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Horned and Dangerous - The 2016 TCU Football Preview

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The TCU Horned Frogs are in a position to contend for trophies in 2016. How dangerous can they actually be?

West Virginia v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There’s something about the unknown.

It intrigues us. It captivates us. It teases us with knowledge just outside our grasp, stirring within us a desire to seek and understand.

So we start to keep an eye on this mysterious entity. And as we watch, listen, and question, the shroud of mystery begins to lift. It’s a process that takes time. Days, weeks, months will pass before clarity comes.

This is the bind we’re in with TCU football. We have so many questions. Questions about Kenny Hill. About the offensive line. About the running backs, and the secondary, and the special teams.

We will eventually know the answers to these questions. But as a foundation to stand on, we must remember that the unknown cannot exist unless there is a known entity to counter it. And we do know a bit about this team.

There’s speed, baby. Blazing speed. Elite speed.

Plus talent. Loads of it, on both sides of the ball.

So sit up straight (or stand if you’re at Amon G.) and look closely. There might be a lot we don’t know about this team yet, but there’s one thing we know for sure.

These Horned Frogs are dangerous.

- Jamie Plunkett

Going Hunting

A season ago, the TCU Horned Frogs were on the wrong end of the scope. Week after week, game after game, they absorbed their opponent’s best shot, with injuries picking them off like so many ducks throughout the year. But in the end, it was the Frogs who took their best shot, upending Oregon in one of the more memorable games of the 2015 campaign.

But now, TCU is right back where they prefer to be, behind the barrel with a finger on the trigger. I don’t know much about hunting, but I know which side of the gun I would rather be on - and that’s exactly the spot Gary Patterson’s team finds themselves to open their 2016 campaign. TCU is ranked to open the season for a second consecutive year, but unlike last year’s top three spot, they find themselves comfortably in the middle at #13. The Frogs don’t play a marquee matchup to open the season, and assuming that they take care of business against FCS opponent South Dakota State, they should be able to fly under the radar as bigger match-ups steal the scene.

Pre-season favorite Oklahoma carries the burden for the Big 12 this year, and Texas is once again the media darling that ‘could surprise everyone’. Texas Tech boasts a Heisman candidate that will light up the scoreboards, bringing national attention and bright lights to Lubbock for the first time in years, while Baylor is hoping to take the attention away from their campus and refocus it to what happens on the football field. WVU has a coach on the hot seat, and even Kansas and Iowa State will be given their due with first year head coaches that could be the ones to turn the program around. Kansas State has the wizard, and questions about when he will hang it up (again) remain this season as per always.

With the Sooners meeting up with the Cougars in Houston as one of several top 15 match-ups to open the season, and the Longhorns welcoming a Notre Dame team that embarrassed them in South Bend last year, the Big 12 banner will fly over south Texas, not Fort Worth, initially. But the Frogs will have their own moment on the big stage a week later, hosting an Arkansas team that has been good, but not great, in the SEC. TCU can send a message by taking it to the Hogs.

The Frogs are good- none other than Kirk Herbstreit, noted hater of your team, has penciled them in for the playoffs, and he’s not the only one. But the overwhelming thought is that this is a rebuilding year, that the loss of generational talents Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson will be too much for the young offense to overcome. That the defense will be improved, but not as dynamic as the play-making, ball-hawking unit that spurred the 2014 team to just shy of the first ever playoff tournament. And that’s okay by TCU and Gary Patterson, who have always preferred to play with a chip on their shoulder as an underdog.

Like Coach Patterson says, you’re either proving people right or you’re proving people wrong. It’s much more fun to do the latter.

- Melissa B. Triebwasser

Patterson’s Pride

Gary Patterson has changed to fit the times. His hiring of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie prior to the 2014 season reflects that clearly. But as pretzel-flexible Patterson has been on some things, he’s been unflinchingly rigid on others.

