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THE SCHEME: TCU runs a multiple scheme that emphasizes the ground game, though it threw the ball more than usual last season. The Horned Frogs have run the ball at least 56 percent of the time in each of Gary Patterson‘s seven seasons as coach. In three of those seasons, they have run on more than 60 percent of their snaps.
|If running back Aaron Brown stays healthy, TCU will have a powerful rushing attack.|
STAR POWER: Senior Aaron Brown and junior Joseph Turner give TCU a dangerous tailback tandem. Brown had 801 rushing yards and 455 receiving yards two years ago before injuries limited him last season. Brown has 69 career receptions and owns a career average of 5.3 yards per carry. Brown’s injury problems last year caused the Horned Frogs to rely on Turner, who responded by rushing for 597 yards and six touchdowns. Turner closed the regular season by rushing for 226 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-33 victory over San Diego State. If Brown and Turner stay healthy all season, the Horned Frogs should be able to run the ball against just about anyone.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The newcomer who probably will score the most points for TCU is true freshman kicker Ross Evans. He is the likely candidate to replace Chris Manfredini, a three-time All-Mountain West kicker. Evans made 37 career field goals at Burnet (Texas) High School, including two 53-yarders.
IT’S HIS TIME: In his first year as TCU’s starting quarterback, Andy Dalton set school single-season records for completions (222) and attempts (371). But he also had an 11-10 interception-touchdown ratio and was picked off nine times in TCU’s five losses. Now that he has a year of experience under his belt, perhaps Dalton can do a better job of avoiding mistakes. Dalton rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s final four games last season. If he doesn’t turn the ball over, Dalton could develop into an exceptional dual-threat quarterback.
STRONGEST AREA: All-league center Blake Schlueter leads a line that returns four starters, and he might not even be the Frogs’ best lineman. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse boasted the team’s top overall blocking grade and led the Frogs in knockdown blocks last season. TCU’s other returning starters on the line are right tackle Nic Richmond and right guard Giles Montgomery. With Brown and Turner running behind a veteran line, TCU has reason to believe it should improve a rushing offense that was 47th in the nation last season.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: TCU needs to throw the ball better. Dalton’s penchant for interceptions helped cause the Frogs to rank 100th in the nation in turnover margin last season (28 giveaways, 21 takeaways). The Frogs also need some receivers to step up. They don’t return a single player who caught more than one touchdown pass last year.
|Texas Christian boasts a .735 winning percentage since the start of the 2000 season. That ranks 13th among all Division I teams.|
OVERVIEW: The Frogs’ offense should get a boost if Brown can stay healthy, but Dalton probably will determine how much the unit improves this season. Dalton played better as the season wore on after suffering through a four-interception performance in a 27-20 loss to Utah. If he continues to improve, TCU should become more explosive. Although TCU ranked just 71st in the nation in scoring (26.1 ppg), it’s worth noting that the Frogs scored at least 20 points in each of their last 10 games.
THE SCHEME: Coordinator Dick Bumpas also serves as the team’s defensive line coach, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Frogs’ defense focuses on a front four that specializes in stopping the run and producing sacks. TCU has placed among the nation’s top 15 in run defense and sacks in each of the past three seasons. The Horned Frogs run a 4-2-5 set, with three safeties.
STAR POWER: Senior linebacker Jason Phillips recorded a team-high 87 tackles in his third season as a starter. He could emerge as the top defensive player in the Mountain West Conference this season. He has started 38 consecutive games.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: TCU already has two veteran cornerbacks in Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, who each spent the past two seasons in the starting lineup. But it still wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Frogs find playing time for cornerback Jason Teague, a 6-foot-3 former LSU signee who arrives from Tyler (Texas) Junior College.
|Linebacker Jason Phillips, shown returning an interception, could be the top defensive player in the Mountain West.|
IT’S HIS TIME: Senior tackle James Vess recorded 8.5 tackles for loss two seasons ago, but he missed the 2007 season for violating a team policy. Vess returns in time to fortify a line trying to withstand the departures of star ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz. He strengthens the interior of a line that has returning starters in Kelly Griffin and Cody Moore, giving the Frogs the makings of a tremendous rotation in the middle.
STRONGEST AREA: The Horned Frogs have plenty of experience at linebacker, where Phillips and Robert Henson have played as many snaps as any Division I-A linebacker duo anywhere. Despite starting just one game last season, Henson had 66 tackles, giving him 199 for his career. The linebacking corps could be even better if junior Daryl Washington – who has a great chance to beat out Henson for a starting job – performs as well on defense as he does on special teams, where he blocked three punts last season to tie for the NCAA lead.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The departures of Ortiz and Blake turn the pass rush from TCU’s biggest strength into its biggest question mark. The only returning player who recorded more than three sacks last year is senior strong safety Stephen Hodge, who was a part-time starter last season.
OVERVIEW: The ends are a question, but the Frogs otherwise have reason to feel confident their defense can live up to TCU’s usual standards. Even though TCU was a disappointing 8-5 last season, the Frogs still ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense and 15th in total defense. That ought to be the case again this year. TCU’s experience at cornerback should compensate for the lack of a dominant pass rush, and the linebackers should play well enough to prevent Mountain West foes from having a lot of success on the ground.
This area could be a major concern for TCU, which must break in a new kicker and punter. Evans’ high school credentials are cause for optimism, but you never can predict how a kicker will respond to his first taste of big-time college football. The only certainty is that it’s probably expecting too much to think he can perform as well as Manfredini. Anson Kelton is expected to take over for all-league punter Derek Wash. Brown is an OK kick returner, but TCU needs a new punt-return man.
Patterson owns a .713 winning percentage and his teams aren’t awed by the big stage. In fact, the Horned Frogs have won nine of their past 11 games against teams from “Big Six” conferences. Patterson has benefited from the continuity on his staff. Offensive coordinator Mike Schultz is entering his 11th year at TCU, while Bumpas is beginning his fifth season as the defensive coordinator. The only newcomer is cornerbacks coach Clay Jennings, who coached the cornerbacks at Baylor last season.
|Aug. 30||at New Mexico|
|Sept. 6||Stephen F. Austin|
|Sept. 20||at SMU|
|Sept. 27||at Oklahoma|
|Oct. 4||San Diego State|
|Oct. 11||at Colorado State|
|Nov. 1||at UNLV|
|Nov. 6||at Utah|
|Nov. 22||Air Force|
TCU won’t get to ease into the season. It opens with a Mountain West road clash against New Mexico. Given the strength of the league this season, a loss in that one would be a big blow to any title hopes. If the Frogs can beat New Mexico and Stanford on Sept. 13, they should head into Oklahoma on Sept. 27 with an undefeated record. Nobody expects the Frogs to win that game, but they should have a fighting chance against everyone else on their schedule. If the Frogs can knock off BYU at home on Oct. 16, their Nov. 6 game at Utah could determine the Mountain West champion.
While BYU and Utah are garnering the most preseason attention in the Mountain West, it’s not out of the question to think TCU can win the league. But the Frogs first must answer plenty of questions. Can Brown stay healthy for an entire season? Can Dalton avoid interceptions? Who’s going to pressure the passer now that Blake and Ortiz are gone? All those questions prevent us from predicting a conference title for TCU, but a 9-4 or 10-3 record plus a fourth consecutive bowl victory are realistic possibilities.