Two teams, two sportswriters, two takes on TCU’s season-opening showdown with LSU

Posted Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU 8 p.m. Saturday, AT&T Stadium TV: ESPN

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The wait has seemed like forever. Gameday is almost here. No. 20 TCU and No. 12 LSU are finally about to get the season started with a showdown at AT&T Stadium.

No more talk, no more stories, no more gamesmanship, no more ‘will he or won’t he’ shenanigans from Horned Frogs’ coach Gary Patterson and LSU’s Les Miles.

Everyone in Fort Worth and the entire state of Louisiana, it seems, is ready for the 8 p.m. Saturday kickoff in the Cowboys Classic.

Here’s the last bit of business before the kick. Scott Rabalais, The Advocate’s sports columnist in Baton Rouge, discussed Saturday’s opener and here’s what we had to say:

Stefan Stevenson: What are the chances that running back Jeremy Hill will play against TCU? Do LSU fans think he should be suspended? What’s the general mood on that situation?

Scott Rabalais: While there is definitely a chance he will play, I have reasons to believe he will be suspended for the TCU game, possibly another. If he did play against TCU it would be on a limited basis. Senior Alfred Blue will start. I think LSU fans are split between those who want to win and those who think of Hill as a predator. It’s been the most divisive issue for LSU football since the Jordan Jefferson-Jarrett Lee saga.

SR: TCU has obviously undergone a renaissance under Gary Patterson, though the Horned Frogs first season in the Big 12 (7-6) was rocky. How much of that do you attribute to Casey Pachall having to sit out and how much to taking a step up in the weight class of their conference?

SS: I put quite a bit of their 2012 struggles on not only Pachall’s absence, but also leading rusher Waymon James getting injured in the second game. James missed the rest of the season, which forced true freshman B.J. Catalon to step up earlier than expected, just like quarterback Trevone Boykin. Those two personnel losses combined were too much for the offense to overcome. With Pachall and James on the field TCU wins at least two more games, if not three. But I do agree that the Big 12 was tougher than the Mountain West. I think that almost goes without saying. Of course that had something to do with it but not as much as those players being gone.

SS: TCU coach Gary Patterson has made several references to LSU fans not knowing where TCU or Fort Worth are. How would you gauge the actual knowledge of the typical LSU fan with regard to TCU?

SR: Well, there are lots of LSU fans/alumni in the Metroplex, so at least they know. Overall there is some truth to what Patterson says. Even though TCU has had great success under Patterson, they still think of TCU as having been a non-BCS program and before that a mostly unsuccessful SWC team.

SR: We see Patterson has said both Pachall and Trevone Boykin will play quarterback. Describe what they both bring to the table, who do you think will take the first snap and who plays most of the game?

SS: I think Pachall will start and play most of the game (and season) unless he’s struggling. I don’t see that happening. I think he’’ll have a great year. He’s too talented and has too much to prove. You might see Boykin in certain situations, maybe in the red zone or if TCU has a big lead later in the season. Boykin is a very talented runner and could help the offense. Pachall is a tall (6-foot-5) pro-style passer with excellent accuracy. Boykin is better on his feet and can shed a tackle. His passing has improved, according to Patterson, since 2012, but that remains to be seen in a real game.

SS: I get the feeling most LSU fans expect a Tigers victory. Are there any pockets of fans or media that think LSU (the team) could be taking TCU a little too lightly?

SR: There is certainly a heaping helping of SEC hubris among LSU fans. It’s the seven straight BCS titles (including LSU’s in 2007) and the fact the Tigers have won a BCS record 41 straight non-conference regular season games, so there is definitely an expectation that the Tigers will win and win somewhat handily. I don’t think there is any indication LSU the team is taking TCU lightly, though. At worst I think they view TCU as an SEC-lite sort of team, plenty capable of beating the Tigers if they don’t have focus.

SR: TCU’s offseason was marked by All-American DE Devonte Fields’ two-game suspension and several players leaving the team. How (briefly) do these departures affect the Horned Frogs in this one and do you give Fields any chance of playing against LSU?

SS: The loss of Fields for Saturday’s game unquestionably hurts TCU. His pass rushing ability caused problems for offenses all season in 2012. Losing linebacker Joel Hasley the first week of August camp was a blow to their depth but they may be better off in the long run at that position. The two losses on the offensive line may not be as noticeable if they stay healthy.

SS: LSU lost several defensive stars to the NFL draft but have some coming back, too. Who are LSU’s big defensive stars TCU fans should keep an eye on Saturday?

SR: If junior defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson revs his motor all season he will be the latest first-round draft pick off LSU’s D-line come April. Weakside linebacker Lamin Barrow had 104 tackles last season. And don’t forget DeSoto native Jalen Mills. They threw him in at cornerback as a true freshman last year and he turned in a Freshman All-American season, starting all 13 games. He’s considered the Patrick Peterson-Morris Claiborne-Tyrann Mathieu heir apparent.

SR: There are definitely some unknowns about LSU’s offense with first-year coordinator Cam Cameron. Typically LSU has been easy to scheme for - do you get a sense that’s the feeling at TCU or are there concerns about the Cam factor?

SS: Patterson has mentioned several times that he’s been watching tape of as many Cam Cameron-run offenses as he can find, including NFL stuff. I think TCU’s biggest concern is stopping LSU’s rushing attack without DE Devonte Fields (who’s suspended) and with two young inexperienced linebackers. The Frogs have a talented, experienced secondary with all five starters returning. I think they’d prefer LSU to pass more, but that’s not going to happen.

SR: Tell us about TCU’s uniform makeover. Much needed? Absolutely hideous? What would “Project Runway’s” Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn say?

SS: I think the Project Runway people would like them. The uniforms are actually pretty sedate, with mostly black and purple dominating the color scheme. The helmet with its red flames on either side and the TCU logo on the back has annoyed some older fans, but for the most part the fans appreciate the new look. I know the players and recruits like the new threads.

SS: What’s your prediction for the game? And how do you see the Tigers doing in the SEC this season?

SR: I expect an entertaining, compelling game with both defenses reeling at times to reign in the other team’s offense. In the end, though, the Tigers have a little too much speed and depth and pull out a 28-23 win. LSU has four more ranked SEC opponents, all in the top 10. The Tigers are capable of beating anyone on their schedule but won’t beat everyone. I see the Tigers splitting those games and going 10-2 – if they beat TCU first.

SR: Please give us your game prediction and how you see TCU’s season going from here as a Big 12 contender.

SS: I’m predicting a 27-24 TCU upset for no real tangible reason. On paper, LSU should win. It’ll be more like an LSU home game at AT&T Stadium, the Tigers are deeper and probably man-for-man faster and bigger. But my prediction calls for LSU to be sloppy and TCU is talented enough to make a team pay for turnovers. I think TCU can contend for at least a share of the Big 12 title, but tough road games at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will loom large. The Big 12 will be a tight race between three or four teams.

Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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