Blue Ribbon Preview: TCU
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For 16 years Texas Christian meandered through the college football wilderness the way Roman general Maximus fought to the Coliseum in the movie Gladiator. TCU competed in the highly regarded Southwest Conference for 73 years but was jettisoned to mid-major status when the league folded in 1996. The school successfully worked its way from league to league with an eye toward reaching a high-level conference once again.
In November 2010, the Horned Frogs announced they would join the Big East, a league with an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid, beginning in 2012. But in October 2011, those plans changed.
The Big 12 Conference, which plucked the cream from the Southwest Conference crop in 1996, needed a member to replace SEC-bound Texas A&M last fall. The league asked TCU to join, and the school happily accepted. College football's wayward sons found their perfect fit in their own backyard.
"Joining the Big 12 brings us back to sharing a rich tradition with a lot of schools we already had natural rivalries with," TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini, Jr. said when the school announced its plans to join the Big 12.
In the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will reignite rivalries with Baylor (107 games), Texas (82) and Texas Tech (54) each year. Many of the trips are a short drive for the Horned Frogs to those schools plus their Oklahoma brethren as compared to the regular cross-continent journeys in the Mountain West Conference.
"We have had some history," TCU Coach Gary Patterson said. "We have played at some of those places, but not recently. So we've got to be ready to go."
TCU now has the home it always wanted -- both literally and figuratively. The school just completed a $164 million renovation to Amon G. Carter Stadium, which seats 45,000. The school sold all 30,000 of its season tickets for the first time in school history, up from 22,500 last year and 14,000 just three years ago. The tiny private school in Fort Worth with an alumni base of 70,000 and only 9,500 undergraduates has captured the attention of the Dallas Metroplex in a way no one would have dreamed even 10 years ago.
"I think the fans and the state, the TCU fans and just overall fans, I think there's a lot of excitement," Patterson said. "But really we've got to keep our head down.
"It'll be the first time the Metroplex will ever have a football team in [a major conference] since SMU and TCU were part of the Southwest Conference."
Head coach: Gary Patterson (Kansas State '83)
Record at school: 109-30 (11 years)
Career record: 109-30 (11 years)
Eddie Williamson (Davidson '74) Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line; Dick Bumpas (Arkansas '73) Defensive Coordinator/Defensive line; Jarrett Anderson (New Mexico '93) Co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs; Rusty Burns (Springfield '78) Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks; Chad Glasgow (Oklahoma State '95) Safeties; Trey Haverty (Texas Tech '04) Wide Receivers; Clay Jennings (North Texas '96) Cornerbacks; Dan Sharp (TCU '85) Tight Ends/Special Teams; Tony Tademy (Louisiana Tech '83) Linebackers
If there was any fear of a drop-off at quarterback last season, junior Casey Pachall (6-5, 226) quickly erased those doubts. Pachall replaced one of nation's top quarterbacks in Andy Dalton and few thought Pachall could equal Dalton's effectiveness. In some ways, Pachall surpassed Dalton.
As a sophomore, Pachall broke Dalton's single-season records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and yards passing (2,921). His 25 touchdown passes were second in TCU single-season history to Dalton, and Pachall ranked 12th nationally in passing efficiency. Pachall was voted second-team All-Mountain.
It wasn't just statistics where Pachall made his mark, either. Four times he led TCU from fourth-quarter deficits, including two when the Horned Frogs trailed by at least 17 points. He threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns to lift TCU to the Mountain West title with a 36-35 upset of Boise State, which probably knocked the Broncos from the BCS Championship game. He was chosen National Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards after that game.
The Horned Frogs trailed long-time rival Baylor by 24 points in the fourth quarter, but Pachall completed 13-of-18 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns in that period. He paced TCU to a one-point lead, but the Horned Frogs lost 50-48 in the season opener.
Pachall was more dangerous when the Horned Frogs were behind last year. When trailing in the fourth quarter, Pachall completed 39-of-54 passes for 464 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
TCU does have a real competition at back-up quarterback. Sophomore Matt Brown (6-1, 185) and redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin (6-2, 215) were even after spring drills. Brown played in nine games last year and scored six rushing touchdowns on just 24 carries. Boykin did not play last year but he traveled to each game as the emergency quarterback.
