Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. I was nervous
I spend a decent amount of time talking up mid-majors. I could chew year ear off for 10 minutes on all the ways that last year's Utah State team was good enough to win the Pac-12 South. I will argue the merits for San Jose State and Fresno State in that race, as well. I will talk up 2010 Nevada, 2011 Toledo, a few different recent BYU teams, this year's UL teams (-Lafayette and -Monroe), etc.
And it goes without saying that I was a big, big fan of TCU and Boise State for quite a few years in a row. I will tell you how Boise State might have been the best team in the country in 2010 and how TCU may have deserved a BCS title shot over Oregon that same year.
When I advocate for these teams, I do believe what I'm saying, of course; but it's easy to champion a team when you know you'll never have to worry about being proven wrong. I can tell you that TCU would have beaten Auburn in 2010, or that Utah State would have beaten UCLA and company last year, and I can back it up with all the numbers you'd want to see; you can disagree if you want, but you can never prove me wrong. It's arguing in a vacuum.
I've been trying to champion TCU for quite a while without actual repercussions from reality, but the Horned Frogs' move to the Big 12 in 2012 meant that it was actually time to find out if they could handle a major conference load like I thought they could. That's money-where-your-mouth-is territory.
And it turned out that they would take the field in the Big 12 following a crippling run of injuries and off-the-field issues. Some key defenders were dismissed because of drug-related arrests in the spring, then a loaded offensive backfield lost its best players to injury, attrition, and rehab. TCU played a ridiculous number of youngsters and fielded its thinnest, greenest team in years.
But the Horned Frogs survived. They didn't by any means thrive -- their 7-6 record was their worst since 2004, Gary Patterson's fourth season in charge, and according to the F/+ rankings, this was their worst team since 2007 -- but despite the extreme youth and a complete lack of depth, despite going with an all-freshman backfield, they still won two road games versus ranked teams, still qualified for a bowl, and still delivered a boatload of hope for 2013. And now the backfield is (theoretically) healthy, and the defense is ridiculously experienced.
The Horned Frogs will have a serious role to play in a wide-open conference title race. They survived a challenging calendar year, and now it's time to thrive.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 31|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|8-Sep||Grambling State||56-0||W||39.2 - 6.4||W|
|15-Sep||at Kansas||20-6||W||30.2 - 31.9||L|
|22-Sep||Virginia||27-7||W||35.3 - 19.4||W|
|29-Sep||at SMU||24-16||W||4.6 - 12.4||L|
|6-Oct||Iowa State||23-37||L||26.8 - 32.6||L|
|13-Oct||at Baylor||49-21||W||28.1 - 30.4||L|
|20-Oct||Texas Tech||53-56||L||35.7 - 24.4||W|
|27-Oct||at Oklahoma State||14-36||L||23.4 - 23.4||L|
|3-Nov||at West Virginia||39-38||W||20.7 - 12.8||W|
|10-Nov||Kansas State||10-23||L||21.7 - 13.6||W|
|22-Nov||at Texas||20-13||W||22.7 - 17.3||W|
|1-Dec||Oklahoma||17-24||L||27.6 - 23.5||W|
|29-Dec||vs. Michigan State||16-17||L||29.5 - 15.2||W|
|Points Per Game||28.3||68||22.6||30|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.6||80||20.3||11|
2. One hit after another
TCU has ranked in the top 12 of Def. F/+ for five of the last six years; the Horned Frogs peaked in 2008 (second) and 2010 (third) but have maintained a mostly solid level of play for most of recent history.
But in 2011, they sank to 41st. They were perfectly decent late in the season, but they struggled at cornerback and allowed far more passing downs conversions than we were used to seeing. TCU was hit hard by graduation at safety and linebacker, and the tackle position was thinned out by the aforementioned drug busts, so there was actually reason to be concerned about the TCU defense. At least, that was the case until the season actually began.
