So the last "5 Reasons" post was a downer-- even if a sage one. (Self-congratulation is always in order at The Purple Wimple.) But let's look at the bright side now, at the five reasons TCU's 2010 season will be better than the 2009 one.
1. Andy Dalton and the receivers. It’s hard to understate the value of TCU’s new-found passing attack. In 2009, this addition to the offense turned the Horned Frogs from a defense-first, ground-based-grind-it-up offense into a full-fledged nightmare for opposing teams. Credit the offensive co-coordinators, and receivers coach, all new to their jobs last season. And credit Andy Dalton and the receivers (primarily Antoine Hicks, Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, and Bart Johnson) who turned the coaching into results on the field. And get ready to credit them again in 2010—because they’re all back.
2. Jake Kirkpatrick, and the men in the trenches. Both trenches, that is. Kirkpatrick (soon to be a dad) is just one of the most visible players in them, starting a second year at center, and starting this year on preseason All-American lists. He is flanked by guards and tackle Marcus Cannon who bring more experience and talent to the o-line than TCU has seen in a long time. In other words, the beef up front is top grade, and well experienced. This only adds to the confidence one may have in Dalton and the receiving game; they’ll have plenty of time and space to light up the sky again in Fort Worth.
Across the trench, on the defense, the Frogs are equally loaded. Tackles Kelly Griffin and Cory Grant, and end Wayne Daniels return, and the competition to replace Jerry Hughes at the other end is a win-win-win for TCU. Redshirt freshman Stansley Maponga has wowed practice watchers ever since he stepped on campus. Ross Forrest was Gary Patterson’s choice to start at one end or the other two seasons running, and Braylon Broughton has freakish talent. While inch-deep previews of this 2010 defense may wail at the loss of Hughes, Frog fans can take confidence that the same crew that found replacements for Aaron Schobel, Tommy Blake, and Chase Ortiz can work that magic again, and replace Jerry Hughes.
3. The ohmygawd backfield. Who else benefits from a stout offensive line and a live passing game? The backfield, of course. TCU hadn’t had a feature-worthy ground attack in a few years, until Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley wowed the crowd last season as freshmen. In 2010 the list of eye-popping runningbacks (assuming Wesley passes his summer classes) grows to four: returners Tucker and Wesley, UCLA transfer Aundre Dean, and redshirt freshman Waymon James. Dean’s flirtation with a position change (safety) came to a close with the emergence of Jurrell Thompson in the secondary. Much-hyped recruit Dwight Smith tore his ACL during the spring game, so expect Smith the redshirt in 2010.
And don’t expect to miss him. Most of the pre-season hype for backfields in the Mountain West has focused on Utah, Air Force, and Harvey Unga’s sex life. That hype will move TCU’s way as the four-headed beast named Tucker-Wesley-Dean-James runs all the heck over opposing defenses. Any one of these kids is talented enough to have started for the Frogs almost any year since LT, and given the Frogs’ knack for spreading carries, always expect a fresh back to be working behind the line—but never expect a dropoff in talent.
4. Homies v. Roadies. Last year’s remarkable 12-0 run over the Mountain West, ACC, and assorted tagalongs came despite a challenging set of roadtrips. TCU took to the road, and packed onto the bus sufficient intensity to beat bowl-bound Clemson, Air Force, BYU, and Wyoming (and assorted downpours and blizzards). That may be the best laurel in its crown for 2009, and one underplayed to date.
In 2010, the bowl-bound teams must come to Fort Worth (or nearby), with one tough exception. Oregon State, Baylor (don’t laugh), SMU, Wyoming, BYU, Air Force, and San Diego State all will face the Horned Frogs in Amon Carter Stadium, or within a Dalton-to-Hicks pass from it. Frogs fans will be treated to the most competitive season of home games, or near-home-games, since 1984. As an added bonus, the conference games actually feel like conference games. TCU is playing is sixth year in the Mountain West, adding a year to its longest stint in a single conference since the Southwest Conference broke up.
The bad news? The Frogs face Utah in Salt Lake City, on the two-year anniversary of the monumental choke against the Utes that turned a near-BCS bust (2008) into a Poinsettia Bowl year. But that’s not all bad; this year it’s the Frogs that have the senior at QB, and the Utes will have the sophomore. And how’s Ross Evans? Two years older, wiser, and hopefully the Frogs’ offense will be potent enough to make his accuracy a non-issue. Generally that was the case in ’09, and there’s every reason (see above) to believe that will be more true in 2010.
5. No Ceiling. Reasons one through four above are all good reasons to be a Frog fan in 2010. Maybe the best reason, however, feels new under the purple sun. This season will be the Horned Frogs’ first top-ten start to a season since some guy named Domenico Modugno topped the Billboard chart. (that’s 1958, for those of us who have never heard of Dominico Modugno)
A top-ten start means all of the talent, experience, and good coaching that makes the all of the reasons above possible won’t have to churn through the dregs of the AP poll for four or six weeks just to get into position to capitalize on losses among the elite. This year, TCU is one of the elites, as far as the polls are concerned. This year, it’s truer than it ever was: winning cures all. If the Frogs win, they’ll leap over top-tier losers. So when the bloom comes off Alabama’s rose (can you say rebuilt defense?) TCU benefits. When Texas remembers why experience at quarterback is so valuable, TCU benefits. When Slowhio State biffs one (it always biffs one) TCU benefits. When Virginia Tech chokes—again!—in the beat down that is the ACC, TCU benefits. In 2010, if the Frogs keep winning, TCU fans won’t have to see top-five losers fall in the polls, but still out-rank the surging Frogs.
TCU’s fortunate (and deserved!) start near the top of the polls makes possible—for the first time since the 1950s—an honest-to-goodness run for the national title. The only other non-cartel team to enjoy that kind of start out the gate is Boise State, also in 2010. Think of the possibilities: there is no one team TCU would like to clobber more than Boise State. It’s a reverse of 2009, almost exactly.
But there’s probably only one way these two teams can meet this season, and the venue would be the same as the one they met in last season: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
What would be different?