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Round Table: State of the Frogs as they enter Big 12 play

We gathered the FOW crew to talk TCU ahead of the Big 12 opener.

TCU Football vs Ohio State | September 15, 2018
TCU Football vs Ohio State | September 15, 2018
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU Football opens Big 12 play tomorrow, taking on Texas in Austin as they look to run their record t0 3-1 and begin the conference season on a high note. We gathered a few Frogs O’ War staff members to give their thoughts on the game, the season, and what to expect going forward.

The Big 12 has played one conference game this year, but, for the rest of the league, the season starts Saturday. How are you feeling about TCU as they begin conference play?

Mason Chreene: Pretty good all things considered. I watched us keep things pretty competitive with the best team that we are likely to play all year(?). We played with a lot of speed in that one, and the defense looked like it was up to the task for almost the entire game. Now playing a big 12 offense is different than a big 10 offense, but I think a 10 win season isn’t out of the question.

Chris Conaty: I think TCU is in a really good position as they enter Big 12 play and look like they should be legitimate contenders for a conference championship. Shawn Robinson still has to improve his decision-making and take care of the ball a little better, but once he does, look out. This offense is filled with offensive playmakers and can keep up with any offense in the Big 12. Add in another vaunted Coach P defense and the Frogs should be able to position themselves to get back to Arlington.

Grant McGalliard: The Ohio State game, despite the loss, made me feel more confident about TCU than I did beforehand. The offense can score against an elite defense, and the Frogs’ defense can stop a good offense. Oklahoma and West Virginia are the two games I’m worried about, and the Sooners will have to come to Fort Worth this year. TCU should be set up well to return to the Big 12 title game.

Parker Fleming: TCU could finish fourth in the Big 12 this year, easily. They could also finish first. Two factors there - one, the Big 12 is tight and uncertainty abounds. Two, TCU has potential - that first half against Ohio State demonstrated that TCU can, for some period of time, hang with - and even beat - anyone. The second half against Ohio State demonstrated that TCU can, for some period of time, play as if they have two left feet. Can TCU figure out how to sustain the up without crashing into the down? Still uncertain, for me.

We have seen several B12 teams get big OOC wins - whose win was most impressive, which loss hurts the most?

Mason Chreene: Most impressive - Kansas over Rutgers. Take that Big 12 haters. Which loss hurts the most? Probably watching Kansas State get run over by Mississippi State, who is probably going to be the 4th best team in the SEC West.

Chris Conaty: For me, the Oklahoma State win over one of the top G5 teams in the country led by an experienced QB was the most impressive win thus far for the Big 12. Texas over USC though was a close 2nd. The toughest loss for the conference was Iowa State dropping their rivalry game at Iowa. It was a tough game but it will be used as a measuring stick for the middle of the packs in the Big 12 and Big Ten. I think people expected more from the Cyclones this year than they have showed.

Grant McGalliard: I’ll split the difference with Mason and Chris and say the most impressive win was Oklahoma State trouncing Boise State, while the most disappointing loss was Kansas State getting beaten at its own game by Mississippi State. The Cowboys looked like they haven’t lost a step even without Mason Rudolph and James Washington, and the defense under new coordinator Jim Knowles is much improved. Meanwhile, if Kansas State doesn’t find a way to score soon, it’s going to get ugly.

Parker Fleming: I’m just not sure how you can answer this other than the Boise State win for Oklahoma State. Strong defensive and special teams performance, in a game that the “cool” off-brand narrative suggested they should lose. TCU losing to Ohio State certainly hurts, just in terms of depth for playoff chance, I think, but Texas will remember losing to Maryland clearly should they get an underwhelming bowl assignment.

Oklahoma is clearly the favorite to be one of the two teams playing in Arlington in December, but which team (outside of TCU) do you feel has the best odds to make it to the Big 12 Championship game?

Mason Chreene: My gut tells me that if it’s not TCU it would be West Virginia, but a couple of things give me pause for that one. 1) Will Grier has never played a full season of college football. 2) Dana has a tendency to underperform when his team sets their expectations high in September. I think the real sleeper is Oklahoma State. I still don’t know how good they really are, but I know Mike Gundy is a consistently good coach very much like Patterson. My eyes are now closely on the Pokes for the rest of the year.