Aside from a series of midseason glitches, the defense was just fine. The problems lied on the offensive side of the ball, where TCU lost offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis in the offseason, then lost running back Ed Wesley to unexpected departure, then lost running back Waymon James to injury, then lost quarterback Casey Pachall to arrest and rehab. Meanwhile, Matthew Tucker, the last third of what was supposed to be a three-headed running back, struggled with injuries and was barely full strength. The result: a scattershot offensive effort that declined as the season progressed.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): TCU 27.3, Opponent 17.5 (plus-9.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): TCU 28.5, Opponent 27.7 (plus-0.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): TCU 24.4, Opponent 16.5 (plus-7.9)
For three games, Pachall and TCU were just about untouchable. But Pachall was absolutely dreadful against SMU, then got arrested. Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin took over, and while he showed strong maturity while thrust into a difficult situation, he didn't necessarily show much accuracy. He was incredible in the late-going against West Virginia, but TCU scored more than 20 points just once in its last six games. That's not going to win you much in the Big 12.
|Q1 Rk||47||1st Down Rk||54|
|Q2 Rk||81||2nd Down Rk||87|
|Q3 Rk||38||3rd Down Rk||58|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Trevone Boykin||6'2, 215||So.||*** (5.6)||167||292||2,054||57.2%||15||10||25||7.9%||6.0|
|Casey Pachall||6'5, 230||Sr.||**** (5.8)||64||97||948||66.0%||10||1||3||3.0%||9.1|
|Matt Brown||6'1, 190||Jr.||*** (5.7)||4||7||52||57.1%||0||1||2||22.2%||5.0|
|Tyler Matthews||6'4, 220||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
3. Hey, Casey
Pachall was simply outstanding in his first season succeeding Rose Bowl champion Andy Dalton, completing 67 percent of his passes with minuscule sack (3.4 percent) and interception rates (2.0 percent). The former four-star recruit has lovely size and arm strength, and he raised his game on passing downs: TCU ranked 29th overall on standard downs, but 11th on passing downs. I've long called passing downs the "playmaker downs," and Pachall has proven himself quite the playmaker. He should fit right in in the Big 12. Of course, Pachall hasn't exactly had the happiest offseason. It was recently revealed that Pachall failed a drug test in February and later admitted to having dabbled in marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in the last year. He has since passed further drug tests and will not face (further) disciplinary actions this fall, but with the entire TCU team seemingly coming under the spotlight for drug issues, it was at least a little disheartening to see that the quarterback, the face of the program, was also involved.
I wrote that last summer. Pachall responded first by completing 54 of his first 71 passes (76 percent) for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in wins over Grambling, Kansas, and Virginia. He then completed 10 of 26 passes for 107 yards against SMU in one of the season's worst offensive performances, got arrested, and left the team for rehab. He was back with the team this spring with "the color back in his face," and if his head is on straight, he could very well be the best quarterback in the Big 12. He has completed two-thirds of his career passes, with 36 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He's big, mobile, accurate, and exciting.
With him at quarterback, TCU's passing game could be both efficient and explosive; leading receiver Josh Boyce is gone, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that Brandon Carter (last year's No. 2) and LaDarius Brown (No. 5) are ready to thrive as go-tos. Throw in Cam White and interesting transfers like Florida's Ja'Juan Story, and you've got a potentially great aerial attack.
Stay in the game, Casey.
|B.J. Catalon||RB||5'9, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||121||584||4.8||4.8||0||-2.2|
|Trevone Boykin||QB||6'2, 215||So.||*** (5.6)||103||582||5.7||5.6||3||+9.6|
|Casey Pachall||QB||6'5, 230||Sr.||**** (5.8)||18||62||3.4||4.2||0||-2.0|
|Waymon James||RB||5'8, 203||Sr.||**** (5.9)||17||168||9.9||9.0||1||+7.4|
|RB||5'11, 200||So.||**** (5.9)||24||105||4.4||N/A||2||N/A|
|Jordan Moore||RB||6'3, 210||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Kyle Hicks||RB||5'10, 190||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
4. Hey, Waymon
I also wrote this last year:
Running backs Matthew Tucker and Waymon James. A fantastic trio of running backs became a duo when Ed Wesley left the team this offseason. But barring a run of injuries or suspensions, two great running backs are typically enough.
