NCF Nation: Wayne Daniels
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.
After TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last week, much of the talk surrounding the Horned Frogs wasn't whether they deserved to be ranked No. 1. Rather it was whether they would be able to finish the season ranked No. 2.
But after going 13-0, shouldn't the Horned Frogs have some claim on No. 1? David Ausiello of GoMids.com brings that point up today, saying the non-AQ coaches should forget about voting the winner of the BCS national championship game No. 1 and instead go with TCU to "send a shockwave through college football and help bring about a playoff."
That would be a great plan, except the coaches are required to vote for the BCS national champions in the No. 1 spot. Ausiello points out that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham did not follow protocol when he voted his team No. 1 following its win against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, which left the Utes 13-0.
I appreciate the point Ausiello makes in his column, and I believe it is one that should be debated. Still, the only shot TCU really has to claim a national championship is if the AP voters banded together and voted the Horned Frogs No. 1. That seems highly unlikely. The Horned Frogs only had one AP vote in the final regular-season poll.
To me, the larger question is whether the Horned Frogs themselves should be more outspoken about the injustice of it all. Austin Murphy points out in his article on TCU's win in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated:
As BCS executive director Bill Hancock is fond of saying, "Every game counts." Perhaps Hancock can explain to the 13-0 Horned Frogs why, if each of their games counted this season, they failed to contend for a national championship. (This is the eighth time in the BCS era that a team has run the table but not played in the national title game. Seven of those teams were from non-AQ conferences.)
TCU defensive end Wayne Daniels said in the aftermath of the win that he didn't care about the national championship. Coach Gary Patterson steadfastly continues to reiterate his support of the BCS system because nobody has told him how it would be any easier for an undefeated non-AQ school to make it into a playoff.
I understand his point. But what about a plus-one? I am a playoff proponent, but realize the chances of that happening are as great as TCU getting a national championship this year. But if there was a plus-one system, many of these undefeated teams that have failed to get a shot at playing for a national championship (this means you, too, Auburn) would get it. That does not dilute the regular season. In fact, it makes more than one bowl game mean something bigger.
Sure, the Rose Bowl win means plenty to TCU, the Mountain West and non-AQs everywhere. But in the grand scheme of things, it was just another game that had no bearing on the national championship. Same with all the other BCS games. Same with all the other redundant bowl games. A plus-one would keep the integrity of the bowl system, something that is important to coaches and administrators. And it would add more drama to the postseason than there is right now.
In any case, there is a valid argument to be made for TCU deserving a share of a national championship.
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."
"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."
Let's examine the Badgers-Horned Frogs matchup in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
WHO TO WATCH: Wisconsin running back John Clay. The beefy junior says he's 100 percent recovered from knee problems that cropped up toward the end of the regular season. If Clay returns at top form and can wear down TCU's defense with his size and between-the-tackles running, it could open things up for fellow backs James White and Montee Ball. Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, had a decent season but looks for a signature performance in what could be his final game in college. Clay needs 64 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
WHAT TO WATCH: Outstanding individual matchups throughout the field. Let's start off at the line of scrimmage, as standout defensive ends J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) and Wayne Daniels (TCU) go up against stout offensive tackles Marcus Cannon (TCU) and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin). The Badgers send All-Big Ten cornerback Antonio Fenelus to stop TCU speedy receiver Jeremy Kerley. And while quarterbacks Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin) and Andy Dalton (TCU) don't directly face one another, they boast similar styles and strong track records, so comparisons will be made in the game.
WHY TO WATCH: Colleague Brian Bennett and I have given you about 1,000 reasons this week, but this is a can't-miss game. These are two really good teams with outstanding individual players, and both squads are looking to prove something in the Rose Bowl. TCU wants to show it belongs in the national championship discussion with Boise State as a truly elite program from a non-AQ league. Wisconsin is carrying the banner for the Big Ten Conference, which needs a second consecutive strong bowl showing to bolster its national reputation.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 30, TCU 27. Another tough one to call, and I originally had the Horned Frogs winning when the pairing first came out. But Wisconsin provides a look that TCU simply can't simulate playing in the Mountain West, and while the Frogs boast so many dynamic defenders, they'll wear down in the second half against the Badgers' power backs. Dalton will have TCU right there at the end, but Wisconsin uses a strong fourth quarter to secure the victory.
Brian Bennett: OK, Adam. Time for you to take a break from getting starlets' phone numbers and shopping on Rodeo Drive. Let's talk about a very interesting Rose Bowl. Wisconsin has won the eyeball test this week and may have cracked the foundation of the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott on Media Day with all that bulk in one place. But TCU has seemed focused and has a ton of athletes. Of all the contrasts and matchups in this game, which one do you think is most important to the outcome?