True freshman Tyler Matthews (6-3, 205) enrolled early and could compete for playing time.
"I think we have to come a ways with our two and three quarterbacks," Patterson said. "They're not playing at the level that we need to have them play."
At the end of spring practice, no other school nationally could match TCU's returning talent at running back. The Horned Frogs were the only school to boast three returning running backs with more than 700 rushing yards. But they took a hit after spring practice when they found out Ed Wesley would not return because of academic issues.
Wesley ran for 726 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns last season despite missing three games while hampered with injuries. Wesley was a 2010 Doak Walker semifinalist and ran for 1,078 yards during the Horned Frogs' Rose Bowl season. He ranks 11th in school history in rushing yards with 2,457.
But there's still plenty of talent returning for TCU at the position. Waymon James (5-8, 203) became the featured back in Wesley's place last year and led TCU with 875 yards. James, a junior, powered to 7.2 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns. He rushed for 181 yards on 12 carries at Wyoming and was voted Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
Senior Matthew Tucker (6-1, 218) assumed the power-back role with 702 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns. Tucker has 27 career rushing touchdowns, sixth in school history.
All three running backs earned honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors last year.
Adding depth is senior Aundre Dean (6-0, 215), who rushed for 130 yards last season. Dean, a UCLA transfer, figures as the third running back but will be pushed by true freshman B. J. Catalon (5-9, 200), who enrolled in classes early.
The fullback is redshirt freshman Laderice Sanders (6-1, 230).
TCU returns three of its top four receivers from last season, including junior Josh Boyce (6-0, 203), who has All-American potential. In just two seasons at TCU, Boyce has 15 touchdown receptions, just three shy of the school record. Last year Boyce caught 61 passes for 998 yards and nine touchdowns. He saved his career-best for the biggest game.
Boyce caught five passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the upset win against Boise State. He also hauled in the game-winning two-point conversion. Boyce was voted first-team All-Mountain West and The Sporting News tabbed him as the conference's fastest wide receiver.
Flanking Boyce is senior Skye Dawson (5-9, 183), who caught 45 passes for 500 yards and five touchdowns last year. Dawson earned the Most Outstanding Player Award in the Poinsettia Bowl after hauling in a 42-yard pass from Pachall that led to the game-winning score. Dawson was voted to the All-Mountain West Conference first-team track squad this spring after competing on the conference champion 4x100 relay team.
Sophomore Brandon Carter (5-11, 161) was productive as a true freshman last year, catching 23 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Against Boise State he caught four passes for 120 yards and two scores, including a 25-yard touchdown strike with 1:05 left in the game that led to the game-winning two-point conversion.
Cam White (6-2, 190) enters fall camp as the Frogs' fourth receiver after catching six passes for 90 yards last year as a true freshman. David Porter (6-0, 195) caught seven passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns, including a 19-yard pass against Baylor on his first college snap. Redshirt freshmen LaDarius Brown (6-4, 220) and David Bush (5-9, 180) and early enrollee Kolby Listenbee (6-1, 185) add depth.
At tight end, TCU returns senior Corey Fuller (6-6, 255), who started four games and caught two passes last year. Backing up Fuller are sophomore Stephen Bryant (6-5, 242), senior Walker Dille (6-4, 242) and redshirt freshman Dominic Merka (6-4, 230).
Sophomore Antonio Graves (6-2, 222) will compete at his third position in three seasons, moving from wide receiver to H-back/tight end. He originally came to school as a safety. Graves, who made 14 special-teams tackles, was chosen the conference's special teams performer of the week on Oct. 22.
"Obviously we're very happy with strength of our wide receivers and running backs and the quarterback," Patterson said.
TCU returns a mix of veteran leadership and inexperience up front. The Horned Frogs bring back one of the nation's best offensive linemen in senior right guard Blaize Foltz (6-4, 310). Foltz was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference lineman last year and he earned a spot on Yahoo! Sports' all-bowl team after the Poinsettia Bowl victory. Foltz is also one of the strongest players in the country, bench pressing 580 pounds and squatting 800 pounds.
Also coming back is senior center James Fry (6-3, 290), who replaced 2010 Rimington Award winner Jake Kirkpatrick.