He insists on having a defense that plays angry. As if the opposing 11 players have all personally affronted their mothers. This 2016 defensive squad is ready to play that way once again, and it returns four players who missed significant portions of 2015 to bolster the ranks. James McFarland, Ranthony Texada, Kenny Iloka, and Sammy Douglas all return this season. They were all tabbed starters in 2015 before a toe injury and three torn ACLs ended their seasons prematurely.

Ultimately, this is a defense that has exactly the combination that Gary Patterson loves. It has freak athletes, tons of speed, and youth mixed with the right amount of experience and senior leadership. It has all the makings of turning in a classic TCU defensive season, and in the Big 12, that’s a big step toward getting to the top of the mountain.

Defensive Line

The defensive line is anchored by seniors McFarland, Josh Carraway, and Aaron Curry. Carraway led the Frogs with nine sacks in 2015, and was named to the First Team All-Big 12 squad.

Sophomore and Dallas native Joseph Broadnax joins them as a starter after simply outperforming the rest of the defensive tackles. That’s not a slight on guys like Chris Bradley, Ross Blacklock, L.J. Collier, and Breylin Mitchell. Those four guys are wholly talented, and they are now a part of arguably the deepest defensive line TCU has had in years. Broadnax simply won the job.

That’s just the defensive tackle depth, though. Behind Carraway and McFarland is a youth movement that should strike fear in the opponents for the next few seasons. Guys like Tipa Galeai, Isaiah Chambers, and Brandon Bowen, a sophomore and two true freshmen, will partner up with transfer Mat Boesen to spell the starters at times.

Linebackers

A year removed from being the thinnest position on the field, the linebacking unit has found a boost with the return of Douglas, and the addition of transfer Tyree Horton. Those two, plus Ty Summers, will back up the two converted safeties who now sit atop the linebacking depth chart: Montrel Wilson and Travin Howard. These two “undersized” LBs have what Patterson covets most in this world: speed. They can fly to the ball, or to the back, depending on their assignments, and they still have quite a bit of pop when they hit.

When you add in Alec Dunham and Paul Whitmill, you realize that the Frogs are essentially seven deep for the two linebacker spots on the field. That’s depth.

Secondary

Ranthony Texada will be a sight for sore eyes, one year after going down with an ACL tear against SMU. The lockdown cornerback will once again patrol one side of the field, and will be expected to shut down the No. 1 receiver for opposing offenses.

Across from him will be Jeff Gladney, a young stud who beat out Tony James and Vernon Scott for the starting spot. He’s an exciting young talent, but a relative unknown. Here’s what we know, though: if he’s earned a starting spot on this defense, he’s got game.

Meanwhile, Niko Small has earned a starting spot at free safety, next to Nick Orr and Denzel Johnson. Small is a gifted athlete, and his skills will no doubt prove him worthy of the starting role. Behind the three safeties are Kenny Iloka, Markell Simmons, and Innis Gaines, another trio that can provide little to no dropoff when they step on the field.

- Jamie Plunkett

Generation Trill

I don’t want to be the guy who’s hyping up the Kenny Trill nickname right now, but I’m a sucker for puns. Sue me. By all accounts Kenny has left that nickname, and the negative stigma that has been attached to it, back in College Station. But it’s not just a very clever play on words, and it’s not just about Kenny Hill. This is a new generation of TCU football. Just like the transition from Andy Dalton, Josh Boyce, Jerry Hughes and company to Boykin, Doctson, Kindred and the like, this season will be the start of another chapter.

All of that would be happening anyway as part of the natural order of things. It’s just highlighted when your school’s all-time leader in passing yards needs to be replaced. Oh, and by the way, Doctson is the all-time leader in receiving yards and he’s gone too. In total, TCU has to replace eight starters on the offense this year. The only returners who were starters for most of the year are offensive lineman Joseph Noteboom and the man who needs no introduction, KaVontae Turpin.

