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3 Things to Watch: TCU vs. Colorado

The Horned Frogs and Buffaloes open the 2023 season on Saturday in Fort Worth

NCAA Football: Colorado Spring Game
Travis Hunter is one of the most intriguing players in college football and his performance on both sides of the ball could determine Saturday’s outcome
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The TCU Horned Frogs kick off the 2023 campaign against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday September 2 at 11:00 AM at Amon G. Carter Stadium. It’s a matchup of national intrigue, with TCU coming off a run to the National Championship game and Colorado bringing a brand new roster under head coach Deion Sanders. In a contest dripping with storylines, these are the three things to watch as the Frogs & Buffs hit the field in Fort Worth:

New Offenses

The Coach Prime takeover in Boulder is not only about a complete roster overhaul, he’s also brought big-time talent from the coaching ranks to support the cause. Charles Kelly comes in to lead the Defense, a National Champion coach with Florida State and Alabama, he most recently was the Associate Defensive Coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Perhaps the biggest personnel move for Colorado was to lure Sean Lewis away from his head coaching position at Kent State to become Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach for the Buffs. A fruit off the Dino Babers limb from the Briles tree, Lewis runs an up-tempo scheme that will get the ball out quickly and create open lanes for running backs while forcing defenders into challenging decisions. With Dustin Crum as his QB for four years with the Golden Flashes, Crum completed 67% of his passes, throwing for over 7,000 yards and 54 TDs with just 10 interceptions. Without Crum in 2022, Lewis’ offense turned to the running game, ranking in the top 25 with over 200 rush yards per game, with a top 20 expected points added per rush. Now with the Buffaloes and an all new arsenal of weapons at his disposal, the Sean Lewis offense can turn to QB Shedeur Sanders to distribute the ball to wide receivers Travis Hunter, Jimmy Horn Jr, and Xavier Weaver, while RBs Alton McCaskill, Kavosiey Smoke, and true freshman Dylan Edwards will look to slice up TCU’s defensive front.

It’s also a brand new offense for the Horned Frogs, as TCU brought in Kendal Briles from Arkansas to be the Offensive Coordinator with Garrett Riley departing for the OC role at Clemson. The Frogs scheme may appear similar to that of the Buffs in this one, with both running forms of the same veer-and-shoot platform. While perhaps not the 100% roster refresh that has happened in Boulder, TCU had major personnel turnover on offense, with the loss of two NFL running backs, three starting offensive lineman, five of the six leading wide receivers, and Heisman runner-up QB Max Duggan. However, Sonny Dykes also knows how to do business in the transfer portal to help fill these roles, brining a massive haul of receiving talent to Fort Worth with JP Richardson (Oklahoma State), JoJo Earle (Alabama), Dylan Wright (Minnesota), Warren Thompson (Arkansas), Jack Bech (LSU), and Jaylon Robinson (Ole Miss), adding former five-star RB Trey Sanders from Alabama, and O-Line depth with Coltin Deery (Maryland), Willis Patrick (Jackson State), and Tommy Brockermeyer (Alabama). With Chandler Morris back at the helm as QB1 after suffering an injury in the season opener in Boulder last year, the TCU Offense expects to move at blazing tempo to accumulate yards and points in a hurry against the re-built Colorado Defense.

The Debut vs. The Redemption

Sonny Dykes’ debut season leading the Horned Frogs was an all-time certified classic, the college football version of Illmatic, Ready to Die, or The College Dropout. The next challenge will be turning an outstanding debut into a consistently outstanding program. So often phenomenal seasons that end in a great disappointment are followed up by a letdown in the next campaign - the Super Bowl Hangover, the Sophomore Slump, the Second Album Syndrome. The Horned Frogs are aware of this potential pitfall, having all offseason to ruminate on the 65-7 beatdown in the National Championship game. Focusing on Dykes’ Do Your Job mantra, this squad is looking to write a new ending in 2023. TCU will begin that redemption story on Saturday, with the national spotlight of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff. Heavy is the crown; no longer the plucky upstart underdog, how will the Frogs perform with the target on its back? Will the Frogs flourish under the scrutiny or wilt with the pressure?

On the other side of the field, Colorado is hoping to write its own chart-topping hit in the FBS head coaching debut of Deion Sanders. The college football world has been buzzing for nine months straight since the Buffaloes announced the hire of Coach Prime as head football coach. He was instantly a walking reality show, from his brash introductory team meeting during which he advised much of the roster to “go ahead and jump in that portal,” to delivering on that roster overhaul promise with over 70 transfers. Sanders is an ardent defender of his players and has brought a renewed confidence and excitement with him to Boulder as this team and the Colorado fans have an expectation to compete immediately. What better way to prove you can compete than taking on the national runner-up Horned Frogs? Colorado has the opportunity to confirm its progress on the road against a ranked future conference foe. The nation will be watching to see if the Neon Deion experience will work; everyone will be talking about Colorado and Coach Prime regardless of the outcome on Saturday, but if all that offseason hype translates into success on the field, it may be the story of the season.

Hunting Hunter

On pure talent alone, the Buffaloes will field some of the best players TCU will face all season. Two-way superstar and former No. 1-overall recruit Travis Hunter is expected to have a major impact on Saturday. For the “Stars Matter” contingent, Hunter will be considered the best player on the field, and he’ll be on the field all day, as the Buffs top pass catching option and top defensive back. As a true freshman at FCS Jackson State last season Hunter had four offensive touchdowns on 18 receptions for 188 yards, on defense he made 20 tackles with 10 PBUs and two interceptions, including one returned for a score. While the Horned Frogs may be wise to avoid Hunter altogether, preventing his heroics from having an impact on the game, don’t be surprised if the Frogs test that talent on Saturday. Hunter is listed at 6-foot-1 185 pounds, and while he certainly plays physical at cornerback and has the hops to contend on any jump ball, look for TCU’s big bodies - Savion Williams (6’5”, 225 lbs), Warren Thompson (6’3”, 205 lbs), or even true freshman Cordale Russell (6’4”, 210 lbs) - to get some opportunities to go make plays against the elite prospect.

When the Buffs offense is on the field, Hunter is likely to be a frequent target for QB Shedeur Sanders. The secondary is projected to be one of TCU’s strongest units, with returning starters at the Safety spots and Preseason All-American Josh Newton locking down one side of the field while a trio of transfers (Avery Helm, Mason White, and Channing Canada) compete for the other starting Cornerback role. Whenever Hunter lines up across from Newton, the battle should demand your full attention: two of the best at their craft looking to show out on the national stage, get your popcorn ready. If Hunter is able to win some of those battles and get loose for some explosive plays, that would be the key to the Buffaloes shocking the Frog faithful in Fort Worth on Saturday.