Whoops. Injuries resulted in the two combining for just 125 carries in 2012 -- 17 from James (who was lost with a knee injury in the second game) and 118 from a limping Tucker. Boykin and B.J. Catalon ended up carrying the bulk of the load for the running game, and while Catalon was certainly acceptable, he wasn't Tucker (when full-speed) or James.
Since the start of the 2011 season, James has averaged a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry. If he is ready to carry the primary load, TCU should easily improve on last year's No. 94 ranking in Rushing S&P+, even if the mobile Boykin is on the bench.
Waymon James. John Reiger, US Presswire.
|Brandon Carter||WR||5'11, 186||Jr.||*** (5.7)||60||36||590||60.0%||9.8||15.7%||46.7%||10.6||71.7|
|Cam White||WR||6'3, 200||Jr.||*** (5.7)||43||21||284||48.8%||6.6||11.2%||60.5%||6.6||34.5|
|LaDarius Brown||WR||6'4, 220||So.||**** (5.9)||39||27||385||69.2%||9.9||10.2%||66.7%||10.2||46.8|
|B.J. Catalon||RB||5'9, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||34||23||152||67.6%||4.5||8.9%||50.0%||4.8||18.5|
|David Porter||WR||6'0, 197||Jr.||*** (5.7)||6||2||18||33.3%||3.0||1.6%||0.0%||2.4||2.2|
|Griffin Gilbert||TE||6'5, 220||So.||**** (5.8)||4||2||11||50.0%||2.8||1.0%||75.0%||2.2||1.3|
|Kolby Listenbee||WR||6'1, 183||So.||*** (5.7)||3||1||59||33.3%||19.7||0.8%||0.0%||11.7||7.2|
|Ja'Juan Story (Florida)||WR||6'4, 208||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Josh Doctson (Wyoming)||WR||6'4, 185||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Ty Slanina||WR||6'0, 182||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Charlie Reid||TE||6'4, 225||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Cameron Echols-Luper||WR||6'0, 190||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Blaize Foltz||RG||27 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big 12|
|James Fry||C||25 career starts|
|Eric Tausch||C||6'3, 300||Sr.||** (5.4)||14 career starts|
|Aviante Collins||RT||6'6, 285||So.||*** (5.5)||13 career starts|
|Tayo Fabuluje||RT||6'7, 315||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12 career starts|
|Joey Hunt||LG||6'3, 288||So.||*** (5.6)||1 career start|
|John Wooldridge||RG||6'5, 310||Sr.||*** (5.5)||1 career start|
|Halapoulivaati Vaitai||RT||6'6, 308||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Brady Foltz||LG||6'4, 325||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Jamelle Naff||RG||6'4, 325||So.||*** (5.7)|
|James Dunbar||LT||6'6, 305||Sr.||*** (5.6)|
|Michael Thompson||RG||6'5, 352||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Lloyd Tunstill||OL||6'4, 305||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Eason Fromayan||RT||6'5, 280||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. A line liability
You know what makes life even more difficult when you've got a freshman quarterback and a freshman running back? A line that struggles to create opportunities for them. A year after losing three starters, including all-Mountain West guard Kyle Dooley, to graduation, TCU's line struggled quite a bit. One has to assume that the line's life was made more difficult by the freshmen, too, but regardless, TCU's line stats stunk. The Horned Frogs were decent in short-yardage situations (Power Success Rate) but often allowed defenders into the backfield and created a mediocre-at-best number of opportunities for Catalon and company. They also allowed a ton of sacks, but I'll write that off to some degree as part of Boykin's learning process -- the sack rates were nice and small when Pachall was behind center.
Five players return with starting experience, which certainly doesn't hurt, but even with Pachall, James, Carter, and company all healthy and ready to explode, the offense still has a lower ceiling if the line doesn't improve.
|Q1 Rk||13||1st Down Rk||23|
|Q2 Rk||10||2nd Down Rk||11|
|Q3 Rk||28||3rd Down Rk||7|
6. The defense was young and thin … and improved
Damn, can Gary Patterson and coordinator Dick Bumpas coach a defense. A year after TCU struggled more than expected, then lost players unexpectedly, TCU fielded a defense that improved from 75th to 22nd in Passing S&P+, from 76th to 10th on passing downs, from 49th to 25th in Redzone S&P+, and from 41st to 12th in overall Def. F/+. The 4-2-5 scheme Patterson long ago mastered was a perfect fit in the spread-out Big 12, and even with some midseason struggles -- 471 yards to Oklahoma State, 56 points (in overtime) to Texas Tech -- TCU finished strong, allowing just 4.4 yards per play versus Kansas State and Texas, allowing just 24 points to Oklahoma, and giving up just 227 yards to Michigan State.