So where does that leave us? Well, considering all of the above, in a pretty good spot. There being a flip side to every coin, the outrageous amount of injuries that TCU sustained in 2015 allowed many of the players on this year’s roster to get valuable experience ahead of their time. Not only that, but the most of the players that got injured in 2015 are healthy now, so we get them back too. Throw in a couple of valuable junior college transfers and... perhaps... a freshman or two?? Baby, you’ve got a stew goin’.

- Travis Kennedy

Emerging From The Sands: The New Horned Frog Offense & Its Parts

When Boykin and Doctson both got hurt towards the end of last season, we began to get a glimpse of a talented offensive roster that had flown under the radar for most of the season. After an ugly win against Kansas, the Frogs started to find their rhythm on the road in an almost-upset of Oklahoma. But it really wasn’t until the second half of the Alamo Bowl that TCU’s fans, and maybe even the players themselves, began to realize their full potential.

That late season stretch remains the best sample of data that we have to predict what the 2016 Frogs might look like, but there is still so much that will be different. When we played those games we still had Aaron Green, Shaun Nixon, and, oh yeah, Bram Kohlhausen too. With Green and Kohlhausen lost to graduation and Nixon set to miss the 2016 season due to injury, we’ll need to dig a little bit deeper into the desert sands to see what kind of weapons the Horned Frogs will have at their disposal this season.

One thing is for certain, the fact that TCU was able to retain the services of both Doug Meacham and Sunny Cumbie for another year gives any roster a chance to be effective offensively.

It just so happens, this roster is a good one.

Receivers

Even without the benefit of Nixon, who played a hybrid slotback position last year, TCU has arguably the deepest wide receiver group in school history. Last week TCU released their depth chart for the season opener against South Dakota State, and there were really no surprises other than returning senior Deante Grey not earning a starting spot. But regardless of which names sit at the top of the depth chart, everyone in this group is too talented to keep off the field.

Coming into the season ranked at the #1 JUCO receiver in the nation, junior transfer Taj Williams will take over one of the WR roles on the outside. Taj is listed at 6’3”, 180 lbs, giving him the size needed to go up over defenders and high point the deep ball. He did just that in TCU’s spring game, catching the only receiving touchdown of that scrimmage.

Across from him is Emanuel Porter, the 6’4”, 210 lbs junior who has all the measurables required to be the next Josh Doctson. Not that anyone should expect him to be that, but he physically has the potential. If he can stay healthy this season, there should be a massive spike in his numbers.

Of course, though, KaVontae Turpin is the anticipated premier receiver of the group. If he continues on the trajectory he set for himself as a true freshman, he could easily have a 1,000 yard, 12 touchdown season. Pairing him with Ty Slanina on the inside means that opposing safeties are going to be in big, big trouble.

Behind the four starters, depth like Deante Gray, Jarrison Stewart, Jalean Austin, Isaiah Graham, John Diarse, and Desmon White simply means that this unit has the potential to be truly elite.

Running Backs

Kyle Hicks will have the first shot at being the lead running back in this offense, as he steps in for the departed Aaron Green. Hicks looked great in limited time in 2015, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and showing all the tools needed to be an almost every-down back (size, speed, blocking, agility, hands, etc.).

He totaled 366 yards and 4 touchdowns on 66 touches in 2015. It’s a smaller sample size, but he’s by far the most experienced back on the roster.

The rumor out of camp is that Sewo Olonilua and Derrick Green will be the first two up to spell Hicks, but that’s just a rumor right now. We’ll see who trots out on the field, but it’s likely to be largely situational.

Tight Ends

Cole Hunt is a 6’7” graduate transfer from Rice, and the younger brother of former Frogs center Joey Hunt. He has the chance to be the most impactful tight end TCU has had in a while, and his speed makes him a legitimate downfield threat in the passing game.

It’s likely though, that both Hunt and Charlie Reid will spend most of their time on the field as blockers.

Offensive Line

While the line has only one holdover from 2015 (Joseph Noteboom), this is an incredibly experienced bunch. Noteboom, Patrick Morris, Austin Schlottman, Matt Pryor, and Aviante Collins have combined for 46 starts in their time at TCU. Behind them is a bunch of youthful talent, including true freshman tackle Lucas Niang.

