply has more experience than Brown, a redshirt freshman, and more knowledge of the offense.

Fall Questions

1. How many freshmen will contribute at receiver? This is the one area that TCU will rely on newcomers or help. Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown are the two players who are mentioned the most, but there will also be opportunities for David Bush, David Porter and Cameron White.

2. Leadership. This is one area that Patterson wants to see develop in the offseason. The Horned Frogs lost 26 seniors and team leaders Andy Dalton and Johnson. It is imperative for players to step up and fill that void they have left. Tank Carder is an obvious choice to do just that.

3. Can Pachall step up right away? Pachall has been through three spring practices already and gotten some valuable playing time behind Dalton. But there is no way of knowing whether he has what it takes to be a winning starting quarterback until the season begins and he gets thrown into the fire.

TCU notes

April, 20, 2011
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TCU coach Gary Patterson was on the Mountain West spring conference call Tuesday. Here are a few tidbits.

-- Patterson traditionally begins preparation for Air Force during the spring, and this year was no different -- especially since the Falcons appear so early on the schedule. After playing at Baylor, the Horned Frogs travel to Colorado Springs to face a team that should be just as good or even better than the 2010 edition. Air Force presents a unique challenge with its triple-option offense, and Patterson feels you can never start too early in your preparations. TCU worked on Air Force five days in the spring.

"If you want to win conference titles, you have got to go and beat good teams," Patterson said. "An Air Force team with a senior quarterback is one you should always take very seriously and so we are."

As for whether Air Force is a dark horse to win the league this season, Patterson said, "I know this much: Troy [Calhoun] and his staff do a great job coaching. Every year they give everybody a run for their money."

-- Patterson said five or six true freshmen could have an opportunity to contribute this season. A few of those are expected to come from the receivers. In fact, Patterson called the incoming receivers group "the best recruiting wide receivers class we have ever had." Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown could see the field early and often.

-- There is plenty of depth at running back with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returning. Wesley took no reps during spring practice. But when asked whether there were plenty of carries to go around for the season, Patterson said, "Any time I've ever said we have too many running backs, usually we lose them all. I don't think it's a position you can ever have too many, especially when you run the football. This year will be no different."

-- Patterson reiterated that new starting quarterback Casey Pachall is in a better position to lead than Andy Dalton was when Dalton became the starter, simply because Pachall has had game experience. That includes extended playing time last season against New Mexico, when Dalton got injured. Patterson was asked whether TCU would get back to having its defense lead the way with a quarterback who manages the game. He said, "Andy only became a hero when he hit the Rose Bowl. Andy was unbelievably efficient. Casey does the same things."

He noted that this team is different from the Rose Bowl team, but the goals never change -- even with a young quarterback. TCU wants to get back to BCS bowl games. "That will be Casey's charge," Patterson said.

-- One of the big questions is on the offensive line, where TCU loses Jake Kirkpatrick and Marcus Cannon. But Patterson noted his players have a chance to grow up in a hurry because they face a deep and strong defensive line in practice. Patterson called the defensive line "as close to as good as anybody we are going to play this year."

TCU motto: Do it now

April, 13, 2011
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No question TCU is going to be a new-look team in 2011. But coach Gary Patterson realizes he does not have time to wait and see how his team develops.

Hence the motto for 2011: Do it now.

“We don’t have time to say this year we’re going to have young guys, we have to develop a new quarterback,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “Now is our challenge to grow up and be a preseason top 25 team.”

TCU is in a vastly different position today than it was a year ago at this time. Expectations were high for the Horned Frogs going into 2010, and even included talk about potentially becoming the first non-AQ team to play for a national championship.

That did not happen, but they did beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and their 26 seniors left with a career 36-3 record. With players like Andy Dalton, Tejay Johnson and Jake Kirkpatrick gone, many expect this to be a rebuilding year -- many outside Fort Worth.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
AP Photo/Jake SchoellkopfCasey Pachall replaces Andy Dalton under center for the Horned Frogs.
Whether this year is as good as the last few could hinge on what happens with the offense. The trademark defense is expected to be just as good, even without Johnson manning the defensive backfield. Linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock return, and the defensive line could be even better.

The three biggest questions right now:

  • How will Casey Pachall do replacing Andy Dalton at quarterback?
  • Who will step up in the receiving corps?
  • How will TCU play on the offensive line?

Pachall had a good spring, but Patterson is holding off on any judgments until the season opener at Baylor on Sept. 3. “The only way you can judge a quarterback is by the way he plays in the fall,” Patterson said.

The redshirt sophomore has several advantages over Dalton, who also made his first career start against Baylor back in 2007 (that game was at home, a key difference). For one, Pachall has had three spring practices to learn. Dalton did not. Pachall also has a better arm and better running ability. Depth at running back also is huge, with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James all returning.

But there are several other factors that will determine whether Pachall can be successful immediately. The offensive line loses four of five starters, including center Jake Kirkpatrick and tackle Marcus Cannon, expected to be high NFL draft picks. Both tackles are gone, and that is one of the biggest question marks headed into the fall. Senior Jeff Olson is slated to start at one spot, but plenty of other candidates are aiming for the other spot.

Three of the team’s top four leading receivers are also gone, though leading wideout Josh Boyce returns. Antonie Hicks and Skye Dawson had good springs, but watch for true freshman receivers Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown to see playing time immediately.

If all the pieces of the offense come together, this could be another great year. But everyone will be watching to see whether Pachall has what it takes to be a leader. When I asked Patterson whether quarterbacks are born with those intangibles or if they are something they learn through game experience, he went back to his quarterback in 2005 and 2006.

“Jeff Ballard was 19-2 and I fired him every Tuesday,” Patterson said. “He was a terrible practice quarterback. Casey knows it’s about wins and losses -- it’s not about yardage, it’s not about touchdowns. He has to do whatever he can to manage the game. We’ll see how it works.”

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