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A Look Back At 2007: The Genesis of Andy Dalton

He would eventually be one of the best quarterbacks in TCU history, but in 2007, he was just a redshirt freshman.

TCU v Texas Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

You may have noticed that SB Nation is doing a massive, site-wide series of pieces on the 2007 college football season. If you’ll remember, that year was as crazy a season as we’ve ever seen, with the national championship participants shuffling almost every week for the last several weeks of the season.

LSU eventually won the national championship over Ohio State, but both were in the game thanks to losses by Missouri and West Virginia. That’s right. Mizzou and WVU would have been the national championship matchup that season, had the Tigers not lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship and the Mountaineers not lost to Pitt in Morgantown.

But while the 2007 season was off the chain for a handful of schools, including Kansas, TCU found itself finishing at 8-5, thanks to a 20-13 bowl win over Houston. It was relatively disappointing, considering that the 2007 season was the one time in the span of seven seasons (2005-2011) that TCU didn’t win at least 11 games.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the 2007 season is something to be overlooked by Frog fans. And while it may not live up to the same level of crazy that 2007 is known for, there were still some significant story lines. This is the first of a handful of pieces that will take a look back at that 2007 season for the Horned Frogs.

Andy Dalton wins the QB job over Marcus Jackson, and the rest is history...almost

TCU came into the 2007 season with high expectations, having put together back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2005 and 2006. They were preseason Mountain West favorites, and ranked No. 22 overall.

However, the graduation of quarterback Jeff Ballard, running back Lonta Hobbs, and wide receiver Quentily Harmon raised questions about who would step up on the offensive side of the ball.

While the stable of running backs and receivers seemed like they had enough to help offset the losses of Hobbs and Harmon, what with the return of Aaron Brown and Donald Massey, quarterback was truly an unknown. Redshirt freshman Andy Dalton had been on campus for a season already, but had no game experience, while sophomore Marcus Jackson had made a few appearances the season prior, as Ballard’s backup.

Jackson, of course, had captured the hearts of Frog fans the year before, after he orchestrated a comeback victory over Baylor. Ballard had exited the game after taking several hard hits, and Jackson found out he’d be filling in to begin the second half.

Patterson had few options once Ballard came out of the game. As he said in his post-game press conference, “He was the only person we had left. It was either going to be him or me throwing.”

I was in Waco for that game, and I will forever remember Jackson’s 84-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Brown down the left sideline. The ball cut through the air so beautifully and hit Brown right in stride. TCU fans went bonkers as Brown sprinted into the endzone and the Frogs took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Going into the 2007 season though, quarterback was up for grabs, and despite Jackson’s heroics the season before, Dalton won the job. Jackson would still see plenty of playing time, though, appearing in 10 games over the course of the season.

Dalton’s season would be one heck of a roller coaster ride. An opening 27-0 victory over Baylor, TCU’s fifth straight win over a Big 12 team, would endear him to Frog fans, just like Jackson the year prior.

Two consecutive losses, to Texas and Air Force, would have fans asking about Marcus Jackson again. In the overtime loss to Air Force, Dalton threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw a critical interception from the Air Force 22-yard line with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.

In the fourth game of the season, against SMU, Dalton began conceding snaps to Jackson, as Patterson worked to figure out how to jump start the offense. Together, Dalton and Jackson combined to pass for just 114 yards and one touchdown, but TCU went on to win the game.

Afterwards, Patterson said that he would call on either quarterback as needed,

"Offensively, we have two quarterbacks. You know that Andy (Dalton) can pass the ball, but tonight we needed a quarterback with some speed that could run with the ball, so we used Marcus (Jackson). There was no controversy about it and we will use what we need. The thing that I like about both of them is that there is no animosity between the two of them. They are just happy downstairs that it is a win."

Marcus Jackson would get the most snaps against Colorado State, a 24-12 victory for the Frogs, after Dalton suffered a minor knee injury and had to come out of the game. A week later, a healthy Dalton would throw for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against Wyoming.