Arguably the best bit of information about this team is that there is only one senior offensive lineman on TCU’s entire roster (Collins).

TCU’s depth includes JUCO transfer guard Chris Gaynor, and redshirt freshmen David Bolisomi and Cordel Iwuagwu. It’s a young line, and if the guys don’t gel quickly, we could see some changes made.

It’s critical that the line works well together quickly, or the entire offense could sputter.

- Travis Kennedy & Jamie Plunkett

#CollegeKickers

TCU hasn’t had to worry about the kicking game in four long years. Now, with the departure of Jaden Oberkrom, the Frogs desperately need to find another consistent leg to help in close games.

It appears as if Jonathan Song is that leg, but he’s dealing with an injury suffered in camp, and he won’t be available for South Dakota State, and possibly Arkansas. That means that two walk-ons will compete for the starting job in his absence. Junior Brandon Hatfield and redshirt freshman Ryan Graf both have decent legs, but no game experience. You never know how a kicker is going to react to a pressure situation, and having two very inexperienced kickers isn’t a comfort to fans.

It’d be in TCU’s best interest to keep things from coming down to a late-game, long field goal situation, but if controlling a game like that was easy, Oberkrom would never have had to attempt anything more than an extra point.

- Jamie Plunkett

Purple Loyalty

Every spring -- hell every time after the last day of the regular season -- athletic directors across the country gear up to make some tough decisions about their football coaching staffs. Some are by choice, others out of necessity. For fan-favorite Chris Del Conte, TCU’s now legendary athletic director, that job may have come somewhat easier than most. While not minimizing the effect Del Conte’s has had on the matter, when your head coach is widely regarded as a top-10 and by some a top-5 coach, has the third longest tenure in college football, and keeps a recurring theme of “Family” around the football offices, people want to stick around. That sentiment was on full display for the entire country when last year the high-profile courtship of two of the most sought after assistant coaches ultimately came around in TCU’s favor, highlighting Coach Gary Patterson’s ability to attract and retain high-caliber coaches:

Co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham were offered (or reportedly offered) the positions of sole offensive coordinator at Texas and head coach at North Texas, respectively, and each turned them down in favor of coaching the Horned Frogs for another year. Cumbie was reportedly offered in excess of $1M to be the offensive guy at Texas, which would have made him one of the highest paid assistants in the country at one of the established, if not former, blue bloods in the sport.

But Patterson’s deep coaching roots don’t begin and end with the co-OCs; At the end of the 2014 season, long-time defensive coordinator at TCU Dick Bumpas retired after having coached defenses for nearly 40 years at a number of schools, including his alma mater, Arkansas. Along the way, he and Patterson were part of coaching staffs together at Kansas State, Tennessee Tech, Utah State, and Navy. Patterson had asked Bumpas to take the defensive coordinator position at TCU in 2004, where he also coached the defensive line during that time and held defensive playcalling duties for the front 6.

Jason Phillips and Zarnell Fitch are two former TCU players who both played under Patterson in the mid-oughts, and are now coaching the defensive line and linebackers, respectively. Apart from a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Chad Glasgow has been a part of Patterson’s coaching staff for 15 years and has been promoted into the sole defensive coordinator role.

By the same token, when Gary Patterson had to be the one to make a tough decision about his own staff back in 2013, his co-offensive coordinators at the time, Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns, were not let go, much to the surprise of those in the national media. Instead, they were moved to more specialized roles within the coaching staff. No doubt loyalty played a part there too, as Anderson has now been coaching at TCU for 19 years and Burns eight.

With job security at an all-time premium in college athletics- especially football- knowing that your head coach will not only have your back as a coaching staff, but also possess the sticking power that comes with building a program (back) from scratch is both incredibly rare and invaluable. It’s proven by the staff and former players who want to stay at TCU or flock to it to watch, work out, and advise on the current state of the program. These coaches and players know the true meaning of loyalty; At TCU, it just happens to come in a shade of purple.

