Every article. Every interview. Every quote.
They all make it clear: The 2017 TCU Football season comes down to one thing, and one thing only - the quarterback. And, more specifically, Kenny Hill.
TCU has seven quarterbacks listed on their roster, but after the off-season transfer of Foster Sawyer, the position comes down to just two: the senior Hill and the true freshman, Shawn Robinson. Junior Grayson Muehlstein remains along with a trio of redshirt freshmen walk-ons as well as a transfer from Penn, Michael Collins, and intriguing prospect but one who is unlikely to crack the depth chart any time soon.
The Kenny Hill Experience:
If you aren’t familiar with Kenny Hill’s story by now, well, let me know where that rock you have been living under is located please, because I would like to go to there. Hill burst onto the scene as a sophomore by setting several significant school and SEC records against South Carolina in the 2014 opener for Texas A&M, throwing for more than 500 yards and 44 completions. He would win the first eight games of the season for the Aggies, but then the calendar turned to November, the time of year annually when A&M forgets how to win football games.
After shining under the brightest of lights, Kenny fell on the darkest of times. Off the field antics combined with mediocre on the field play cost him his job, and when he ended up passed out in a planter, he lost his College Station home, as well. Hill left A&M and came back closer to home, matriculating to DFW and TCU. Gary Patterson gave him a laundry list of conditions to follow, and by all accounts, he did everything right. After sitting out 2015, watching and learning from veterans Trevone Boykin and Bram Kohlhausen, Hill beat out Foster Sawyer for the starting job a season ago.
Hill’s 2016 campaign was an exercise in consistency, as in the only thing that was consistent about his play was the inconsistency. A gesture that led to a devastating penalty, one that all but cost TCU the game against Arkansas, overshadowed an impressive performance through the air and on the ground for the mercurial QB. Hill finished with 3200 yards passing, another 600 on the ground, and accounted for 27 total touchdowns. He posted top five marks in completions, yards, and single-game passing numbers, but also threw 13 interceptions and was plagued by inaccuracy and drops - some of which were caused by inaccuracy.
When you take a deep dive into Kenny Hill as a QB (and if you are so inclined, you can do that here, here, here, and here), you can start to pinpoint the small issues that led to some big struggles a season ago. It’s not that Hill can’t make the throws - he has a good to nearly great arm, moves really well in the pocket, and when given the freedom/encouragement to, knows how and when to break contain and reel off big yardage on the ground. Kenny throws a beautiful deep ball - that bomb to Isaiah Graham against OU falling harmlessly to the grass still haunts me - but doesn’t throw his receivers into yardage, but rather throws them to a stoppage. Hill will miss a guy by six inches or so, causing the receiver to have to adjust back to the ball, go to the ground, or leave his feet exposing him - making the catch either tougher than it needs to be or leading to a drop (especially with an inexperienced WR corp like he had last year). And that’s part of the reason the Frogs were one of the worst offenders when it came to the dropsies of any team in the country in 2016.
By all accounts, Hill has had a stellar off-season of work. Though he looked... well, bad... in the spring game, he put in a ton of work over the summer, seeking out a QB coach, attending some of the best camps in the country, and soaking up knowledge and opportunities exactly as you would want your senior starter to do. And he has looked outstanding in camp, with improved accuracy and better responses to the mistakes he does make.
But, we have heard this story before. No one within a program has come out in August and said Hill can’t get the job done, doesn’t have the tools, or isn’t any good. The fact of the matter is, he’s supremely talented physically and has a good understanding of the playbook and what decisions need to be made, when - on the field, at least. But Hill’s dedication to the game off the field has been questioned, as has the work he puts in when the lights are off.
Well, Kenny, this is it. Hill has NFL dreams, and NFL tools. But it will come down to this, his senior year, his last hurrah, to see if he can work his way into draft contention next spring. We certainly hope he does.
The Shawn Robinson Question:
But if he doesn’t...
Shawn Robinson has “IT”. That undefined, immeasurable, unexplainable quality that sets apart good from great. Trevone Boykin had IT. So did Andy Dalton. Those guys were winners, locker room leaders, and became TCU legends. It’s hard to predict how a QB will make the transition from high school hero to college, but the tools are definitely there for Robinson. A long time four star prospect (who was ridiculously dropped to three stars by some services just ahead of signing day), Robinson chose TCU over offers from 13 other schools, including Texas, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, and Ohio State. He committed to the Frogs early - June of 2015 - and held tight, due to a great relationship with Sonny Cumbie and Gary Patterson, though there was speculation he would flip to the Horns once Tom Herman was hired:
Robinson enrolled in January and got to work right away, getting the bulk of the snaps throughout the spring and having every opportunity to impress. Though he is ahead of schedule according to GP, he hasn’t done enough to wrest the job away from Hill - yet. Robinson has great size at 6’2”, runs incredibly well (over 5000 rushing yards in his high school career), and has a nose for the end zone with 143 career touchdowns against 29 picks prior to enrolling at TCU. He led DeSoto to a state title and was a winner wherever he played. He’s charismatic on and off the field, and was one of the best recruiters for the Frogs from the moment he committed to the moment he signed. I have great visions of him connecting with Jalen Reagor and Omar Manning for big play after big play in the not too distant future.
The one thing we know is, barring injury, Kenny Hill is taking the first snap on Saturday, September 2nd. After that? I think Patterson would say he reserves the right to change his mind.
What to Do with the Mule:
Grayson Muehlstein was one of those “well... he’s definitely intriguing” signings when he inked with TCU back in 2014. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, he looks the part of dangerous pocket passer, but showed some fancy footwork and the ability to make something out of nothing at Decatur High School. A three star prospect, he was ranked as high as fifth, by Scout, for QBs in the state of Texas. He came to Fort Worth under the old regime - both he and Foster Sawyer signed as pro-style quarterbacks before Meacham and Cumbie turned TCU into an Air Raid offense.
So little was known about Muehlstein that many assumed he was the next great thing; an under the radar talent that would develop behind Matt Joeckel before eventually overtaking Trevone Boykin and Foster Sawyer to lead the Frogs to great heights. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at our “Meet the Commits” piece on him from 2014. He just had a few accuracy issues - but he was smart and athletic and ‘oh no would his commitment make Foster look elsewhere?’! Well... here we sit, three years later... Foster has come and gone, as have Brennan Wooten, Jordan Kitna, and a handful of others. Mule has never made a serious push for the backup job, despite the attrition around him, and when the door was open for him this spring, he wasn’t able to overtake the true freshman that everyone had expected to redshirt. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, he’s been a great teammate, works hard, and has gotten a really great education at an amazing school. I would say he’s living right.
Grayson has yet to attempt a pass in a game, instead rushing for 21 yards on six career attempts. He certainly knows the offense, and if the Frogs were to get in a bind with QB1 and QB2, he should be able to step on the field and execute. But the plan is probably for that not to happen.
So, where do we sit? Exactly where we expected. Kenny Hill will be The Guy, until he’s not. Shawn Robinson is the heir apparent, and should have the inside track to the starting job in 2018 - and get some valuable experience in mop up duty, as an injury replacement, or as a straight up replacement this year. With Justin Rogers expected to enroll in January, next spring could be one of the more exciting and anticipated off-seasons in recent TCU history, as the two young guns battle it out to take over an offense that will be loaded with promise.
But that’s then. This is now. And we just have to wait and see in the meantime.