BB: The line of scrimmage will be critical, but I think TCU's defensive linemen are good enough to hold their own. I wonder about the safeties who will need to help out against the run. They're going to be physically outmatched by linemen, tight ends and John Clay. They had better tackle well and be extremely sound in their technique, though the Horned Frogs excel at that. And then of course you worry about play-action if you're Gary Patterson and Dick Bumpas.
On the other side, TCU's offensive line has given up just nine sacks all year. Watt versus Cannon is going to be fun to watch, but I think Dalton will stay pretty clean. I wouldn't expect Wisconsin to come after him too hard because of the threat of the zone-read and the Horned Frogs' tendency to throw those underneath routes. I would think Dave Doeren would want to keep his linebackers covering those areas against speedsters like Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young.
Another question I have is how the layoff will affect these teams. We've seen some spread teams struggle with timing in bowls. That might bother TCU, which never found its rhythm last year in the Fiesta Bowl, more than a ground-based attack like Wisconsin. Agree?
AR: It could, Brian, but Wisconsin was so hot at the end of the regular season, scoring 201 points in its final three games. It might take some time to re-establish the confidence and the rhythm, which could prove costly against a defense like TCU's. The Badgers really tried to maintain the intensity in bowl practice, having the first-team offense and first-team defense practice a lot against one another. But I would expect a little lull on game day. Wisconsin will benefit from having running back John Clay at near 100 percent for the game. Tackling Clay isn't a lot of fun, and he might be able to wear down TCU's defense and create lanes for James White and Montee Ball.
One area that really intrigues me about this game is special teams. Both teams have strong returners, especially TCU with Kerley. How big of a factor will the kicking game be for the Frogs?
BB: Well, Frogs fans surely understand the importance of special teams after last year's Fiesta Bowl loss, in which a Boise State fake punt made the difference. Kerley is electrifying and could single-handedly change the game; Wisconsin did surrender a punt return touchdown in its only loss, against Michigan State. TCU's punting is mediocre, and kicker Ross Evans has made only one field goal longer than 40 yards this season.
Another hidden area could be red-zone efficiency. Both teams were great at punching it in during the year, and in a potentially close game between two high-scoring teams, a red-zone stop could be huge. Any other under-the-radar factors jump out at you?
OK, Bennett, prediction time. You first.
BB: Wisconsin is awfully good, and I fear that TCU will eventually succumb to all that size. But these Horned Frogs know how to win, and I get the feeling they're very motivated to prove something on this stage. The TCU defense comes up with some key turnovers, speed trumps strength and the Horned Frogs make the Rose Bowl a non-AQ house, 30-27.
AR: This should be a great game, and it could go either way. I just don't think TCU has seen anything like Wisconsin this season. The Badgers' power and style of play is unique in college football, and ultimately, Wisconsin will wear down the frogs. Dalton keeps TCU in the game and makes several big plays with both his arm and his feet, but Wisconsin uses a big fourth quarter to secure the win. Badgers 30, Frogs 27.
"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."
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."
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?
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.
Offensive MVP: Dalton. The senior completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,638 yards with 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He joined Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt as the only players to win league Offensive Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons.
Defensive MVP: Carder. He became the third straight TCU player to win league Defensive Player of the Year honors. He made plays all over the field and has been a tremendous leader.
Turning point: Second quarter vs. San Diego State. The Horned Frogs stared at a 14-0 deficit to San Diego State following their big win against Utah, but showed no signs of panic. They scored 21 second-quarter points and totally dominated the quarter to take a lead into halftime. Yes, they allowed the Aztecs back into the game, but for a large portion they dominated and won 40-35. The close margin caused some panic from voters, but most championship teams face at least one test in a season. The Horned Frogs passed theirs.
What’s next: TCU faces Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, and has just one more season in the Mountain West before joining the Big East in 2012.
Both rank in the top 10 in the country in three major statistical categories: total defense, pass defense and scoring defense. Both are strong up front. Utah has plenty of depth on the defensive line and its three starting linebackers are among the top four tacklers on the team. The Utes have 23 sacks on the season. TCU has 20.
The Horned Frogs posted back-to-back shutouts to open conference play and have allowed a total of 16 points in five conference games. They held Air Force to a season-low in rushing yards, and lead the nation in total defense once again. That should not come as too much of a shock. It’s a spot they held in 2008 and 2009, too.
