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NCF Nation: Tejay Johnson

Offseason spotlight: TCU Horned Frogs

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
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As we welcome nearby TCU to the league, the offseason spotlight Thursday shines on the Horned Frogs:

Spotlight: A rotating group of safeties that need a big offseason.

2011 summary: Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs combined for 135 tackles and were two of the team's top four tacklers. Cuba broke up three passes and forced two fumbles and Fobbs intercepted one pass with six breakups and forced three fumbles. Both are gone and must be replaced.

The skinny: I'm guessing most of you saw TCU just once last season, and it wasn't a great impression. The first night of the season was an ugly one for TCU full of deep balls and a painful loss, courtesy of future Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Some of those five touchdowns came in single coverage, but the safeties at TCU left a lot to be desired, especially after losing Tejay Johnson after the 2010 season, a Thorpe Award finalist.

This year, Jonathan Anderson and Elisha Olabode slide into the new safety spots. Offenses like Baylor's are pretty common in the Big 12. Not so much in the Mountain West. That duo has to step into new roles and be effective for the Horned Frogs to succeed in their new league.

Anderson is a promising sophomore who made 17 tackles in a win over BYU at Cowboys Stadium this past season, including 11 solo tackles. Olabode didn't quite have that kind of impact, but both players' development this spring and in fall camp will be enormous.

For so much focus on the offense in this league, you can't forget about the defense, which last year was below what's been expected at TCU.
WACO, Texas -- So what if football is about to debut and the national landscape might look markedly different a year from now?

The main conversation piece tonight?

The heat. It's 101 degrees here, and on the surface of Baylor's artificial turf, it's noticeably hotter.

As someone who lives in this state, trust me: It won't be cooling down much tonight, especially not by the 8 p.m. ET kickoff, when the sun will still be shining above Floyd Casey Stadium.

A few clouds dot the sky, but it's mostly clear, and it should be a gorgeous night for football, but make no mistake: Cramping is going to be a factor tonight.

Both Baylor and TCU are well inside their elements in the Texas heat, but that doesn't change the fact that conditioning is going to play a major part of tonight's game. I expect this to be close, and the team with the most gas in the tank by the fourth quarter is going to leave the field with a win.

This heat is going to make sure both teams' needle is teetering toward empty.

TCU's vaunted secondary, despite the loss of Thorpe Award Candidate Tejay Johnson, and its matchup with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is the main attraction in tonight's game, but after a lackluster set of games on Thursday night, we should have our first high-quality matchup of the college football season in just a few short hours.

I can't wait.

Quarterback superlatives

August, 9, 2011
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So who exactly are the quarterbacks in the Big East? Here is a little "best of the best:"

Best Heisman candidate: Geno Smith, West Virginia. His situation may be a little uncertain because he has a new coach/coordinator in Dana Holgorsen, but Smith does have the best chance of emerging as a Heisman candidate from the Big East. He came on strong in 2010 and could join Graham Harrell, Case Keenum and Justin Blackmon as Heisman hopefuls Holgorsen has coached in his high-flying system.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireHighly touted freshman Teddy Bridgewater could make an impact this season.
Best potential: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. Rated as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation, Bridgewater comes to the Cardinals with higher expectations than nearly every other freshman who enters the league in 2011. After initially giving a commitment to Miami, Bridgewater changed his mind and went with Charlie Strong and Louisville. He was in for spring and is expected to play this season.

Best quarterback competition: UConn. It is hard to beat any quarterback competition that features not two, not three, but four players in Michael Box, Michael Nebrich, Scott McCummings and Johnny McEntee.

Best battle for No. 1 QB rights: Smith vs. Zach Collaros, Cincinnati. The debate has raged this summer over who the best quarterback in the Big East is headed into 2011. Is it Smith? Or is it Collaros, the returning first-team All-Big East quarterback for the Bearcats? Certainly Collaros has what it takes to return to the first team, especially after coming oh-so-close to throwing for 3,000 yards last season. His offensive line should be better, which means Collaros won't be lying on his back as much or making mistakes when throwing the ball.

Best student-athlete: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse. Nassib was a 2010 ESPN Academic All-District Team selection, and has been a regular member of the athletic director’s honor roll since 2008. He also made the 2009 and 2010 Big East All-Academic Team, and has interned at an investment banking firm for three straight summers.