That set up TCU, now 3-3 on the season, to head to Stanford and face the 2-3 Cardinal, and their head coach, Jim Harbaugh. While this may have been an underwhelming matchup on paper, context is key.

Stanford had just completed an upset of No. 2 USC the week prior. The Trojans, a 39-point favorite and preseason No. 1 team, lost in a stunner 24-23. This was the beginning of a larger trend on the season, as 2007 would see six teams ranked No. 2 lose to unranked opponents.

With 3:54 left in the third quarter, Stanford kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 31-17, and it seemed like TCU was falling too far behind to catch up. But just 37 seconds later, Dalton would hit Jimmy Young over the middle, and Young would sprint for a 70-yard touchdown, putting TCU right back in the game.

“That was big. It was a big momentum changer I thought,” Dalton said of his pass to Young, “I got the ball in Jimmy's hands and he made a play with it. So that was a big momentum changer."

A 60-yard drive on TCU’s next possession would end with another Andy Dalton touchdown pass, this time to Aaron Brown, as the Frogs would tie the game. An Aaron Brown touchdown would seal things for the Frogs, who would go on to win 38-36.

Dalton threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns on the evening, as he began to cement his role as the starter.

“He're really grown up, and this week was like a gut check,” said Aaron Brown afterwards, “He is our starter and he only has one option: to produce.”

Unfortunately, the Stanford win wouldn’t help level out the roller coaster season, as TCU would lose the following week to Utah, a game that saw Dalton throw four interceptions.

He would share time with Marcus Jackson again against New Mexico, a 37-0 victory, before almost leading TCU to a comeback upset of BYU in Provo the following week. Down 27-22 with 2:39 left in the game, the Frogs got the ball on their own 32, looking to finish the comeback. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as two consecutive sacks ended TCU’s chances.

Once again, Dalton was pulled after making critical mistakes. He threw an interception in the third quarter and was temporarily benched for Marcus Jackson, who led the Frogs down the field before fumbling the ball away.

The BYU loss would be TCU’s last dropped game of the season, as Dalton seemed to really get his legs under him over the course of the final two regular season games, and the bowl game.

Against UNLV, Dalton threw for just 73 yards, but he ran for 73 more and two touchdowns, as he led a Frogs offense that surged for 251 rushing yards on the day. Marcus Jackson saw significant playing time as well, passing for 53 yards and rushing for 24 more, but Dalton was the clear leader of the offense.

The final week of the season saw TCU head to San Diego State with a 7-5 record, and they would need a big comeback when it was all said and done. The Frogs fell down to the Aztecs 17-0 right away before they dug in and fought back.

Thanks in large part to Joseph Turner’s 226-yard, four touchdown rushing night, the Frogs came storming back, but Dalton played a significant role as well.

While all the focus was on Turner, Dalton threw for 298 yards, while rushing for 60 more and a touchdown. He had quietly put together one of the best passing seasons in TCU football history, throwing for 2,210 yards leading up to TCU’s bowl matchup vs. Houston.

In what would turn out to be a defensive struggle, Dalton would throw for 249 yards, while rushing for a touchdown.

He finished the season with 2,459 yards passing, 10 passing touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Dalton’s 2,459 passing yards were good at the time for the second-most passing yards in a single season in TCU history, a record he would set before his career was over.

More significantly, probably, Dalton ushered in the beginning of an era that would see TCU open up their offense a bit, and start throwing the ball around. Dalton, along with TCU’s 2007 running backs coach (and soon to be offensive coordinator) Justin Fuente, would together give life to TCU’s offense.

Dalton’s legacy wouldn’t be cemented for several more seasons, but Fans got glimpses of his talent throughout his redshirt freshman season in 2007.

This is the first in a series of posts about TCU’s 2007 season. Look for the next piece, The Tommy Blake Saga, early next week.