Chris Conaty: I’m with Mason in thinking the favorite still has to be West Virginia. Will Grier has absolutely lived up to the hype so far and it’s unfortunate their game this past weekend was cancelled because they likely would’ve added a solid P5 win to the conference’s resume.

Grant McGalliard: It’s West Virginia. WIll Grier might have the best receiving corps in the country surrounding him, and the Mountaineers will host both TCU and Oklahoma, giving them much-needed home field advantage.

Parker Fleming: This is tight. West Virginia is going to have an injury - they’re just too thin, but their defense has improved and looked decent. Oklahoma State is surprising, but do they have the grit? Texas might be good. They might also be bad. I’m going to go on a limb and say Iowa State sneaks into third this season.

After three games, the Horned Frogs are 2-1 and have shown flashes of being potentially really good. Gary Patterson, too, has said that he thinks his team will be really good by the end of the season. What is your expectation for TCU in the Big 12 this year? How good are they?

Mason Chreene: TCU IS RUNNING THE TABLE. Okay, actually I need to see how we play against Texas before I can really set my expectations for how this team will look in conference play. I know that we are a little prone to making young mistakes on special teams as well as the occasional head scratcher on offense, but the defense looks rock solid. I think we’re good, but I need to see us be great. I need to see us put fear in opposing teams’ defenses before I claim us as the Big 12’s reckoning.

Chris Conaty: I don’t want to say that TCU is going to win the Big 12, but I think they should absolutely finish in the top 3 of the conference. The four teams I could see playing in the Big 12 title game right now are Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State - in that order. The Frogs have the benefit of playing 2 of those at home and the toughest one of those two, Oklahoma, after a Thursday game, giving Coach P more time to prepare.

Grant McGalliard: I’ll say the Frogs go 8-1 in conference, with a win we’ll be really excited about (Oklahoma or at West Virginia) and a loss we won’t like (Oklahoma State or -- gulp -- Texas.) If the Frogs don’t make it to Arlington with this defense and these skill players, it’ll be difficult to not call this season a disappointment.

Parker Fleming: Disappointing October loss. Who knows what to do with Oklahoma State in November - the Frogs usually gain steam towards the end, where OSU usually loses it. I think 7-2 in conference, with a loss to Oklahoma and a dumb loss on top of it probably sets the ceiling for TCU - it’s hard to shake how easily that third quarter devolved last week.

Through 3 weeks what individual TCU player performance has gotten you really excited? Which performance has gotten you worried?

Mason Chreene: I feel like the obvious answer will be Shawn Robinson, rightfully so since QB is the most important position in sports, so I’ll take a different route. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Innis Gaines. He stood out last year and was a playmaker, but this year I have a feeling he’s going to reach a whole other level. The guy flies to the ball, flies to the QB, blitzes like a mad man, and has hops to bat the ball down. I love having a fun safety to watch. Chris Hackett is in my top 3 favorite TCU players to watch play, and Innis reminds me a lot of Hackett in terms of how fun he is to watch. He’s got a little bit of Earl Thomas speed with a dash of Eric Reid’s prowess to lay the boom. In terms of performances that get me concerned, I’d like to see a bit more run stopping from the middle of our line. I know Patterson takes pride in stopping the run, but if I have to pick a nit after 3 weeks, that’s the one..and yes I know full well the SMU game was played in a rainstorm.

Chris Conaty: I agree with Mason that Innis Gaines has been exciting to watch. I remember his high school highlights and he was a hard hitter and a ball hawk so it’s nice to see him finally breaking out. Plus, I love how he is always hyping up fans and getting people involved. Since Mason went in depth on Innis, I’m also going to add in senior LB Alec Dunham who has made some major plays so far this season. He’s a great dude and it’s nice to see him breakout as well. Not much has gotten me worried yet, but if I had to pick one thing - it’s probably the kicking game. We’ll see if GP sticks with Bunce for field goals or starts giving Song opportunities.