They are going to be without starting nose tackle Kelly Griffin, who is out indefinitely with a broken ankle. D.J. Yendrey made his first career start last week against UNLV. Here is a closer look at both units:
Experience: Utah has less experience, having lost seven starters from last season. But because Whittingham has emphasized defensive improvement, this unit has gotten better in a hurry. There is no greater example of that than looking at the trio of Matt Martinez, Chaz Walker and Chad Manis. They had combined for zero starts before this season. Walker and Martinez are former walk-ons; Manis is a former quarterback. TCU returned six starters, though cornerbacks Jason Teague and Greg McCoy saw plenty of action last season. Still, there is youth that has grown up -- most notably linebacker Tanner Brock and defensive end Stansly Maponga.
Breakout player: Utah safety Brian Blechen has been a most pleasant surprise. The true freshman switched from quarterback in fall camp and the move has been a good one. His interception in overtime against Pittsburgh helped the Utes win, and he shares the team lead with two interceptions on the year. For TCU, it would have to be Maponga, filling in for the departed Jerry Hughes. Patterson has spoken highly of the job Maponga has done. He leads all TCU defensive linemen with 27 tackles and has three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. His play has helped open things up for Daniels, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks.
Areas of improvement: Whittingham has spoken all season about trying to create more turnovers on defense. Utah only has taken the ball away 12 times in seven games. Seven of those have come in the past two games, including five last week against Air Force. Patterson has talked about wanting his team to hunt together, to play effectively as a unit, and that has showed in league play. But this is going to be the most significant test to the secondary, perhaps all season, making this a unit to watch.
Record: 6-0 (2-0 MWC)
TCU is right about where we expected it to be at the midpoint of the season. The Horned Frogs answered a big challenge right out of the gate with a 30-21 win over Oregon State. They also demolished former Southwest Conference rival Baylor 45-10. The defense has posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1955. There were questions about the defense, because it lost top players Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington and starting cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, but coach Gary Patterson has to be pleased with the effort. The Horned Frogs once again lead the nation in total defense, a mantle they have held since 2008. On offense, Andy Dalton became the active NCAA leader in career wins with 35. That also is a school record. He has also set a school record for touchdown passes. Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker have done a good job anchoring the running game, and Dalton has contributed there as well. He has only been sacked three times this season. TCU is 6-0 for the fourth time in 11 seasons, but two big games loom -- home against Air Force on Oct. 23 and at Utah on Nov. 6.
Offensive MVP, QB Andy Dalton. Though he has been inconsistent at times this season, Dalton wins, and that is all that matters to Patterson. In addition to setting all those records, Dalton is 92-of-138 for 1,177 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has 512 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Defensive MVP, DE Wayne Daniels. Patterson has consistently praised Daniels throughout the season as his most consistent player on defense. Without Hughes, Daniels has stepped up his game, big time. He leads the team and Mountain West with 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Keep in mind he had 5.5 sacks all of last season.
1. What does Boise State have to do to get a little respect -- aside from beating Oregon State? At this point, it seems as though winning is not going to be enough for the Broncos. They are the No. 3 team in the country, but many pundits believe they have hit their peak. Do they have to blow teams out? Do they need everybody else to implode? First order of business is to win, of course, but with all eyes on Boise State for the second time in a month, you can bet many folks around the country are going to want to see more than a close win.
3. How does Terrance Broadway handle his first start at Houston? Broadway was thrown into the mix last week against UCLA when Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner were lost for the season with separate injuries. The true freshman played well, but now he will actually get the reps in practice and show what he can do leading this offense. Broadway was a four-star recruit once offered a scholarship to Alabama before an injury in high school. He chose Houston because the Cougars run a similar spread offense to what he ran in high school. First order of business is Tulane. Well, at least it’s not Mississippi State. That comes in two weeks.
4. How does SMU handle the TCU defensive front? The SMU offensive line has struggled in the first three games of the year, giving up 10 sacks. Wayne Daniels is off to a good start for the Horned Frogs, with 3.5 sacks, and the TCU defense is always good at applying pressure. You can bet that will be the game plan to rattle Kyle Padron and get him off rhythm.
5. Can Fresno State contain Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli? Heck, everybody else has seemed to contain him, why not the Bulldogs? Much credit goes to coach Pat Hill for his improved defensive unit this year. Chris Carter and Logan Harrell have combined for 6.5 sacks, but they have not quite played an opponent the caliber of Ole Miss just yet. Yes, Mississippi is better than Cincinnati.