Best chance for a breakout season: Tino Sunseri, Pitt. Folks in the Big East may know about Sunseri, but he is not a household name across the country. If he grabs ahold of the new system under Todd Graham and Calvin McGee, many more people will know who he is when the season is over.

Best sense of urgency: B.J. Daniels, USF. No question the pressure is on for Daniels to put everything together and emerge as a bona fide star quarterback in the league. Will he pick up where he left off in the bowl game against Clemson, or will we see more of the player who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season?

Best supporting cast: Chas Dodd, Rutgers. Dodd has a receiving group that is incredibly gifted. Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu will be playing on Sundays; Brandon Coleman had a breakout spring, Tim Wright is coming back from injury and incoming freshmen Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson are speedsters who could be in the mix. Only Shuler is shorter than 6-foot-2, giving Dodd a big advantage in the passing game.
We continue our team position rankings today with receiver. This is an area of great potential for plenty of teams around the league, especially with some of the high-octane offenses that we are going to see. Only three teams return their leading receiver from last season. The overriding theme seems to be this: there is a lot of talent, but much of it is unproven. So how are these receivers going to step up?

To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential.

[+] EnlargeMark Harrison
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonMark Harrison caught 44 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have proven talent and depth at this position, putting them at the top spot in these rankings. When healthy, Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu form one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire league. Add in Brandon Coleman, who had an outstanding spring, along with Tim Wright returning from injury and the top four looks as solid as it gets. Let's not forget incoming speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, who have the potential to play as well.

2. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and a whole bunch of questions at the position. But with the new offense Dana Holgorsen is bringing in, other receivers have a chance to be more effective. Austin is about as close as you can come to a surefire first-team All-Big East player. Ryan Nehlen had a nice spring and could be the surprise of the season. So could Tyler Urban, a converted tight end. How will Brad Starks do after shoulder surgery? Will Ivan McCartney live up to his potential? There is talent here and great potential if everybody lives up to expectations.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are stocked with talent, but many of these skill players have got to gain experience and fast with Armon Binns, Marcus Barnett, Vidal Hazelton and Ben Guidugli gone. D.J. Woods is expected to be a first-team All-Big East selection. But beyond he and Anthony McClung, you have got young guys -- junior college transfers Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian, redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, freshmen Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Alex Chisum and Max Morrison. Thompkins showed great promise in the spring.

4. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose their leading receiver in Jon Baldwin, but the duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could each be 1,000-yard receivers. Behind them, though, there are some questions and inexperience. Junior Cameron Saddler is going to have to step up. Redshirt freshmen Salath Williams, Drew Carswell, junior college transfer Josh Brinson and true freshman Justin Jackson are all young but have a chance to be big contributors. Pitt also is waiting to hear whether UNC transfer Brendon Felder will have his petition for immediate eligibility granted.

5. Syracuse. The Orange have plenty of solid returning receivers in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon but what this team is really lacking is big-play potential. In five games last season, Syracuse failed to complete a pass that went longer than 30 yards. In fact, Ryan Nassib averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt. A healthy Jarrod West could help those numbers improve. Dorian Graham has to work on his hands, too.

6. USF. The Bulls lose leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, but they return injured players Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love to the mix, which is going to be huge. Lindsey Lamar and Evan Landi also return, along with Terrence Mitchell, Joel Miller and Faron Hornes. Deonte Welch had a nice spring game and is listed as a backup behind Landi. True freshman Andre Davis has the potential to contribute as well. The Bulls have plenty of depth here but there are still some questions about this group, especially with Griffin and Love coming off injuries.

7. Louisville. The Cardinals lose their top two receivers, and have got to figure out a way to make big plays and stretch the field with a young group. Josh Bellamy appears to be the go-to man headed into 2011, and much is going to be expected of Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris. Both are coming off injuries and were unable to practice in the spring. True freshmen are most likely going to be relied upon, giving Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker and opportunity to play.

8. Connecticut. A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.

Previous rankings:
There are countless players every season who put their studies on hold for a shot at NFL stardom. They leave the classroom behind so they can spend January, February, March and April getting bigger, stronger, faster, some of them vowing to return to class the first chance they get.

Then there is Tejay Johnson.

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireTCU safety Tejay Johnson opted to pursue a college degree instead of an NFL career.
The TCU safety was an All-American last season, a Thorpe award finalist and the heart of the best defense in college football as a senior. But rather than pursue an NFL career, he opted to retire. Johnson did not want to leave school, not when he still had so much to do to get his degree in habilitation of the deaf and hard of hearing.

Johnson is the true embodiment of a student-athlete, understanding that the whole point of going to college is to get a degree that will serve him his entire life. If he had already graduated, then he would have pursued a pro career. But he decided he simply did not want to leave school without that degree in his hands. Johnson is set to graduate in the spring of 2012.

"I'm a first generation college kid in my family," Johnson said in a phone interview. "I have 10 siblings in which I'm the oldest, so I've always been a role model to them and wanted to set an example to them. Knowing I had people looking up to me and my own personal values of getting a college degree and wanting to better myself made the decision for me."

Johnson took 21 credit hours this past spring, and that would have made training for a potential future NFL career impossible. Part of his semester was spent working in a classroom with students. He also worked with somebody on speech therapy. Johnson currently is in the middle of a three-week course with a professor where he is a student teacher working with non-hearing kids at a high school near Fort Worth. Johnson was nervous at first, but one of his students told him just the other day he was a great teacher. "That boosted my morale a little bit," Johnson said.

Next spring, he will do an entire semester in a classroom, but his work with students now is preparing him for that. Johnson said he does not miss football much, but he is not sure how he is going to feel in the fall -- since he will still be in school at TCU but not on the team.

"The whole football aspect hasn't been hard giving it up," Johnson said. "I still work out every now and then, but I guess I don't miss playing football as of right now. I'm still fresh off not playing so it's not such a big deal. I was thinking about what it would be like watching the game from the stands this year as opposed to being down there. I won't know until it comes."

Johnson said he spoke to a few agents, NFL players, his mom and coaches before making his decision. He was not invited to any all-star games, and knew his speed was something that would draw questions. But he also thought he would have been projected as a middle-round pick had he decided to pursue the NFL.

That mattered little. Johnson has a bigger purpose in life, one that he chose because of a deaf cousin. His decision should be applauded.

Spring rewind: TCU

April, 12, 2011
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TCU kicks off the first of several spring wrapups for selected non-AQ teams. The Horned Frogs have plenty of holes to fill after losing an eye-popping 26 seniors, including veteran leaders Andy Dalton, Jake Kirkpatrick and Tejay Johnson. Several players stepped up, while other positions still have question marks headed into fall practice.

Questions answered: The biggest are the replacements for Dalton and Johnson. Casey Pachall had a good spring and really answered the challenge of having to replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Pachall is bigger than Dalton, has a stronger arm than Dalton and can run faster than Dalton. Though he is just a redshirt sophomore, he just completed his third spring practice at TCU because he was an early enrollee. He definitely has a grasp of the offense, and split all the reps this spring with Matt Brown -- the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster right now. Senior Johnny Fobbs is penciled in to replace Johnson and also appears to be stepping up. One position to note is defensive line, where coach Gary Patterson believes his team could be even better than last season. Braylon Broughton had a terrific spring as the replacement for Wayne Daniels at defensive end, and Stansly Maponga continued to mature at the other end spot. Broughton, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, is also a senior and expectations are high for him.

[+] EnlargeTank Carder
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireTCU will be counting on leadership and production from linebacker Tank Carder in the fall.
Questions unanswered: The biggest is who is going to step up as a leader to fill the void of Dalton, Johnson and Kirkpatrick. There are several candidates, from linebacker Tank Carder to receiver Josh Boyce to guard Blaize Foltz. Patterson will not have his answer until fall camp, when he sees who steps up and takes leadership and accountability during offseason workouts -- when the true character of teams are formed. As for positions, receiver needs more depth, and TCU is most likely going to need to rely on two highly touted incoming true freshmen -- Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown. The offensive line also has four new starters, though some of them have gotten extended playing time in games. Pachall might have the physical tools, but does he have the intangibles to lead TCU to another BCS game?

Spring stars: Watch for Sam Carter at safety. Carter follows the mold Patterson loves to use when finding his defensive stars. Carter came in as a quarterback and redshirted in the fall. He is now playing safety and opened some eyes. So did true freshman Deryk Gildon out of Arlington, Texas. Gildon enrolled early and at some points during the spring was running with the second team. He has a chance to get some playing time this season on special teams, and behind Carder and Tanner Brock.

Of note: Carder sat out the spring while rehabbing an injury. What sticks out to me is the way TCU is playing the underdog card for the 2011 season. The Horned Frogs have lost one game the past two seasons, but are most likely going to be picked to finish second in the Mountain West behind Boise State because of all the players they lose. TCU backers will tell you that the program is on solid footing, and they don't rebuild, they reload. They will most certainly have to prove that this season.

Non-AQ Top 25 Players: No. 5

March, 15, 2011
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No. 5 Tejay Johnson, S, TCU

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
AP Photo/Jack DempseyTejay Johnson leaves behind large shoes to fill in the Horned Frogs' defense.
There are obvious leaders of a football team, and there are the less subtle. Tejay Johnson falls into the less subtle category, but that does not make him any less of a leader. In fact, Johnson has been one of the most valuable players for the Horned Frogs over the course of the last two record-breaking seasons.

Coach Gary Patterson prides himself on his defense. He needs somebody savvy enough to be his eyes and ears on the field, and that role has fallen to Johnson, the quarterback of the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation for three straight seasons. He was the one who put his teammates into position to succeed on the field, and garnered the respect of players and pundits nationwide.

Johnson was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. He also received consensus All-America honors and was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection.

His is the biggest hole to fill on the defense, by far.

No. 6 G.J. Kinne, QB, Tulsa

No. 7 Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State

No. 8 Damaris Johnson, WR/KR/PR, Tulsa

No. 9 Chris Carter, DE, Fresno State

No. 10 Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State

No. 11 Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii

No. 12 Jeremy Kerley, WR/KR/PR, TCU

No. 13 Vai Taua, RB, Nevada

No. 14 Titus Young, WR, Boise State

No. 15 Bryant Moniz, QB, Hawaii

No. 16 Dontay Moch, DE, Nevada

No. 17 Dwayne Harris, WR/KR, East Carolina

No. 18 Chad Spann, RB, Northern Illinois

No. 19 Reggie Rembert, CB, Air Force

No. 20 T.Y. Hilton, WR/KR, FIU

No. 21 Eric Page, WR/KR, Toledo

No. 22 Jake Kirkpatrick, C, TCU

No. 23 Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

No. 24 Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky

No. 25 Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State

TCU defense No. 1 -- again

January, 20, 2011
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TCU has made a name for itself with its defense, and with good reason. The Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense for a third straight year. That means TCU has now finished first in that category more times (five) than any other program since the NCAA began tracking statistics in 1937.

All five of those top rankings have come under head coach Gary Patterson (2000, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010).

The Rose Bowl champion and second-ranked Horned Frogs are the third team to lead the nation in total defense in three consecutive seasons (Toledo, 1969-71; Oklahoma, 1985-87).

TCU actually finished No. 1 in six defensive categories: scoring defense (12 points), pass defense (128.8 yards), pass defense efficiency (94.9 rating), opponent third-down conversion percentage (24.1) and fewest first downs allowed per game (12).

As for the total defense, TCU allowed 228.5 yards a game -- 11.2 yards better than its 2009 average and the second-best mark under Patterson. Only the 2008 squad (217.8 yards) was better.

What makes the mark even more gratifying is the way the Horned Frogs were able to rebound despite losing NFL draft picks Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, and both starting cornerbacks.

The 2011 season will provide a critical test for both the offense and the defense. TCU returns six defensive starters and just five on offense. Defensively, TCU will need to find a replacement for Tejay Johnson, a three-year starter who quarterbacked the defense. TCU also loses three of its starting defensive linemen, including Wayne Daniels, who led the team with 6.5 sacks. Second leading tackler Colin Jones also will be gone, along with Alex Ibiloye.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Gary Patterson doesn't have a vote in the coaches' poll this season. Voters in that poll are required by rule to place the BCS title game winner -- either Auburn or Oregon in this year's case -- at the top of their ballot.

But Patterson -- who has steadfastly refused to whine about undefeated TCU being left out of the national championship picture -- did a rare bit of lobbying after his Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

"If I was a voter, I'll watch those two teams play and see how my team compares to them," Patterson said Saturday night. "Then I'll have my own national championship vote if I think we're better. It won't count, but it seems like a lot of votes don't count anymore."