The Horned Frogs must replace both tackles (Robert Deck, Jeff Olson) and guard Kyle Dooley. Sophomore Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 315) has earned the starting nod at left tackle with sophomore Michael Thompson (6-5, 352) in reserve.
Junior Stansly Maponga (6-2, 265) has come a long way to reach the United States, and now he's on the short list of America's best defensive ends.
Maponga moved to the U.S. from Zimbabwe at age eight. He has been an impact player for TCU since moving into the starting lineup as a freshman and has started a team-high 25 straight games.
As a sophomore Maponga made the midseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end. Last year he was one of just four players to rank in the top 10 in forced fumbles (five) and top 25 in sacks (nine). He totaled 13.5 tackles for loss, 55 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
TCU returns two other starters up front in senior defensive end Ross Forrest (6-4, 265) and sophomore defensive tackle David Johnson (6-2, 270). Forrest made six tackles for loss last year, including 1.5 sacks, and 32 tackles. Johnson contributed seven tackles for loss -- three sacks -- and 28 tackles.
Forrest arrived at TCU as a walk-on and bulked up, adding 42 pounds. He helped spur last year's upset of Boise State with a fumble recovery that led to the game-winning touchdown. Johnson was chosen a second-team freshman All-American by Yahoo! and started the final nine games.
The Horned Frogs suffered a big offseason loss when defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey (39 tackles, three sacks) was dismissed from the team after a high-profile drug arrest. Replacing Yendrey is sophomore Jon Lewis (6-2, 275), who started one game last year and had three tackles for loss. Challenging Lewis for playing time is sophomore Chuck Hunter (6-1, 305) and senior Jeremy Coleman (6-2, 290).
There's no area of transition for TCU quite like at linebacker. The Horned Frogs lose one of their greatest players in middle linebacker Tank Carder, who was a fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. Carder was chosen the 2011 Rose Bowl's top defender and twice earned the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Deryck Gildon was supposed to replace Carder, but he left the team because of academic issues. So getting his chance in the middle is sophomore Danny Heiss (6-2, 220), who suffered a season-ending injury in the 2011 opener against Baylor.
Another player originally set to return was Tanner Brock, the team's leading tackler in 2010. Brock's 2011 season ended with a broken foot against Baylor and earned a redshirt season. But Brock was among four TCU players (Yendrey, cornerback Devin Johnson, offensive lineman Ty Horn) dismissed for drug charges.
The Horned Frogs do bring back their leading tackler in senior Kenny Cain (6-1, 225). Cain totaled 72 tackles last year, including three for loss. He also added an interception and a fumble recovery in earning All-MWC honors.
TCU's secondary was hit hard, losing four of the five starters from last season. Cornerback Greg McCoy was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears. Safeties Tekerrein Cuba, a second-team All-MWC pick, and Johnny Fobbs ran out of eligibility, and Devin Johnson was dismissed from the team.
The team's only returning starter was one of its best defensive backs, however. Junior Jason Verrett (5-10, 180) finished with 58 tackles, broke up four passes and had one interception. Verrett will start at one cornerback slot.
Opposite Verrett will be sophomore Kevin White (5-10, 174), who started three games last year as a freshman. Competing for playing time will be redshirt freshmen Travoskey Garrett (6-1, 195) and Kolby Griffin (5-11, 181) and junior college transfer Keivon Gamble (5-10, 180).
TCU will have three new safeties, but sophomore Jonathan Anderson (6-3, 208) gained considerable experience as a key reserve last year. Anderson totaled 49 tackles, the most by a TCU freshman since 2005. In a 38-28 win against BYU, Anderson recorded a season-best 17 tackles, the most by a TCU player since 2004. Anderson, who will start at weak safety, also added an interception, fumble recovery and a tackle for loss.
Sophomore strong safety Sam Carter (6-1, 220) started one game last year and made eight tackles. He played in 11 games last year after coming to TCU as a quarterback.
Junior Elisha Olabode (5-10, 182) played in all 13 games last year after switching from cornerback. He finished with 15 tackles, broke up two passes and recovered one fumble.
The Horned Frogs lose three valuable pieces of the special teams unit, including their kicker and punter. Cornerback Greg McCoy was also the Mountain West Conference's first-team kick returner last year.
