As TCU’s second season in the Big 12 draws closer, hopes and outside respect continue to accelerate.
It’s as if the Horned Frogs are no longer newbies to the league and have as legitimate a shot to claim the conference title as any team.
Much of that comes from early predictions that have given the Frogs much more than just a shot at the title, but, according to some corners of the college football media maelstrom, an actual edge in the league.
The league media last week picked TCU to finish third, just behind Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. The Frogs earned nine first-place votes, more than Oklahoma (8) but behind OSU’s leading 15. Texas was given eight first-place votes and trailed TCU by only 10 total points in the balloting.
The bottom line from these preseason prognostications? The top half of the league should be clogged with contenders, leaving TCU little room for soap operas of dysfunction that beset the team in 2012.
The Big 12 Media Days begin Monday at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas. TCU meets the media Monday, along with Kansas, Kansas State, OSU and Texas Tech. Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia go Tuesday.
With more than half the conference teams claiming a legitimate title chance, including last year’s champion K-State, which was predicted to finish sixth by the media with only one first-place vote, plenty of hopes remain high before the first drop of sweat falls in August camp.
So here are five storylines TCU coach Gary Patterson and his four players (Sam Carter, Waymon James, Jason Verrett and Jon Koontz) will likely be forced to address Monday:
1. Quarterback question: Patterson may want to break news when he speaks to the media for the first time at 11 a.m. Monday just so he doesn’t have to answer the same questions 20 ways: Who’s going to start at quarterback, Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin? Patterson will likely keep that to himself until midway through August camp, affording both players a chance to earn the job on the practice field. Besides, Patterson isn’t fazed by the media pressure, and in some ways seems to enjoy the dance.
2. Linebacker liability: A more legitimate question that could make Patterson squirm is the depth and experience issue at linebacker. Returning starter Joel Hasley, a former walk-on from Aledo High School, is the elder statesman among the group in experience. Marcus Mallet, also a junior, started twice a year ago and played a pivotal role late in the season. But beyond that TCU is thin on experience and must rely on junior Paul Dawson and converted safety Jonathan Anderson to make up the difference. Incoming freshmen, including Sammy Douglas (Arlington High) and Dac Shaw (Mineola High) may have to step up quicker than usual.
3. O-line holes: Apologies to offensive line coach Eddie Williamson, because he’s undoubtedly tired of hearing each preseason how his line has major holes to fill. But that’s usually the case, although Patterson sounded a little more positive about the offensive line last week at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. True, tackles Tayo Fabuluje and Aviante Collins started last year, and James Dunbar is back on the roster after missing last season because of academic issues.
“I would think we would have have to be a little bit better because none of those guys had played any ballgames and now they’ve played 13,” Patterson said.
Eric Tausch returns at center, but the two guard spots will remain battles this August for depth-chart leaders Joey Hunt and Michael Thompson. Transfer Lloyd Tunstill could have an immediate impact, and Eason Fromayan enrolled early and impressed during spring practice.
4. Filling Boyce void: Whichever quarterback is running the offense, one area that has yet to reveal itself is who will fill the void left by Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson for a relatively young receiving corps (no seniors among the 10 receivers listed on the depth chart). The obvious guess is Brandon Carter, who showed last year he can be a big-time playmaker. But others, including LaDarius Brown, Cam White and Kolby Listenbee, could step into that role as well. Transfers Ja’Juan Story (Florida) and Josh Doctson (Wyoming) could also raise their stock this August and be major contributors.
5. Handling expectations: TCU is perhaps where it wants to be in terms of preseason expectations. Third in the conference carries with it respect and real belief that the Horned Frogs have the talent to contend for the title. But at the same time they don’t necessarily have a bull’s-eye on their backs as the top dog. Patterson has played it cautiously with the expectations game, which is his usual pattern and a wise one. But he has also been bluntly honest about how much older his team is now and probably knows with a couple of key pieces back on his roster a third-place finish could be a major underachievement.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760