Three cheers for Bill Connelly, for three reasons:
One, he's one of the few who appears to give equal time to every single D-1A program. Georgia Southern? Georgia? Equal time. (In his countdown, that is; whether he stays up late worrying about the third string safeties for both programs is his own business. But just giving the same treatment to every single program is a monstrous annual undertaking; few attempt it, and those who do add tremendous value to casual and fervid fans alike.)
Two, he is leading the smart stats charge into college ball. Smart stats are what Phil Steele and Paul Myerberg (the others who give equal time to every single program) lack. What are the smart stats? Here's a glossary (which will help you a little, but not as much as the explanations at the beginning of each annual Smart Football Guide). Some of the stats are simple and need little explanation-targets and catch rates for wide receivers, for example. I'm only relatively comfortable talking about some of them-adjusted line yards, for example, which is a smart attempt to allocate what part of a team's rushing total to the offensive line, and what part to allocate to the runningbacks. And then there're stats that are way smarter than me, like "IsoPPP" (it's one of the five most important ones, says smart Bill; I take his word for it) that I read about and "get" for a few minutes, and then promptly forget. But I remember that when I "got" it, it made sense, and I'm glad somebody is doing the work to put it out there.
TCU's SBNation page, 2014 Schedule, 2014 Roster.
So reasons one and two why we are glad the Universe includes Bill Connelly is that he does this, now for several years running, for college ball.
The third reason why we applaud Bill Connelly is that, in many ways, he understands TCU. He understands that TCU is just inches away from dramatic improvement in the win column. (This also means, of course, that had TCU just inches more offense, on average, in 2013, that Frogs could well have had one of the more deceiving win totals in the country. And Bill gets that; it's part of what it means to understand TCU today.)
The first thing about Bill Connelly's preview of TCU that needs discussion is its placement. Connelly orders the teams in their conference for the previews based on 5-year F/+ ranking totals. (F/+ is one of those stats that I'm only relatively comfortable explaining. It's a combo of two big rankings, one of which is about efficiency, and I forget what the other one is. Again, smart stats are smarter than me.)
TCU was really good for a few years ago, and is still riding that wave in a way. The Horned Frogs rode the wave into the Big12, and their F/+ average is still higher than Texas, K-State, and Baylor. (How recent is Baylor's surge and West Virginia's collapse? West Virginia's five-year average in the F/+ ratings is still higher than Baylor's.) This Frog fan remembers fondly the Rose Bowl, and the years leading to it; but they seem far away. They weren't.
I'm not quite sure why Bill Connelly doesn't focus much on the offensive line. He includes the unit's awful stats (95th nationally in adjusted line yards, 114th nationally in power success rate) but has little more to say about it. I (and lots of other observers) think TCU's win total only can grow if the o-line can push some people around. I'm completely agnostic about the new coaches and the returning experience; these players have squandered more hype and potential than any other group on the team. I also don't see how the offense can improve any more than the o-line improves. (One exception: receivers can catch the balls that hit them on the numbers; that'd be nice.)
Connelly does focus appropriately on the magnitude of greatness that TCU fielded in 2013 and will field in 2014 on d-line. He doesn't focus on the emergence of Terrell Lathan, but that's a forgivable miss. Barring an injury, I suspect we'll all be focusing on him in a few months. And what a nightmare for opposing offenses! Devonte Fields, Terrell Lathan, Chucky Hunter, and Davion Pearson; all could (should!) be all-conference; all will play in the NFL. But not before all of them line up together in purple in 2014.
Unlike Phil Steele, who tries to fit defenses into too few alignments, Connelly takes TCU's 4-2-5 for what it is. He doesn't make 3 linebackers about of it. He doesn't say anything about them, mind you-but he doesn't try to add safeties.
I think omitting any discussion of the linebackers at all is a little weird. TCU has three proven ones, and can't really afford an injury to any of them. The lack of proven depth is worth at least that much mention, methinks.
Connelly gives due praise to new San Diego Charger Jason Verrett, but is confident TCU will manage well with a new starting corner (he doesn't name him).
Special teams should concern any TCU fan; Connelly points this out. Here's where the comparison with Michigan State is most compelling-TCU's defense was actually a little better than Sparty in 2013, but the Horned Frogs' special teams were much worse. Giving its offense short fields helped MSU make so much hay last season. TCU couldn't help itself in the same way; we all wonder if that's an overlooked missing ingredient in TCU's first years in the Big12.