Wide receiver Skye Dawson, running back Waymon James and safety James Bailey (6-1, 205) will handle the kickoff return duties, while wide receiver Brandon Carter will return punts.
Senior Daniel Shelley (6-1, 228) is back for his third season as the team's deep snapper.
Ross Evans, the second-team All-MWC kicker a year ago after finishing third in the conference in scoring (103 points), first in kick scoring and second in field goal percentage (14 of 17, 82.4) has departed, leaving a void.
Sophomore Ryan DeNucci (5-10, 170) will take Evans' spot. DeNucci served as the team's kickoff specialist late last season and recorded two touchbacks.
Incoming freshman Jaden Oberkrom (6-3, 170) of Arlington could get a look after nailing a 60-yard field goal and 36 touchbacks as a senior.
Anson Kelton, who finished fourth in the Mountain West last season with his average of 40.2 yards a punt, has departed.
Senior Cale Patterson (5-11, 185) is set to replace Kelton, although incoming freshman Ethan Perry (6-4, 220), the top-ranked punter in Texas, will push him.
ESPN ranked Perry the No. 31 punter in the country.
TCU signed 23 recruits in February, and four enrolled for the spring semester. All have a chance to compete for playing time this fall.
With Wesley's absence, Catalon could vault into the running back rotation. Catalon (Houston Westside) was tabbed as the No. 3 running back in Texas by the Houston Chronicle after rushing for 2,269 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior. ESPN rated him a three-star player and the No. 49 running back in the nation.
Matthews is a pro-style quarterback who passed for 6,541 yards, 62 touchdowns and only eight interceptions for McPherson (Kansas) High School. Listenbee was an all-around athlete in Arlington (Bowie) and will play receiver. Gamble played at Trinity Community College.
TCU signed four ESPN four-star players: Matthews, tight end Griffin Gilbert (6-5, 215), safety Jordan Moore (6-3, 230) and defensive end Devonte Fields (6-4, 240).
Fields (Arlington, Martin) was ranked as the nation's 12th-best defensive end and totaled 73 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior. Gilbert (Austin, Lake Travis) was chosen a prep All-American after catching 54 passes for 1,012 and 18 touchdowns as a senior.
Moore, who could find an opening in the Horned Frogs' inexperienced secondary, turned down several Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 schools and a track scholarship at LSU to play at TCU. Moore (Lithonia, Ga., Martin Luther King) has been clocked with a 4.37-second, 40-yard dash time.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Although TCU has become one of college football's most successful programs under Patterson, the Big 12 will challenge the Horned Frogs on a new level. TCU gets nine games in a balanced league with few reprieves. Depth will be a concern, especially on defense.
Patterson traditionally starts five defensive backs, and in a passing league, they will be tested every week. TCU would have led the Big 12 in scoring defense last year, but pass coverage is the primary area of concern. The Horned Frogs finished 60th nationally, giving up 223.6 yards a game and loses four of five starters in the secondary. That could be a problem with four Big 12 schools averaging more than 345 yards passing per game last year.
Offensively, the TCU attack will be potent with Pachall, the returning wide receivers and running backs. TCU averaged nearly 41 points a game last year -- better than all but two Big 12 teams -- and was efficient, scoring touchdowns on 72 percent of all red-zone trips.
The Horned Frogs' schedule will stretch their depth and ultimately their postseason destination. TCU plays nine 2011 bowl teams, including five straight to end the season and two in nonconference play. After sitting idle during the first week, TCU plays games on 10 consecutive weeks.
The greatest test lies from late October through early December. Four of TCU's final five opponents won at least 10 games last year. The only school that didn't was Texas.
The Big 12 provides a weekly grind for TCU, and Patterson understands it's a process for the program to adjust. The Big 12 is the sixth league for TCU (counting its brief affiliation with the Big East) and Patterson has played a role in each transition.
"It's hard. I've been in six conferences, for the 15 years we've been here," Patterson said. "I've always said it takes you two years. You've got to play everybody there once, and then you've got to play everybody back at your place, then you have a road map for what you need to do. We'll find out."
BLUE RIBBON: BIG 12
"Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook" previews the 2012 season for each Big 12 school. Take a look: