From afar, TCU's first football season in the Big 12 looks like anything but a perfect season.
It was far from it, with the team making headlines for off-the-field issues. There was the dismissal of four players in February after their arrests in a drug bust and the loss of players for academic reasons in the spring. Then, four games into the season, quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and left school to seek treatment.
But coach Gary Patterson has come to appreciate the Horned Frogs' 7-5 season as a valiant against-the-odds response to a season that could have gone south in a hurry.
Not only did TCU earn its eighth consecutive bowl berth playing much of the season without its experienced quarterback, but it also did so without its leading rusher, Waymon James, who was lost for the season with an injury after the second game. His loss, coupled with Ed Wesley's departure in the spring, left Matthew Tucker as the lone experienced player in the backfield.
Trevone Boykin replaced Pachall and showed why coaches have such high hopes for his future. But along with his highlight-reel plays were typical freshman mistakes that often had Patterson tying and retying his shoes in double-time.
"The way this has been, this has been like a 13-0 season with what these kids have gone through, what they've put up with, and a lot of it hasn't been their fault," Patterson said after the loss to Oklahoma on Saturday to close the regular season.
The personnel losses altered the expectations for the Frogs' first season in the Big 12. Coaches were forced to turn to young players like never before in Patterson's 12 years as head coach. In turn, the season offered a sneak peak into the future, with 28 freshmen playing, tied for the most in the nation.
Seventy percent of the players seeing action for the Frogs were either freshmen or sophomores. Ten of the 11 defensive starters can return in 2013. The unit topped the Big 12 and was 18th in the nation.
It wasn't always pretty. Turnovers and penalties often burned the Frogs more than their opponent did. But TCU rallied without its mainstays and turned in its eighth consecutive winning season to earn a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., against Michigan State at 9:15 p.m. Dec.29.
No matter the won-loss record, it felt like a 13-0 season, Patterson said. Persevering, despite the obstacles, will make wins taste sweeter and the accomplishments all the more gratifying.
The season in review:
Sept. 8 TCU 56, Grambling State 0: The Frogs opened the renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium with a bang as freshman Deanté Gray returned a punt 70 yards for a score two minutes into the game. Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin combined to complete all 17 passes and TCU rushed for 255 yards. Josh Boyce caught four passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Sept. 15 TCU 20, at Kansas 6: The Horned Frogs’ first Big 12 victory came on the road and with a big price — leading rusher Waymon James was lost for the rest of the season with an injury. Four fumbles, including three inside the red zone, prevented TCU from blowing out the Jayhawks early. Brandon Carter had career highs in catches (8) and yards (141) and freshman LaDarius Brown gave a glimpse of his potential with five catches for 70 yards.
Sept. 22 TCU 27, Virginia 7: Brandon Carter made two one-handed catches, including one for a 68-yard touchdown, and Kenny Cain intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. Casey Pachall threw for 305 yards, his second consecutive 300-yard game, and freshman Jaden Oberkrom kicked field goals of 46 and 47 yards.
Sept. 29 TCU 24, at SMU 16: Heavy game-long rains helped dampen the Frogs’ weakest offensive performance of the season in University Park. TCU finished with just 156 total yards, but the defense picked off five passes (including two by Jason Verrett), forced a fumble and held SMU to a season-low 220 yards.
Oct. 6 Iowa State 37, TCU 23: Pachall was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated two days prior to the game and was suspended from the team, thrusting freshman Trevone Boykin into his first start. Three interceptions, including one returned for a score allowed the Cyclones to pull away in the one game the Frogs would love to play again.
Oct. 13 TCU 49, at Baylor 21: Boykin shook off his first-game jitters and commanded the offense like a fifth-year senior in Waco. Boykin threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score as TCU’s offense held a 2-to-1 time of possession edge (41:52 to 18:08) on the Bears. Running backs B.J. Catalon and Aundre Dean filled in for Matthew Tucker, who left the game with an injury, and combined for 152 yards. TCU intercepted Baylor four times and forced two fumbles.
Oct. 20 Texas Tech 56, TCU 53 (3 OT): The season’s most exciting game hinged on a handful of plays that turned the tide in Tech’s favor. TCU led by five early in the fourth quarter but Tech rallied for two touchdowns, including a 47-yard run by Kenny Williams, and a 2-point PAT, to take a 10-point lead with four minutes left. Boykin’s 60-yard scoring pass to LaDarius Brown and Oberkrom’s 42-yard field goal at 0:18 sent it to overtime.
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State 36, TCU 14: TCU’s poorest-played game didn’t start out that way. The Frogs led 14-0 early after Elisha Olabode returned an interception 11 yards for a score and Boykin hit Brown for an 18-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. But OSU scored the next 36 points, including five field goals, and held TCU to 223 yards the final three quarters. Two interceptions and a fumble helped slow down the TCU offense.
Nov. 3 TCU 39, at West Virginia 38 (2 OT): TCU’s comeback came up short against Tech, but not this time. Big plays highlighted this game, especially late. After Tavon Austin ostensibly had capped a Mountaineers win with a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return with 3:19 left in regulation, giving WVU a 31-24 lead, Boykin escaped a sack and found Boyce for a 94-yard score to send the game into overtime. After WVU took a seven-point lead in the second overtime, Carter found Corey Fuller on a reverse pass for a 25-yard touchdown and Boyce came up with a tough catch on a low pass from Boykin for the two-point conversion and the win.
Nov. 10 Kansas State 23, TCU 10: Then-No. 1 Alabama lost minutes before then-No. 2 Kansas State took the field in Fort Worth with a chance to move into the top spot. But on the Wildcats’ first possession, Devonte Fields intercepted Collin Klein’s pass, KSU’s first turnover in 77 possessions. However, the Wildcats stifled the Frogs’ offense and led 23-0 late in the fourth quarter. TCU’s defense held K-State to a season-low 260 yards but Klein’s two touchdown runs, including a 34-yarder early in the third quarter, helped propel K-State to the win and No. 1 ranking.
Nov. 22 TCU 20, at Texas 13: For some, TCU replacing Texas A&M in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game against Texas was akin to eating leftovers. But the Frogs proved before a nationally televised ESPN audience that they were more than ready to sit at the grownups’ table. TCU held the Longhorns to 180 yards through three quarters as it built a 17-6 lead on two scoring runs by Tucker. UT got in the end zone with 3:07 remaining, but the Frogs’ third interception of the night, this one by Sam Carter, ended Texas’ hopes of a rally and gave TCU its first win in Austin in 45 years.
Dec. 1 Oklahoma 24, TCU 17: TCU’s comeback bid fell short with less than 30 seconds remaining after a game-tying touchdown run by Boykin was called back because of a penalty. Then Boykin’s pass to Boyce in the end zone on fourth down was batted away by two defensive backs. A TCU fumble set up a Sooners’ field goal to push their lead to 24-14 in the third quarter and a TCU field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter was ruled wide right, although a replay appeared to show it inside the upright. TCU finished 0-4 at home in Big 12 play.