It is Year 3.
It is the first year TCU coach Gary Patterson expects to see results in the Big 12.
In wins? In competitiveness? In a return to a place in the national conversation?
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It is Year 3. Merely the start.
“Everybody wants to talk about, ‘TCU hasn’t won in the Big 12.’ Well, not with these last two teams,” he said. “I don’t lack any confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re trying to accomplish. I said three to five years. We’re now in Year 3. We’ll see how we do this year.”
Patterson is counting on his most mature and deepest team since the Rose Bowl championship squad of 2010. He has changed the offense to an up-tempo attack in the hope of keeping up with the other offenses in the Big 12, certainly at least to generate more points to support a defense that was second in the conference last year.
But the 2-7 conference record, combined with the 4-5 league mark from 2012, are evidence of the hard reality TCU has learned in two years of going against the teams it long thirsted to prove itself against.
“When people ask me, ‘Are you glad you changed?’ I say yes, because TCU is in a far better place,” Patterson said. “We get a chance to have a true champion. Financially, media-wise, nationally — everything that goes along with it. As a coach, you wouldn’t want it any different. Did my job get tougher? Yes, no doubt about it.”
To make his job easier, Patterson needs a quarterback. TCU has not enjoyed stability at the position in either year in the Big 12. Casey Pachall’s off-the-field problems affected the performance at the game’s most important position, just as TCU was transitioning from one of its most successful quarterbacks, Andy Dalton.
There are two choices right now. They are Trevone Boykin, the part-time starter in relief of Pachall the past two seasons, and Matt Joeckel, a transfer from Texas A&M. Boykin adds an electric athletic dimension that might be an ideal fit in the new offense. Joeckel brings a classic dropback style, plus experience in the same kind of offense that Johnny Manziel operated.
“As I’ve told people, your starting quarterback for the first game may not be the starting quarterback going into the Oklahoma game, which is the first week of October, because you’re going to have two off weeks to develop players,” Patterson said. “It might even be a freshman. You don’t know that. I don’t know that.”
If TCU can find a quarterback, it has some other ingredients that are well-suited for the Big 12. Patterson is giving big hints that he has a defense he likes — a physical, athletic secondary; size and quickness on the defensive line — and outstanding speed at the offensive skill positions, although prized running back recruit Shaun Nixon was lost to a knee injury in the first week of practice.
“There won’t be anybody faster on offense, skill-wise,” Patterson said. “Baylor’s fast. Those guys have people who are fast, but they’re not going to be faster.”
Already, Patterson said he can see playmaking on the ball in the air from tall receivers such as Josh Doctson, Emanuel Porter, Corey McBride and Ja’Juan Story.
“That’s what we missed a year ago, was having guys, when we needed a play, go make a play,” Patterson said. “We’ve elevated. We’re better now.”
On defense, the Horned Frogs will miss the knowledge and toughness of players such as lineman Jon Koontz, who graduated, Patterson said. They also have to deal with the surprise loss of their premier pass rusher, Devonte Fields, the conference’s preseason defensive player of the year, following his dismissal from school after his arrest on allegations of a domestic assault.
But Patterson believes TCU is positioned to overcome setbacks. It is Year 3. In the Big 12, depth is a requirement.
“For us, our kids are excited,” Patterson said. “They understand the talent level. They understand how they have to play every ballgame, and you’re just like everybody else. It takes a little bit of time to go do that. Would I have liked to have gone to another bowl game, be playing for a championship last year? Yes. Was I patient? Probably not as much as I needed to be. But we finally had to make changes.”
The ball is rolling on the changes. TCU is fortunate enough to have landed in a Power 5 conference. That status provides significant advantages against non-Power 5 schools. TCU is no longer one of the little brothers and have-nots. Instead, it is one of the big fish in the big ponds.
It is Year 3. Time to start acting like it.
“What we want to build at TCU is that we can be one of the top-tier teams, always playing for the conference championship, one out of three years or two out of three years,” Patterson said. “That’s what we want to be able to do.”