Those numbers are impressive enough on their face. But look at the players listed below. Two of the top three linemen were freshmen (and the third was a sophomore). Four of the top five linebackers were sophomores. Five of the top seven defensive backs were freshmen or sophomores. Now the Horned Frogs are in an incredible position, returning nine starters and basically all of last year's second string.
This defense has a very good chance of once again reaching the top five in Def. F/+, and while you will always allow yards and points in the Big 12, the defense could put TCU in a position to make a serious run at the conference title, especially with Pachall and James back on offense.
7. Somehow, passing was the more palatable option
TCU's pass defense improved dramatically in 2012, partially because of the improvement of the pass rush (star recruit Devonte Fields made an enormous impact as a true freshman) and partially because corners Jason Verrett and Kevin White were football magnets. They combined to defense 31 passes (22 from Verrett), and a new corps of safeties stepped up nicely.
But it was still quite a bit easier to pass on TCU than to run. An incredibly young defensive line held up beautifully to run blocking, and the 4-2-5 scheme, anchored by linebackers Kenny Cain and Joel Hasley, was once again effective at so quickly swarming to the football. Cain is gone, as is end Stansly Maponga, but literally everybody else returns from last year's squad. Assuming your typical year-to-year, experience-keyed improvement, we should probably expect TCU to move from 11th in Rushing S&P+ to at least seventh or eighth, and from 22nd in Passing S&P+ to at least 16th or 18th. TCU was occasionally leaky against the pass last year (18-for-33 for 324 yards versus OSU, a strange 19-for-39 for 303 versus Kansas), but those leaks should get plugged pretty well in 2013. Good luck figuring out how to move the ball against this D, at least after Fields returns from a two-game suspension that will hurt TCU against LSU.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Devonte Fields||DE||6'4, 240||So.||**** (5.8)||13||43.5||6.7%||18.5||10||1||4||2||1|
|Chucky Hunter||DT||6'1, 300||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||29.5||4.6%||6||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Davion Pierson||DT||6'2, 305||So.||*** (5.5)||13||25.0||3.9%||7.5||3.5||0||0||1||1|
|Jon Koontz||DE||6'2, 265||Sr.||NR||13||10.5||1.6%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|David Johnson||DT||6'2, 285||Jr.||*** (5.7)||9||6.0||0.9%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jon Lewis||DT||6'2, 290||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||4.5||0.7%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|James McFarland||DE||6'3, 248||So.||*** (5.7)||13||4.0||0.6%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Carraway||DE||6'4, 240||So.||** (5.4)||4||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Terrell Lathan||DT||6'5, 280||So.||*** (5.7)||6||2.0||0.3%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Anderson||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Mike Tuaua||DE||6'3, 260||So.||NR|
|Tevin Lawson||DT||6'4, 275||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Joel Hasley||MLB||6'1, 223||Jr.||NR||12||62.0||9.6%||8.5||2||0||2||0||0|
|Jonathan Anderson||MLB||6'3, 208||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||23.0||3.6%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Marcus Mallet||SLB||6'1, 227||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||15.5||2.4%||5||0||0||1||1||0|
|Paul Dawson||SLB||6'2, 230||Jr.||NR||13||11.0||1.7%||1||0||0||0||1||0|
|Alex Adewunmi||LB||6'1, 210||Sr.||NR||8||5.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dac Shaw||LB||6'2, 200||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Paul Whitmill||LB||5'11, 200||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Elisha Olabode||FS||5'11, 193||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||59.5||9.2%||3||0||4||9||2||1|
|Jason Verrett||CB||5'10, 176||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||54.5||8.4%||5||0||6||16||0||0|
