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Keys to the Game: TCU vs. Colorado

We break down what the Horned Frogs need to do in order to walk away with a victory in Week 1.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Championship-Texas Christian at Kansas State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 is finally upon us and the TCU Horned Frogs will open up the 2023 campaign on Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Colorado Buffaloes will come to town to start the Deion Sanders era. The temperature will likely be in the 90s by kickoff, so it will be interesting to see if that impacts Colorado. I don’t know about y’all, but the idea of TCU football has got me feeling like the GIF below.

Week 1 games are always hard to predict. Unlike the high school game or NFL, there are no preseason games or scrimmages to use in scouting. With Colorado, you can’t even watch last year’s film because the Buffaloes have 10 players on their roster who were on the team last year. Based on what I know about Sonny Dykes and his staff the message is simple - “TCU is going to focus on TCU.” The Horned Frogs shouldn’t need to do anything special to win on Saturday. I expect Kendal Briles will look to establish the run early, and then mix in some passing to see what they like schematically. Let’s take a look at what we know about Colorado.

Colorado Offense

The Colorado offense is called by former Kent State head coach Sean Lewis. Lewis is a disciple of the Briles “Veer and Shoot” system, so you can expect to see schemes that Baylor ran from 2008 to 2015. While at Kent State, Lewis produced one of the most prolific offenses in the country. In the last 4 years, Kent State never averaged less than 400 yards of offense per game. In their COVID-shortened season, where they only played 4 games, Lewis and the Kent State offense put up an absurd 606 yards per game. This offense will look nothing like what we saw last year. Expect to see Kent State with wide splits and playing with incredible tempo.

Shadeur Sanders will lead the offense as quarterback. In his two years at Jackson State, Sanders threw for 6,983 yards with 70 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. The common argument you see is that it was against “lesser competition” but you still have to have talent to put up those kinds of numbers. People also forget that Sanders was recruited by the likes of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State before following his father to Jackson State.

As seen in the video above, Sanders is going to have a new favorite target this season. Travis Hunter was a consensus 5-star recruit (and the #1 recruit by both Rivals and 247), and he was the first 5-star to ever sign with an FCS program when he chose Jackson State. Hunter played both ways in high school, but he spent his time at Jackson State playing corner. The word out of Colorado fall camp is that Hunter has looked incredible on offense throughout camp. Just take a look at the catch below to see for yourself.

The good news for TCU is that Hunter and Sanders are by far the best playmakers for the Colorado offense. I gave the Locked on Buffs podcast a listen the other day, and the offensive line is thought to be the weakest unit on the team by coaches and media around the program. To me, that means the most important matchup in the game on Saturday will be the TCU defensive line against the Colorado offensive line. If the Frogs can dominate the line of scrimmage defensively, then they should win this game easily. I expect Damonic Williams to have a big game, and I think Markis Deal and Avion Carter could announce themselves as freshmen. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect, but I think TCU’s defense does a good job on Saturday.

Colorado Defense

Last year, the Buffaloes gave up 508 yards per game, which somehow was not the worst in the FBS. Needless to say, Colorado just did not have the talent needed to compete. This defense is definitely more talented, and they’ve got a much better coaching staff around as well. The defensive coordinator is Charles Kelly who joins after 4 seasons at Alabama. Last year, the Buffaloes spent most of the game against TCU in a 4-man front, but I’m not sure that will be the case this year. Based on the spring game, my guess is that Colorado will base out of a 3-4, and have multiple odd and even fronts available depending on personnel and situations.

Up front, the Buffaloes will likely take a committee approach with a handful of transfers, but the one to watch will be defensive tackle Leonard Payne Jr. The Fresno State transfer flashed in the spring game and should be one of their best pass rushers (as praised in the above video by defensive line coach Sal Sunseri). At linebacker, the two to watch are also transfers. LaVonta Bentley (Clemson) and Demouy Kennedy (Alabama) will be guys that rarely come off the field. Both were 4-star recruits coming out of high school.

The secondary will likely be the strength of the defense. Everyone knows Travis Hunter and the talent he brings, but many don’t know that he will likely be joined at corner by a true freshman - Cormani McClain. McClain was also a 5-star recruit and has impressed the coaches during fall camp. Another player to keep an eye on is Deion’s other son, Shilo, who plays as a safety.

Because I don’t have game tape to break down and show, I spent most of this post discussing the personnel at Colorado. In the future, I’ll spend much more time discussing schemes and how TCU will attack opposing offenses and defenses. The true keys to the game are pretty simple - TCU needs to win the line of scrimmage defensively and create pressure when Colorado drops back to pass. On offense, if TCU just runs their scheme and executes at a high level (and I think they will) they should have no problems putting points on the board against this defense. I don’t think TCU will win this game by three scores, as the Vegas line suggests, but I think it’ll be a comfortable double-digit victory for the Frogs.