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireGary Patterson's Horned Frogs finished the season a perfect 13-0.
That's about as much complaining or cajoling as any of the TCU contingent voiced in the wake of Saturday's victory. The BCS gaveth, and the BCS taketh away from the Horned Frogs. They finished 12-0 for the second straight regular season and were shut out again from the national title game. But they also have gone to two straight BCS games, and this year they had the unique privilege of playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We'll go down in history as one of the first non-AQ teams ever to win the Rose Bowl," tailback Ed Wesley said. "We're very proud of that. Maybe if we go undefeated again next year they'll give us a shot at the title."

Of course, TCU isn't the first non-AQ team in recent memory to go undefeated and unrecognized for a national championship. Utah did it in the 2004 and 2008 seasons, while Boise State accomplished the feat last year. But the Horned Frogs might have a bit stronger of a case this time around. The Utes beat mediocre Pittsburgh and disinterested SEC runner-up Alabama in their bowl games. Boise State topped TCU in last year's Fiesta Bowl as the non-AQs got ghettoized.

TCU beat an 11-1 Big Ten co-champion in No. 5 Wisconsin that was highly motivated to win the Rose Bowl. The stadium was at least 65 percent Badgers red. This was no fluky, mistake-filled upset, either. Both teams played well. The Horned Frogs were just better.

"We can play with anybody," said receiver Jimmy Young. "What more have we got to prove?"

The schedule hurts their case. Other than Wisconsin, TCU has beaten only one other team (Utah) currently in the BCS standings, and the Utes could drop out after getting hammered in their bowl game by Boise State. (On the flip side, San Diego State and Air Force both registered nice bowl wins and could climb into the final rankings).

Unless Auburn and Oregon play a complete stinker, odds are very few voters will seriously consider the Horned Frogs for the top spot in The Associated Press poll. But the Rose Bowl win could help TCU start next year high in the rankings, even though the team loses many key seniors such as quarterback Andy Dalton, center Jake Kirkpatrick, receiver Jeremy Kerley, defensive end Wayne Daniels and safety Tejay Johnson.

"We're going to just keep climbing the mountain," Kirkpatrick said. "Our goal is to win the national championship, and we're one step closer now."

This TCU team might have been good enough to win the BCS title, but we'll never know. The Horned Frogs will happily settle for 13-0 and a Rose Bowl win that will be remembered for generations.

"Nobody has beaten us yet," linebacker Tanner Brock said. "So we're a champion in my book."

Video: TCU safety Tejay Johnson

January, 1, 2011
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TCU's Tejay Johnson talks about the win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

TCU aims for staying power

December, 30, 2010
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LOS ANGELES -- TCU is proudly carrying a banner at the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

"We're not just representing TCU," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're representing all the non-AQ schools."

The Horned Frogs are taking that responsibility very seriously this week, saying they have to play well for all the schools who might never get a chance to make it to this stage. As far as crusades go, though, this won't be a long one. TCU will soon be leaving that torch for someone else to pick up.

It is the first team from outside the six automatic-qualifying conferences to reach two consecutive BCS games, and it came the hard way as TCU has gone 12-0 the last two regular seasons. In 2012, the team will have much more margin for error as it joins the Big East and can still make the BCS just by winning the league.

"I'm actually a little envious of the younger players," said cornerback Greg McCoy, whose eligibility expires after the 2011 campaign. "We all worked hard for the future, and I know there's a lot of envy among the upperclassmen. But when you work hard, things get better. And we all know we contributed to this."

TCU's senior class played a major role in making the program attractive to the Big East, winning 35 games the previous three years. Many of those seniors are stars on this team, like four-year starter Andy Dalton, center Jake Kirkpatrick, receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley, safety Tejay Johnson and defensive end Wayne Daniels.

But the program has shown that it can reload. Last year's team lost All-America defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington to the NFL. Daniels elevated his game, and redshirt freshman Stansly Maponga stepped in to replace Hughes' production at end. Sophomore Tanner Brock took over for Washington at middle linebacker and kept that position strong.

"We have a great coaching staff and the athletes to continue to be successful," senior right guard Josh Vernon said. "We don't rely on just one guy on offense or defense."

Can TCU keep this going? It's unrealistic to think the program will keep piling up undefeated regular seasons. But who's to say they can't become the top frogs in the Big East and turn into the next Virginia Tech, Miami or Florida State -- programs that went from humble beginnings to consistent national powers.

They're not far from that level now.