- Scott Boase

2016 By The Numbers

  • 13 - TCU’s preseason rank in the Associated Press poll.
  • 16 - Gary Patterson is entering his 16th season as head coach of the Horned Frogs. He’s TCU’s winningest head coach with 143 wins to just 47 losses.
  • 28 - 14 freshmen and redshirt freshmen are listed on the depth chart for South Dakota State, along with 14 sophomores. Those 28 players make up 44% of the depth chart.
  • 27 - In similar fashion, there are 27 juniors listed on the depth chart. That’s nearly 43% of the depth chart in one class.
  • 8 - There are only eight seniors listed on the depth chart. Josh Carraway, James McFarland, Aviante Collins, Derrick Green, Deante Gray, Kenny Iloka, Denzel Johnson, and Aaron Curry. Of those eight, only four (Carraway, McFarland, Curry, and Johnson) currently occupy starting spots.
  • 24 - Number of combined sacks in 2015 by players returning in 2016. Josh Carraway led the way with nine.
  • 262 - Rushing yards for Kyle Hicks in 2015, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He’ll get first shot at being the lead back in 2016.
  • 136 - Receptions in 2015 for receivers/backs returning in 2016. Those 136 receptions in 2015 resulted in 1,784 yards and 16 touchdowns.
  • 2,832 - Kenny Hill’s career passing yards at Texas A&M. He also threw 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
  • 5/1 - Odds of TCU winning the Big 12, per Bovada.com. Oklahoma is -125 (4/5), and Oklahoma State and Texas are both 13/2.
  • 40/1 - Odds of TCU winning the National Championship, per Bovada.com. The favorites are Alabama at 6/1, and LSU and Clemson at 7/1. Oklahoma is 14/1.
- Jamie Plunkett

The Schedule

TCU is a trendy darkhorse pick to win the Big 12 this year, in no small part because of the favorable schedule the Horned Frogs have.

TCU does not leave the state of Texas until week six, and will only have to do so twice the entire season. The team will be able to stay in it’s home hotel for at least nine of those ten games in the Lone Star State. It is also a relatively balanced schedule, with two of TCU’s toughest opponents coming in weeks two and five, albeit West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor coming in consecutive weeks.

Sept. 3: South Dakota State

TCU hosts one of the more dangerous FCS teams in the country, with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits having made the FCS playoffs each of the last four years. That being said, TCU has won its last nine matchups against FCS competition and its last 14 home openers, not to mention owning the third-longest home winning streak in the country at eight, behind only Boise and Ohio State.

Sept. 10: Arkansas

One of the marquee matchups of week two and a strong contender for hosting College Gameday, Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks visit The Carter in the first installment of this home-and-home. Arkansas will be using the same ground-and-pound formula on offense that has been Bielema’s calling card throughout his head coaching career, and the defense will certainly have its hands full with backs Rawleigh Williams and Kody Walker- especially considering they’ll be breaking in a new quarterback with Junior Austin Allen. Arkansas only returns two starters on the offensive line, but things aren’t going to look radically different there. On defense, six of the team’s ten leaders in tackles return to a unit that should be improved over last year. The linebackers are the strength of the unit, and the biggest question for the Hogs in this game is whether the defensive line can get enough of a push to let the secondary make plays- something that hasn’t been a strength under Bielema as of late. TCU should be favored in this game, but it may be closer than the line would suggest.

Sept. 17: Iowa State

Former Toledo coach Matt Campbell seems to be a great fit for the Cyclones’ program, but has a tall task in turning the football team around in year one with a brutal schedule on tap. It’s hard to predict what this team will look like under Campbell, but if it’s anything like his Toledo teams over the past four years, it should start to look like a quintessential Big 12 high-flying offense once he starts to recruit his own players into the program.