6. Can the MAC pull off an upset against the Big Ten? There are eight MAC vs. Big Ten matchups this weekend. Two to watch: Northern Illinois at Minnesota and Bowling Green at Michigan. I would like Bowling Green’s chances a lot better if Matt Schilz was playing, but it seems you can throw any 11 players on the field and they will have an opportunity to gain some yards on a pretty poor Michigan defense. Minnesota has struggled this season, and that gives Northern Illinois the perfect opportunity.
7. Any chance FIU pulls the upset over Maryland? The Panthers have been oh-so-close against Rutgers and Texas A&M, taking fourth-quarter leads into both games. Their defense has set the tone early, but they simply fell short during crunch time. The Panthers just don’t have a good enough offense to be able to win these games.
8. UCF defense vs. Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Thomas ranks second in the nation in rushing, and UCF has the best defense in Conference USA. So what is going to give? No doubt the Knights will try to stack the box, and they have said this week the key is sure tackling. That is easier said than done. Though the Knights do have a good unit, they have struggled at times against the run and are giving up an average of 128.7 yards a game.
9. Will Dwight Dasher be able to play for Middle Tennessee against Louisiana? The NCAA has ruled Dasher must sit out four games for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. The school has filed an appeal, and that ruling is expected to come either late tonight or tomorrow. The Blue Raiders are preparing as if he won’t be able to play, so Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy have gotten the majority of reps in practice. This is the conference opener for Middle Tennessee before a huge game Oct. 5 against Troy. Dasher will be eligible to return for that game against the Trojans.
10. How does Duke slow down Army DE Josh McNary? The Black Knights are hoping to win their third straight game away from home for the first time since 1966-67. They have a chance if Josh McNary continues to play well. The defensive end has five sacks in Army’s last two games. As a team, Army has seven sacks in those two games. Army could be 3-0 if not for a last-second field goal in a loss to Hawaii.
Sure, the faces in the starting lineup change, as they have this season. But look at the top of the NCAA stat sheet, and there you see the Horned Frogs once again.
Their defense, which has been No. 1 in the country the last two seasons, is ranked No. 4 after three games. Impressive considering its top two players, Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington are gone. Impressive considering two of its three games have come against opponents from automatic qualifying conferences.
Only four other teams ranked in the Top 25 in total defense -- Stanford, Alabama, Iowa and LSU -- have played at least two teams from AQ conferences. LSU is the only one that has played three in its first three games.
You always want to see steady improvement from your team as the season goes on, of course, and this week provides the next test. No. 4 TCU (3-0) plays SMU (2-1) in a nationally televised game Friday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN). The Mustangs provide the third radically different type of offense TCU has seen from its FBS opponents so far this season.
SMU enjoys passing the ball under coach June Jones, a run 'n' shoot disciple. The Mustangs do have an effective runner this year in Zach Line, at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, but the primary objective will be to stop the passing attack.
Many of the new faces on that TCU defense are right in the secondary. Four-year starting cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders are gone, but it’s important to remember their replacements got plenty of playing time last season while they both struggled through injuries. Greg McCoy and Jason Teague had four combined interceptions last season, while Priest and Sanders had one.
At strong safety, Colin Jones has re-emerged as the starter while Tyler Luttrell has been out with a hamstring injury. Jones went into last season penciled in as the starter but hurt his hamstring, and Luttrell ended up becoming the starter.
Jones is tied for third on the team with 15 tackles, including three for a loss. With the 4-2-5 defense TCU runs, it’s incumbent on the safeties to make plays. That’s why three of the four top tacklers are the safeties -- Alex Ibiloye and Tejay Johnson are right up there as well.
As for the other players who are gone, their replacements have stepped up big time, too. Tanner Brock, taking over for Washington, leads the team in tackles with 19. Only a sophomore, Brock is perhaps best remembered for making a helmetless block last year against SMU, on a punt return Jeremy Kerley returned 71 yards for a touchdown.
Stansly Maponga has taken over for Hughes, but it’s Wayne Daniels who has emerged on the left side to put the stud on the end. Daniels has 3.5 sacks already this season. Of his nine tackles, six are for a loss. He made a statement right out of the gate, with two sacks in the opening win over Oregon State, helping get pressure on Ryan Katz and setting the tone for the entire game.
Overall, TCU is giving up 227.7 yards a game, and though that is ranked No. 4 in the country, it is the second-lowest total under Patterson. It’s about 17 yards less than TCU gave up a year ago.
Still, it’s only three games in, and Patterson doesn’t want to get too high on his defense just yet.
“We’re still trying to grow up,” Patterson said. “You have to grow up in the first five or six ball games. We didn’t feel we practiced well last week, so we have to come back and do a better job of that and not just do it on Friday and Saturday.”