"I don't feel like we're the small guy," head coach Gary Patterson said. "We've only lost three games the last three years. We lost to Oklahoma that played in national championship game. We lost to Utah that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then Boise State a year ago (in the Fiesta Bowl). So we've been in big games and we've proven we can play on a big stage. "

As long as Patterson stays in Fort Worth, the team should remain highly competitive. The school is in the midst of a $105 million renovation of Amon Carter Stadium, funded through private donations. Patterson's staff knows how to recruit and develop Texas talent.

There might not be many more Rose Bowls in the Horned Frogs' future, but Big East membership will allow them to compete for BCS games on an annual basis.

"Obviously we've done something right to get to go to the Big East, and hopefully we'll make that league better," Dalton said. "I can't see us dropping off. I think we'll just keep getting better."
LOS ANGELES -- TCU free safety Tejay Johnson remembers a 6-foot-2 wide receiver showing up as a freshman, intent on becoming a star playmaker on offense. Johnson stunned the youngster by telling him his future: "You're going to be a safety."

Players who sign up with the Horned Frogs and coach Gary Patterson often learn that their high school position matters about as much as their astrological sign. That's one of the secrets to the program's sustained success. Patterson and his staff scour Texas for athletes first and figure out where to put them later.

"The one thing that we always look at is, can the young man run?'" defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said. "And if he can, then that's a good basis to start for a lot of positions."

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTejay Johnson is the quarterback of a TCU defense made up players who have switched from other positions.
That philosophy is a big reason why the defense has consistently ranked as one of the nation's best, despite featuring mostly under-the-radar recruits. Patterson and his assistants have an uncanny ability to identify athletes and then teach them how to play defense, if necessary. Current NFL linebacker Stephen Hodge was converted from a high school quarterback to a safety for the Frogs. Last year's All-American defensive end, Jerry Hughes, starred at running back in high school.

Examples abound on this year's team as well. Safety Colin Jones was a prep running back. Starting cornerbacks Jason Teague and Greg McCoy were high school receivers. Defensive tackle Cory Grant came in as a tight end. Linebacker Tank Carder was known for being a former BMX world champion. Matt Anderson entered college as a safety and is now a backup defensive lineman.

"I honestly don't know how Coach P does that," senior defensive end Wayne Daniels said. "I don't think I've ever seen him miss with a position change."

Everything's bigger in Texas? It's more like everything's faster in Fort Worth. Patterson will gladly sacrifice a few inches of height and 20 or more pounds per player in exchange for speed. His 4-2-5 defense is by definition built on swiftness over bulk, with three safeties and one fewer linebacker on the field than the normal 4-3 alignment.

Some of the reason for playing a 4-2-5 is by necessity, Bumpas said. There are more cornerbacks and safeties out there than big guys who can play linebacker, and even in the talent-rich state of Texas, TCU often has to comb through the prospects that Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M don't want. Those schools usually want the big guys.

"We really look for potential, probably more so than a finished product," Bumpas said.

The 4-2-5 is a perfect base defense against spread offenses, as the Horned Frogs are basically in nickel all of the time. Of course, that might not be an advantage in Saturday's Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio; Wisconsin's powerful attack is about as far away from a spread as you can find.

The keys to the 4-2-5 include flexibility and individual responsibility. TCU can put two safeties on one side of the field, bring one or two down for help against the run or send them on blitzes. The defensive front does a lot of shifting, and the pass coverage is divided into two halves of the field. Free safety Johnson is the quarterback of the defense, and weak safety Alex Ibiloye will make calls for coverage on his side.

"Free safety is definitely the hardest position," Carder said. "Coach Patterson gives us three or four different calls, and we've got to choose which one it is. We have a lot of responsibility to make the right calls, but they teach us well and line us up in the right spots."

At the end of each week, Patterson tests each defensive player on their assignments and coverages. He'll show a play on a video screen, pause it, then force each guy to show with a laser pointer exactly what his responsibility is in that situation.

"It's pretty intense," Jones said. "You get some instant feedback, and it's usually pretty negative if you mess up."

The Horned Frogs don't seem to mess up too much on Saturdays. Their defense has led the nation in yards allowed for the past three years and ranks No. 1 this year in points surrendered at just 11.4 per game. It's a senior-laden group that knows this system intimately.

"Structurally, they're a little bit different than what we see," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "But what makes it different is how they play it. They play it really well, not just this year but for many years. They've got athletes that can move, they also know where they're going and what they're doing, so they don't play with hesitation."

