Heading into the 2015 season, TCU fans were looking to the household names to carry the load. Big things were expected of guys like Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, and Kolby Listenbee on offense, while the defense would rely on returning starters Ranthony Texada, James McFarland, and Josh Carraway to pick up where one of the most electrifying defenses of the Gary Patterson era left off.
But as injuries mounted and opponents keyed in on the familiar faces, it was left to lesser heralded players to step up and take over. And all over the field, on both sides of the ball, guys like KaVontae Turpin, Denzel Johnson, Travin Howard, Jaelan Austin, and of course Bram Kohlhausen, did just that.
Heading into the 2016 season, where so many positions have unanswered questions, there are a few guys we can count on to be great: the return from injury of Deante' Gray, Texada, Kenny Illoka, McFarland, and Ty Slanina will bolster a young team, while talented transfers should strengthen a young but experienced group. But, like any season, there will need to be a handful of players that step into the spotlight and help push Frog Football over the edge if they want to accomplish the ultimate goal. Let's take a look at some of the players that have a chance to breakout and become stars by the end of the 2016 campaign.
We will be taking a closer look at the impact freshmen next month, so for now we will focus on players that are in their second year on campus or are transferring in.
Jeff Gladney (CB): The redshirt freshman out of New Boston, TX was a lightly recruited three star athlete, which generally means he is the ideal candidate to find success at TCU. After redshirting in his true freshman year due to injury, Gladney had an excellent spring and caught the attention of his head coach - in a good way. Showing excellent athleticism and possessing good size for the position, Gladney can help shore up one of TCU's weakest position groups from a season ago.
Tony James (CB): Hoo boy, am I excited about TJ. Another three star guy, James played QB for Arlington Bowie, and transitioned to WR in his first year on campus. But, as he is prone to do, GP saw something in the 5'10" speedster in the off-season and moved him to corner to add depth to the defensive backs. James took to the role immediately in the spring, impressing the boss with his ball skills and ability to read the QB. Patterson has a long tradition of taking former HS offensive starts and turning them into all-league level defensive performers, and I have a really good feeling about James this fall.
Semaj Thomas (LB): Travin Howard may have been THE breakout player of 2015 and another linebacker - though one who actually started his TCU career at the position - could follow in his footsteps this fall. Thomas was a four star recruit who was heavily pursued by both UT and OU before choosing the Frogs, and the MVP and All-District performer had big expectations saddled on him from the get go. But despite the rash of injuries that all but wiped out the entire linebacking corp in 2015, Thomas held on to his redshirt throughout his first year on campus. With that season behind him and a full year to get bigger and stronger, Thomas has a chance to compete for snaps across from Howard against Montrel Wilson, Ty Summers, Sammy Douglas, and juco transfer Tyree Horton.
Arico Evans (S): The true sophomore finished his freshman campaign in impressive fashion, forcing a fumble and making two tackles in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A former HS QB, in the mold of Kevin White, Evans is a big (6'2"), heady player with 4.5 speed that has a chance to see significant snaps this fall.
Ty Slanina (WR): Okay, this is probably cheating, but it feels like Ty is the forgotten man of a wide receiving group that has a chance to be the deepest in the country. After injuring himself during the Texas Tech game, Slanina fell off the radar a bit, overshadowed by the return of Gray, the emergence of Turpin, and the growth of young pass-catchers Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart. With Emmanuel Porter poised to be 'the guy' this season, and a wealth of incoming studs (freshman Isaiah Graham and transfers John Diarse, Taj Williams, and Ryan Parker - though the latter is not currently listed on the active roster) it's easy to forget about a guy who has quietly been one of the most productive and reliable targets for the past couple of seasons - as well as far and away the best blocker of the crew. With so much attention focused on the big names on the edge and the fast guys in the slot, Slanina could have a big year.
John Diarse (WR): The LSU transfer didn't put up stellar numbers during his time in Baton Rouge, but has already made a name for himself on the TCU campus by way of his maturity and leadership. The wide receiving group is quite possibly the deepest and most talented corp on campus, so the competition for snaps will be fierce not only in fall camp, but throughout the season. Diarse brings a different skill set to the group - at 6'1" and 209 pounds he won't remind many fans of the last guy to wear #9 on the field, but the former HS QB (Neville High, also the home of Turpin) has already made fans of his teammates and coaches with his work ethic and leadership on and off of it. A sturdy, strong receiver with excellent blocking ability, Diarse strikes me as the kind of player that won't pile up the stats, but seems to always make the catch or play when it's needed the most. He is also a leading candidate to be a big time contributor on special teams.
Ty Barrett (OL): Barrett, a behemoth of a man at 6'5" and 316 pounds, has the flexibility to play pretty much anywhere on the offensive line. With TCU looking to replace four starters on that group, his ability to line up at multiple positions and contribute could provide the Frogs with some much needed depth. A highly sought after three star recruit out of Dallas Skyline, Barrett chose TCU over 18 other offers, including six other Big 12 schools. Having added 15 pounds of muscle to his massive frame over the course of his first two years on campus, this could be the season Barrett contributes to the Frog O.
Jack Braught (P): There has been much weeping and wringing of hands over the graduation of former TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom, and rightfully so. But the loss of Ethan Perry, a reliable and talented punter, weighs almost as heavily on our special teams. Jack Braught, formerly of Oklahoma quietly transferred to TCU this summer, and assuming he is an immediately eligible graduate transfer (there is not much available as far as his status, but you don't normally accept transfer punters unless you plan to play them), he will compete with redshirt freshman Adam Nunez for punting duties. With a new QB and a young D, field position will be crucial to TCU's success. The ability of Braught or Nunez to pin opponents deep will loom large on the season.
The Frogs will need both their returning stars and the aforementioned sleepers to have strong seasons if they are to compete for a second Big 12 title and a potential playoff berth. They certainly have the talent to do just that.