Grant McGalliard: Man alive, Jalen Reagor is good. I know he was expected to be the No 1 receiver coming into this season, so it’s not like this comes as a surprise to anybody. But I didn’t expect him to be as reliably dominant as he has been. He’s not Josh Doctson yet, obviously, but his potential could fill up Amon G. Carter Stadium. As Shawn Robinson gets more comfortable at quarterback, expect to see those two form a formidable partnership.

Adam Nunez dropped a punt and broke my heart. I want to see the most underrated punter in the nation hit his stride again.

Parker Fleming: I’ve been generally impressed with the wide receiver play, but Garret Wallow as a true freshman has embedded himself as a rock in this defense. He is very on brand for a TCU player - overlooked, works hard, kind of crazy. It’s nice to see Ridwan Issahaku contributing, as well. I’m very positive on the individual defensive performances. On the negative side, how have we not figured out special teams yet? Snap, kick, easy.

We did not have a single coach in the Big 12 fired this past season. Do you think that will happen again this year? If not, who is the one that gets fired first?

Mason Chreene:

Sadly, no I don’t think we are going to see everyone back next year, and if I had to guess who...I think it’s Kliffy. I really love having Kingsbury in the Big 12, he just fits our MO really well. However, I think if Tech doesn’t make it to 7 wins this year then he is going to be out.

Chris Conaty: I think Beaty is still most likely to go, especially with a new AD. However, I doubt he does, so long as he picks up at least one conference win.

Grant McGalliard: Kingsbury has to make a bowl. If he doesn’t, he’s gone -- and I don’t think Tech’s defense is nearly as improved as some have claimed. So I’ll say Kliff, whom I sincerely like.I hope he finds an OC job somewhere and kills it.

Parker Fleming: Beatty is gone. He just, he’s gone. But, try this on: Kliff Kingsbury, Hawaii Offensive Coordinator.

Yes it is a ways away, but what team do you want TCU to play in it’s bowl game? (Assuming we make one, and it cannot be a CFB playoff game)

Mason Chreene: I would absolutely love to play Notre Dame. I would love for us to absolutely get the chance to play another big brand name this year. Imagine it, TCU vs Notre Dame in the fiesta bowl. I’d love to visit Phoenix, catch some Suns basketball and watch TCU put the beat down on the Irish.

Chris Conaty: LSU. Sugar Bowl.

Grant McGalliard: What Chris said, if only so I have an excuse to eat beignets and hit up Bourbon Street.

Parker Fleming: New Orleans is a fun time. I’d love to play a name brand school. Just, NY6, and a name brand school - please let’s avoid the G5 game.

Now that we’ve seen this team in action a bit, what would it take for you to consider this season a “success” vs a “failure”?

Mason Chreene: I think that getting to 9 wins before the bowl season would be where I would draw the line for this TCU team. I think we have the talent and the ability to get there. I think 2 losses in conference is what i’m preparing myself for. I don’t need a return trip to the Big 12 title game to consider this season a success, but if I see those young bucks developing, getting in those reps then I’ll be able to sleep comfortably knowing that this season is a success. It’ll only be a failure in my eyes if we absolutely collapse down the stretch and lose to Baylor (holds back expletives). Also this season is a success if Ben Banogu gets 15 sacks, full stop.

Chris Conaty: Top 4 in the Big 12 is what I would measure as a success for our team at this point. Outside of the Oklahoma schools and West Virginia, I don’t think any of the other teams should finish higher than us.

Grant McGalliard: I said above that this team should make it to Arlington. But if there’s a weird tiebreaker and the Frogs finish third, there will be plenty of reasons to think that next year could be TCU’s year.

Parker Fleming: Fewer than 9 wins heading will feel like a disappointment, although I cannot distinguish if that’s reality or entitlement. As I’ve mentioned, TCU has serious talent, but also demonstrated some pretty low floors early on. I expect them to normalize. I have no delusions of us running the table in the Big 12, or even winning the championship game beating someone twice. I’d be happy with beating everyone in Texas, splitting the Oklahomas, and just leaving Morgantown healthy to get back to Arlington this December.