Sept. 23: @ SMU

Fast forward the Iowa State coaching situation one year, and you get Chad Morris at SMU. Another offensive guru, Morris has the Mustangs trending in the right direction, and while the offense should start to heat up with Matt Davis at the helm, the defense leaves much to be desired. That being said, SMU always treats the TCU game as their bowl game and hangs tough. TCU had better not be looking forward towards its matchup against the Sooners, lest this game turn into another Friday night shocker on national television.

Oct. 1: Oklahoma

The national media is pointing to October 1st as the day that could ultimately decide the Big 12 title race. While history shows that championships are rarely decided this early in the season, it’s sure to be a barn burner with Oklahoma being a consensus top-5 team to open the year, largely because of the play of Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield and the return of Samaje Perine. The OU defense returns 6 starters, but it remains to be seen how big of an effect the losses of Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, and Zack Sanchez have on the leadership and cohesiveness of the unit. That alone may be a reason why TCU might prefer to play Oklahoma earlier in the season rather than later. The Sooners have a bye week before this game, but must travel to Houston and host Ohio State in weeks one and three, respectively, before they head to Fort Worth. If they can win both of those games, there’s a chance TCU might be hosting the number one ranked team in the country.

Oct. 8: @ Kansas

In the trappiest of trap games, the Horned Frogs will finally hit the road and travel to Lawrence for a game against the Kansas Jayhawks, who once again are predicted to quite possibly win one game this year, just likely not in Big 12 play. Crazier things have happened, however, and the last two years Kansas has played TCU exceptionally close. Couple that with the fact that TCU will either be riding an emotional high or a crippling low after OU, and there’s an outside chance this game could spell disaster for TCU’s season, even if on paper it shouldn’t be close.

Oct. 22: @ West Virginia

Fortunately, TCU has a bye week before this game. The trendy pick (many of the Frogs O’ War writers included) for TCU to lose is when they visit Morgantown, however the loss of junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry for the season is a big blow to West Virginia’s defense, a unit that was in need of a reload after losing eight starters to graduation (or injury, in the case of Karl Joseph). Skyler Howard is one of the more established yet under-the-radar quarterbacks in the Big 12, and leads a relatively experienced offense into the 2016 season, particularly at the skill positions. If TCU’s offense is able to pick apart the Mountaineers’ defense, TCU’s D should be able to get enough stops to pull off another W on the road.

Oct. 29: Texas Tech

After the heart-stopping game and finish to the 2015 game (not to mention the 82-point whooping in 2014), Texas Tech will be looking for revenge in this one. Patrick Mahomes is a serious darkhorse contender for the Heisman trophy behind only Baker Mayfield in the Big 12- the dude puts on a show no matter where he plays. While the offense will put up numbers and points as usual, biggest question mark remains the entire defense, where they finished second to last in the country last year giving up 548 yards per game. With rising star linebacker Dakota Allen booted off the team, the answer doesn’t get any easier for Tech, however the secondary does boast three seniors so the foundation for leadership is there. If they can be at least below average on defense- a tall task for Texas Tech historically- they will be a very dangerous team.

Nov. 11: @ Baylor

McLane Stadium has already sold out for this one, and you had better believe the Bears will be ready for the Horned Frogs in the Battle for the Golden Kolache. TCU will likely be favored in this one as well, but if Baylor is going to take any steps back over the next few years, the shortest of those steps will be in 2016. The Bears still return a healthy amount of starters from last year’s squad, including star quarterback Seth Russell and speedy receiver KD Cannon. Depth is the obvious question mark here, in addition to how much different- if any- this team is going to look in 2016 with Jim Grobe at the helm. Remarkably, almost all of the assistant coaches remain on staff, including playcaller Kendall Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, so the Bears will still be a dangerous team and will probably finish in the top half of the league.

