36th? Behind even BYU? Phil Steele has, until this season, been quite a fan of TCU, ranking the Frogs highly and touting them for consideration for the crystal football. This year, however, the game's foremost stats guru has clearly bought into the "week-in-week-out" hype, and doesn't even rank TCU in his top 25. Of the contending teams in the Big12, Phil Steele ranks only K-State lower.
Why the low rating? For starters, Phil Steele thinks Casey Pachall's very fine 2011 stats are a product of playing into inferior competition.
"It will be tough for Pachall to improve much upon LY's record-setting numbers in a new league".
Phil Steele rightly calls the Wesley-Tucker-James tandem in the backfield "one of the deepest" in the country; he notes TCU's receiving corps is one of the fastest in the country, and predicts the o-line will be just as strong in '12 as in '11. So... clearly the offense isn't where Phil Steele sees regression for TCU in 2012.
So... that must mean he's low on the defense. Is the problem up front?
"Six of the top 8 return. Even moving to the B12, this unit is more exp[erience]d and should stop the streak of weaker rush numbers."
So Steele thinks the line will be OK; hopefully he's right. Is Steele concerned about the linebackers? He should be. Here's his assessment:
"This unit is close to last year in experience and Patterson will fashion another solid unit."
Another solid unit? Did he miss the Great Smokeout of 2012? No-- the drug dealers all are missing from his team roster, and included in the list of missing players. So... is it the secondary? No-- again, Steele expects improvement:
"This unit is on par with L[ast] Y[ear] in terms of experience, but should move up in my P[ass] D[efense] R[ankings] as Patterson has always (until L[ast] Y[ear]) produced top tier rankings."
Should move up in the rankings? That's a sound assessment, but the variations are beginning to clash with the theme here. Despite Phil Steele's expectation that the special teams will have a weak year, he expects record output on the ground, at receiver, and improvement at all levels of the defense. How does this equal, for Phil Steele, a substantially lower prediction for TCU in 2012 than in previous years?
He hints at it in his all-team assessment:
"The Frogs could open as strong as 7-0 but the road gets a lot tougher their final 5 g[a]m[e]s which has me calling for their streak of 4 straight 11+ win seasons to end."
So-- if the Frogs win ten games, that's 36th best in the country? Probably not; rather, I think Phil Steele is couching his opinion very vaguely, and signaling that he expects TCU to be a mid-tier Big12 team in 2012. Fifth place, perhaps, behind OU, Texas, OkieLight, and perhaps K-State or Baylor or Texas Tech.
It looks like TCU is going to have to re-win its reputation.