Every team has question marks.
But as Gary Patterson looked down the list of things he needed answered about his team in August, he wondered where it would stop.
Corners are awfully young.
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The offense needs time. How much time?
Going to need a go-to receiver.
And a playmaking safety.
Patterson shook his head. It was not a normal-size list.
“Just for it to be normal would give us an opportunity to be successful,” he said, smiling in spite of the thought.
But even on a list that long, every question got answered, and answered positively — or at least not negatively.
One by one, the satisfactory answers added up and turned into a 12-1 season for the 2014 TCU Horned Frogs, who captured the nation’s attention during the run-up to the College Football Playoff announcement and then cemented their argument for elite status with a thunderous 42-3 victory over SEC opponent Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
It happens like that every once in a while.
“I don’t know if anybody really, truly has a good answer why that stuff happens and why that is,” Patterson said. “The quarterback growing up. Matt Joeckel coming here, helping him mature as a quarterback. A wide receiver standing out. Tayo Fabuluje coming back. Chris Hackett having a breakout year. Our linebackers, which we thought was going to be one of our so-so positions, and we get an All-American there. … That’s what has to happen when you have great years. In great years, people step up that you didn’t know were going to step up.”
Junior quarterback Trevone Boykin may or may not have been the first right answer, but he was the biggest. His ability to perform in the new “Air Raid” offense meant that the new co-offensive coordinators, Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, did not have to spoon-feed the playbook.
It also helped that Fabuluje returned from a season at BYU in time to provide a veteran presence at left tackle. That allowed Boykin time to play from the pocket and wean himself off the instinct to run every time he felt pressure.
In turn, that gave Boykin the ability to wait for big plays from his receivers downfield. Josh Doctson emerged as a playmaker for the ball in the air, and speedster Kolby Listenbee became a deep threat. Both made play after play, starting in the season opener and continuing until the Peach Bowl, when they combined for three touchdown catches.
“They’ve been doing it all year. So why not do it on the stage like they did today?” Boykin said after the Peach Bowl. “You can go back to the Minnesota game, when Josh had the one-handed catch or you can go back to the UT game where Kolby comes down with the post between three people.”
On defense, a Boykin developed too. His name was Paul Dawson. He was a high school wide receiver who moved to defense in junior college, and in his second season at TCU, became an All-America linebacker.
Dawson posted 136 tackles, making him, and Marcus Mallet, with 100 tackles, the top tackling linebacker pair in Patterson’s 14 years as head coach at TCU. Each player had a pick-six and wreaked havoc. Dawson had four interceptions total, plus five sacks, in earning Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America status.
Hackett, a junior safety, led the team with seven interceptions. He and Patterson didn’t always see eye-to-eye the previous season, but his instinctive play combined with Patterson’s aggressive safety techniques made him the right fit with another junior, Derrick Kindred, and veteran Sam Carter.
The Horned Frogs figured they would get a good season from senior cornerback Kevin White, and they did. But opposite him, freshmen Ranthony Texada, Nick Orr and Torrance Mosley, plus junior college transfer Corry O’Meally, were going to have to produce.
They all played, and they all struggled in the loss at Baylor. But Texada ended up starting every game at the other corner spot, got his first interception in the regular-season finale against Iowa State and then played a strong game in the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss.
“These last couple of games, you definitely started to see the light come on for him,” White said. “He has a bright future ahead of him.”
Actually, the entire team saw the light come on. Patterson just didn’t know it in August.
“You usually find somebody’s going to step up,” he said. “We’ve all been learning about our team, just like opposing defenses, since the beginning of the season.”
Now there’s another question. Can it happen again next year?
“I already talked to the group about it,” Patterson said. “I talked to them about teams that had great seasons, that were highly ranked, that weren’t there anymore. The common mistake that those teams make is that they don’t think they have to go back to the beginning. We’ll go back to the bottom.”
And make another list.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760
Sept. 3: at Minnesota
Sept. 12: Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 19: SMU
Sept. 26: at Texas Tech
Oct. 3: Texas
Oct. 10: at Kansas State
Oct. 17: at Iowa State
Oct. 29: West Virginia
Nov. 7: at Oklahoma State
Nov. 14: Kansas
Nov. 21: at Oklahoma
Nov. 27: Baylor