2015 is going to be a huge year for the Frogs, on that we're all agreed. 2014 was a year of new firsts for the Frogs, as they claimed their first Big 12 championship and 18th overall conference championship (twice as many as Baylor), and cemented their place on the preseason polls for the Big 12 and the nation- ensuring that next season will either be a tremendous success or a tremendous failure with very little middle ground. And you know what? I'm totally okay with that. Everyone loves a season like 2014 where we come out of nowhere to surprise everyone, but when you're a truly successful program you're going to end up being the presumed alpha dog from time to time, and how react when the onus is on goes a long way to shape how other people view your program. From that perspective, 2015 will be a very illustrative season for determining just what sort of program TCU is, and I think we have the guns to make it memorable.
What I'm concerned with is 2016. We've seen a few times now (one of the perks of flipping conferences) how TCU and Patterson respond in new conferences- there's an early feeling out period, maybe a year where TCU surprises people, and then a few years into the tenure, TCU is a seemingly perennial top dog. It happened in the WAC where the Frogs rolled up 3 consecutive conference titles and it happened again in the MWC after Patterson finally cracked the code on beating BYU and Utah (and Boise State) with regularity and rolled up three straight Mountain West championships. Even though in CUSA where the Frogs experienced some hard times (2004) as well as some growth (one conference title, one second place finish) by and large the formula for the Frogs has been one of growth by the coaching staff and the players until TCU stands alone at the top of the preseason prediction poll every year. In the Big 12 that's not going to happen every year though, and unlike in the Mountain West where that prediction is based more on hope, "BYU has grown a lot from the team that got blown out 38-7", it will actually be justified. This is not a conference that TCU can expect to simply dominate every year, there will be rebuilding and reloading seasons mixed in with the triumphs and close calls, especially with the continued growth in Waco, the sleeping recruiting juggernaut in Austin, the giant sacks of money in Stillwater, the wizard in Manhattan and of course, the most successful in-conference coach in Big 12 history, Bob Stoops. We aren't going to win the conference every year (despite the fact that I, the eternal optimist, will likely pick the Frogs #1 every preseason), and that means that we'll be learning a lot more about the extended fanbase that TCU has cultivated over the past decade of success.
One of the best things about TCU from an "attending school" point of view is that it's so small, which makes for a very close knit community. That smallness tends to hurt the Frogs in the athletics department most importantly in conference alignment business and the stadium attendance area- the former has more or less been taken care of, while the latter has been a matter of focus and emphasis for the athletic department for well over a decade. The focus has been very much on making TCU Fort Worth's football team and, by and large, I think it's been a great success- you certainly see a lot more people walking around downtown in TCU gear than you did when I was a lad, but it's been a bit easier pitch than usual because the Frogs have been winning a lot. You and I, dear reader, are the die hards- the ones who seek out more horned frog sports information in their spare time and even read nonsensical explanations about Cricket in huge numbers simply because somebody tangentially related to the program decided to write about it- and we're also the sort of fans who will likely be supporting the team just as hard in the odd 7-6 year as in the 14-0 championship year- but the average Fort Worthian who is more of a football fan than just a TCU fan may not be as keen to help keep the stadium full if he's expecting another great run and it ends up being more of a Cactus Bowl sort of season. Some fans just don't have reasonable expectations.
On the other hand, when Patterson came into the Big 12, he talked about a four year plan- taking about four years to get the sort of talent into the program that would be needed to compete annually with the Big 12- and while we all paid at least lip service agreement to that, many of us (my own homer self included) thought that the Big 12 was ripe for the taking our first year and thought we'd kick things off with a bang Instead, Casey decided to kick his night off with a bang and it didn't quite work out. Then was the year of the broken armed QB and incompetent coordinators, leading to another even more disappointing season, but following that- when TCU finally was healthy and whole- the Frogs won the conference one year ahead of schedule, before being the near-universal favorite to win it again this year. So... maybe it's not so unreasonable to have wild expectations? What even is a realistic expectation for a growing program in a land with a couple of football super powers that may not be performing at peak capacity? I'm not too sure myself yet, so I threw up a poll- let me know what you think in the votes and in the comments!