|Sam Carter||SS||6'1, 215||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||51.0||7.9%||6.5||3||4||10||1||0|
|Chris Hackett||WS||6'2, 195||So.||*** (5.7)||13||49.0||7.6%||1.5||0||2||5||1||2|
|Kevin White||CB||5'10, 174||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||32.0||5.0%||0||0||1||8||0||0|
|Derrick Kindred||SS||5'10, 210||So.||** (5.4)||12||17.0||2.6%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Geoff Hooker||FS||5'10, 186||Jr.||NR||13||10.0||1.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Keivon Gamble||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||7.5||1.2%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Trent Thomas||SS||5'11, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||8||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Jackson||WS||6'0, 185||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|George Baltimore||DB||6'0, 205||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
8. Best defense in the Big 12
I'm just repeating myself now, aren't I? Here are last year's Big 12 Def. F/+ rankings:
1. TCU (+14.6%, 12th overall)
2. Kansas State (+12.9%, 16th)
3. Oklahoma (+10.6%, 23rd)
4. Oklahoma State (+10.0%, 24th)
5. Texas (+4.5%, 40th)
6. Iowa State (+3.0%, 47th)
7. Texas Tech (-1.1%, 64th)
8. West Virginia (-2.4%, 69th)
9. Baylor (-5.1%, 79th)
10. Kansas (-6.0%, 84th)
Kansas State must replace nearly every starter, Oklahoma's secondary has been hit hard by graduation/attrition, and Oklahoma State is breaking in a new defensive coordinator after the old, incredibly underrated one was ousted. This isn't going to be the strongest year for Big 12 defenses, even if Texas bounces back as I assume it will. Meanwhile, TCU should field a top-10 unit.
And since I am indeed repeating myself here, I'll instead just take the time to remind you of this:
|Ethan Perry||6'4, 230||So.||63||44.5||10||20||19||61.9%|
|Jaden Oberkrom||6'3, 187||So.||70||61.5||33||47.1%|
|Ryan DeNucci||5'10, 195||Jr.||3||61.7||1||33.3%|
|Jaden Oberkrom||6'3, 187||So.||42-42||11-16||68.8%||11-14||78.6%|
|Brandon Carter||KR||5'11, 186||Jr.||7||25.1||0|
|Deante' Gray||PR||5'10, 175||So.||7||22.4||1|
|Special Teams F/+||55|
|Field Goal Pct||57|
|Kick Returns Avg||49|
|Punt Returns Avg||19|
9. Cannon Oberkrom
Jaden Oberkrom booted half of his kickoffs for touchbacks and made a higher percentage of his long field goals (40-plus yards) than his short ones. He has an absolute cannon, and there's a good chance that he doesn't really know where a given kick is going to go. That's fun. It's also possible that he will become even more of a weapon if TCU's offense improves enough to score a few more touchdowns and settle for fewer field goals.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|14-Sep||at Texas Tech||42|
|19-Oct||at Oklahoma State||6|
|9-Nov||at Iowa State||76|
|16-Nov||at Kansas State||40|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||6|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||34|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+3 / +2.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (7, 9)|
10. Time to surge
There is no consensus favorite in the Big 12 this year. The early publications suggest that writers really have no idea what to do with this conference, so allow me to make the case for TCU. The Horned Frogs have more proven quantities than Oklahoma, have fielded a more consistently strong defense than Oklahoma State (and could have a better offensive backfield, too), and won at Texas last year. Even with a terribly young team, they proved solid on the road, and call me crazy, but they probably aren't going to go winless at home in conference again.
TCU survived the roughest year imaginable in 2012 and emerged with a team that is both healthy and absurdly experienced. The defense will probably be lights-out, and if Casey Pachall and Waymon James can stay on the field, the Horned Frogs should expect quite an offensive surge.
Last year, I was hedging my bets like crazy on TCU. This year, I'm outright stating that, barring injury and other issues, this will almost definitely be a top-20 team, will probably be a top-15, and could quite possibly be a top-10 team. The numbers love them, and the eyeballs should, too. Stay in the game, Casey.