Nov. 19: Oklahoma State

TCU gets a much-needed bye before this game as well, as Oklahoma State is hovering a bit under the radar this year- picked to finish third in the conference behind Oklahoma and TCU. Mike Gundy’s program is about as consistent as they come, and his 2016 team could make some noise in the Big 12 with their last two games coming against the two schools picked ahead of them. There’s something to be said about having a proven commodity at quarterback, which is exactly what OSU has in Mason Rudolph. The offensive line is experienced and deep as are the skill positions, with each group boasting four out of five returning starters. The defense should be a little salty as well, having lost a few stars but returning the bulk of each of the three levels. You should notice a recurring theme here, because as long as the injury bug doesn’t bite and the turnover numbers don’t rear their ugly head, the Cowboys may be a force to be reckoned with and have a pretty big say in how the top of the Big 12 shakes out.

Nov. 25: @ Texas

A trendy pick by the media to be one of 2016’s most improved teams, Texas will be also be looking to extract some level of revenge after the 50-7 whipping in Fort Worth last year. They will be putting their retooled offense in the hands of true freshman Shane Buechele, at least at the beginning of the year. A dangerous proposition in a power 5 conference, even one as offense-friendly as the Big 12, Texas’ offense may not solve all of its problems in 2015 and may have a different look by the time TCU rolls into town. Predicted Big 12 defensive player of the year Malik Jefferson highlights a loaded linebacking corps and the secondary will be solid, but the now more experienced defensive line will have to get some stops and create pressure much more than they did last year (the defense gave up 453 yards per game) if they want to improve in 2016.

Dec. 3: Kansas State

Kansas State’s 2016 team comes into the season with low expectations, having lost a load of players to . That being said, Kansas State was also riddled with injuries last year, having to play with a 3rd-string quarterback for much of the season (Joe Hubener, who filled in admirably) but giving their younger players invaluable playing time. The defense will be very solid and a strength for this team in 2016, with a linebacking corps devoid of star power but certainly not lacking in experience. If Kansas State’s offense can be as efficient as they have been in the past under the Purple Wizard, Bill Snyder, this team could very well have an upset or two and finish in the top half of the Big 12.

- Scott Boase

Best Case vs. Worst Case

If everything goes right, will the Frogs find themselves in the Playoff conversation?

Best Case Scenario:

The Frogs open the season with a stirring win over South Dakota State, showcasing the best of what Kenny Hill brings to the table. The deep wide receiving corps gets in the action, and a defense that has a significant chip on their shoulder from last year absolutely decapitates the Jackrabbits attack. Foster Sawyer gets in on the action in the second half and shows why the QB competition was so close, throwing for a pair of scores and racking up 200+ yards of offense himself.

Arkansas comes to town a week later, and with them chants of “S-E-C”. But the visiting section of the stadium is oddly quiet by late in the second quarter, as the Frog Raid offense leaves the Hogs shell-shocked and playing on their heels. The vaunted power run game of Arky runs into the vaunted front line of TCU, and the Frogs win battle after battle in the trenches. TCU is able to take their foot off the gas in the fourth, and Hill and GP are caught smiling and laughing on the sidelines. The magic has returned to Funky Town.

Iowa State rolls into town for Homecoming, and the Frogs prove to be terrible hosts, shutting down excellent running back Mike Warren who has negative yards to his name until the third quarter. SMU, a potential trap game on a Friday night the week before Oklahoma, has no answers for a TCU attack that makes scoring touchdowns look easy. The defense gives up a couple scores to make things closer than Patterson would have liked, but the outcome is never in doubt. The 4-0 Frogs are a top ten team.

Meanwhile, the Sooners have lived up to their hype, narrowly escaping with a win against Houston to open the year, and surprising the Buckeyes with a double digit victory in Norman, setting up a top ten showdown in Fort Worth against TCU. The game gives fans déjà vu through the first three and a half quarters, as the teams trade blows in a tightly fought matchup. It appears OU is going to take a two score lead with just minutes remaining, before Ty Summers levels Baker Mayfield on a bad handoff attempt and knocks the ball loose. Kenny Hill takes over with less than two minutes to go on his own ten yard line, with the Frogs trailing by five and two timeouts in their pocket. Back to back completions to Deante Gray and KaVontae Turpin get them to midfield, but on the fourth play of the drive, Hill looks dead to rights in the backfield for a possible game ending sack. He makes a move, and then another, and escapes to the sidelines with a six yard gain. On the next play, he finds a streaking Emanuel Porter for a big gain, and Kyle Hicks runs it in from the six with 18 seconds to go to secure the win.