Some incoming TCU players, like that freshman wide receiver, might hesitate at switching to a new position. But Johnson said that like most, the freshman quickly realized it was his best chance to get on the field and contribute.

At this point, why would anyone question TCU's winning formula?

TCU prepares for Wisconsin's power

December, 28, 2010
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LOS ANGELES -- In the first question of TCU's defensive news conference Tuesday, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas was asked to whom he would compare Wisconsin's offensive style.

Bumpas chuckled and said, "Probably the Green Bay Packers back in their heyday."

Yes, the Horned Frogs' challenge in the Saturday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is quite literally a big one. Wisconsin's massive offensive line and powerful running game are unlike anything in the Mountain West Conference. TCU players struggled to find an apt comparison on their schedule, at times drawing some similarities to BYU's size or Air Force's running game. But the Badgers are a different breed.

"Other teams have big tackles or big guards," defensive end Wayne Daniels said. "The difference is, I've never seen a team this big as a whole."

Wisconsin's offensive front averages 321 pounds per man, or more than 40 pounds of beef more than the average Horned Frog on the defensive line. The Badgers have three running backs who have produced at least 800 yards this season.

"As you watch the film, game after game, those guys are just romping and stomping up and down the field," Bumpas said. "So it presents a unique challenge for us."

TCU was terrific against the run all year. Only two opponents -- SMU and Air Force -- finished with more than 100 yards rushing in a game this season against a defense that ranked third in the FBS by allowing just 89.2 yards per game on the ground.

Can it remain stout against Wisconsin? Players talked repeatedly Tuesday about how crucial it will be to fill every gap and tackle securely. TCU excels with an undersized defense that flies to the ball. But with its 4-2-5 alignment, the defense will need some safeties to help out against much bigger players in the run game.

"Our safeties generally are the second and third leading tacklers on the team every game," senior free safety Tejay Johnson said. "So we're used to being involved against the run. We just have to make sure we keep our leverage with our speed and make tackles once we get there."

Size isn't everything. But the Horned Frogs' defense knows it has a plus-sized challenge on deck.

Two from TCU are ESPN.com All-Americans

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
11:15
AM ET
TCU placed two players on the ESPN.com All-America team: linebacker Tank Carder and safety Tejay Johnson. The Horned Frogs were the only non-AQ team to have players make the ESPN.com squad, and TCU was the only team to have two defensive players.

On the heels of another undefeated regular season, Carder and Johnson have been the unquestioned leaders of a defense that ranks No. 1 in the country for the third straight season. Johnson is a consensus All-American, while Carter has been selected to five All-America teams. Here is what ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel had to say about each of them.

On Carder: "The Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year makes the big plays (54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 11 passes defended or broken up) and he makes every play. Tank Carder has started 25 consecutive games for the Horned Frogs. They have won 24 of them.

"Carder will play an integral role in how TCU deals with the mammoth offensive line and deep well of running backs of the point machine that is Wisconsin. The Badgers will discover what every other TCU opponent knows: Carder is everything you want in a linebacker, including that name."

On Johnson: "It's not true that Tejay Johnson played at TCU with Sammy Baugh. It just seems that way. The senior free safety will make the 38th start of his career in the Rose Bowl, concluding a season in which he has been the best defender on the nation's best defense.

"Johnson, playing center field, made 58 tackles and led the Horned Frogs by forcing six turnovers. He also returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown.

"It's no coincidence that TCU has led the nation in total defense in each of Johnson's three seasons as a starter."

Kudos to both players on an outstanding season.

Newton leads AP All-America team

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
3:24
PM ET
Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Auburn teammate Nick Fairley headline the AP All-America team, announced Tuesday. Auburn is one of five players on the first team. Here is the complete list of first-teamers:

Offense
QB -- Cam Newton, Auburn
RB -- LaMichael James, Oregon
RB -- Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
WR -- Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR -- Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
OL -- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
OL -- John Moffit, Wisconsin
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
OL -- Nate Solder, Colorado
OL -- Chase Beeler, Stanford
TE -- Michael Egnew, Missouri

Defense
DL -- Nick Fairley, Auburn
DL -- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL -- Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DL -- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
LB -- Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB -- Luke Kuechley, Boston College
LB -- Von Miller, Texas A&M
DB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU
DB -- Tejay Johnson, TCU
DB -- Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
DB -- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

Special teams
P -- Chas Henry, Florida
PK -- Alex Henery, Nebraska
AP -- Randall Cobb, Kentucky

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