There is a let down against Kansas a week later, because there always is, but TCU escapes with a double digit win late. WVU in Morgantown proves tough, and the Eers eek one out on their home turf, dropping TCU from a top five to the #10 team in the country. The wake-up call proves effective though, as upset-minded Texas Tech comes to town with designs on a win. TCU handles Patrick Mahomes and re-asserts themselves as one of the best teams in the country, shutting down the potent Tech attack and regaining their place in the top five. Baylor proves to be no match for a deep and talented group, and the Frogs win consecutive games in the rivalry for the first time since joining the Big 12. TCU gets their revenge against the Cowboys a week later, playing a near perfect second half in Fort Worth to dispatch OSU. An improved Texas team also feels the wrath of an angry, blood-spitting crew, as UT freshman QB Shane Buechele is responsible for four turnovers during another ugly loss in Austin. TCU wraps up a Big 12 title by dismantling KSU, and wait with baited breath for the results of Championship Weekend. Enough things go their way to allow TCU to finish in the top four, and make their first College Football Playoff appearance.

It’s Alabama, Clemson, Stanford, and TCU in the Final Four, with the Frogs and Cardinal meeting in round one. While the Bay Area team has the Heisman trophy winner in their backfield, the TCU O is too much, and the Frogs squeak out a 37-31 win to advance to the National Championship game against Deshaun Watson and the Tigers. It’s a back and forth affair, but, since this is a TCU blog and the BEST CASE SCENARIO, the Frogs D is just a little better than the Clemson D, and TCU wins their first National Championship of the modern era in a 42-41 instant classic, with James McFarland sacking Watson on the final play of the game to secure the win.

Now, wouldn’t that be a heck of a season, Frog fans?

Worst Case Scenario:

Even if everything that can go wrong does, as we saw a season ago on the injury front, TCU is still capable of stringing together a ten win season. So what would be the worst case scenario for the new look Frogs?

Opening the season against an FCS opponent, the Frog offense doesn’t resemble the high flying attack of the Trevone Boykin/Josh Doctson era. Though it’s ugly at times, TCU pulls out a too-close-for-comfort win, and plummet down the rankings after week one. Arkansas follows in week two, and the problems continue, as Kenny Hill and his receivers can’t quite get on the same page, and a few untimely misses by the stand-in kicker change momentum in the game. It’s an ugly 17-14 loss, and the Frogs fall out of the top 25 for the first time in nearly two years.

TCU regroups against Iowa State and the offense starts to look more like expectations, while the defense continues to be one of the better groups in the country. But, after blowing out the Cyclones, the Frogs fall into the SMU trap, dropping a game that has meant more to the Mustangs than TCU for years. They play well against OU at home, but Baker Mayfield and his stable of running backs are too much, and they drop a close one at the Carter. Galvanized after their early-season struggles, it becomes us against the world, and Patterson’s team rips off an excellent month, winning their next four games, including a tough one in Morgantown and the Revivalry in Waco (because even in the worst case scenario I don’t ever predict a loss to BU). A home loss to the Cowboys, who exploit Rudolph to Washington for the second straight season, puts the Frogs at a dismal 6-4 record, with a trip to Texas next. The Longhorns, who once again fail to meet their lofty preseason expectations, still have enough in the tank to pull out a win at home over TCU, as true frosh QB Shane Buechele plays the best game of his young career against a Frog D that seems to have hit the wall. The Frogs finish on a high note to get to seven wins with a nice game against the Wildcats, and find themselves in the Liberty Bowl against a quality SEC opponent.

That felt dirty.

- Melissa B. Triebwasser

Staff Predictions