Coaches often say their teams are only as good as their reserves.
TCU's Gary Patterson says it before each season, and he especially made the case over the summer before the Horned Frogs embarked on their first year in the Big 12 Conference.
"You win championships with your 2s and 3s," he said on the first day of August camp.
That may be true, but a team's frontline starters are usually the ones putting the team in a position to win games.
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TCU will be without one of its most consistent offensive players over the past 26 games when the 17th-ranked Frogs (2-0) host Virginia (2-1) at 11 a.m. today at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The loss of leading rusher Waymon James to a season-ending knee injury is another blow to the Frogs, who had an off-season full of personnel losses. That coaches' credo will be put to the test more than ever for Patterson and TCU.
Since late last year, TCU has lost 19 players for various reasons. More than half were legitimate starters or essential reserves off the bench.
After Patterson opened camp addressing the importance of depth, the Frogs have lost six players, including starters Ross Forrest, James Dunbar and James. Forrest's career was cut short because of injury. Dunbar left the program because of academic issues. Linebacker Danny Heiss, who was projected last spring to help fill out an already depleted linebacker corps, had to call it quits because of an injury. Cornerback Travoskey Garrett, a redshirt freshman with high expectations, is out for the year with an injury. Tight end Stephen Bryant was injured early in August and is out for the year.
TCU's frontline talent rivals most teams in the Big 12, but in this first year in the league, Patterson's concern was how well the No. 2 or 3 guy off the bench would handle his role.
Fortunately for the Frogs, running back Matthew Tucker is hardly an inexperienced backup. The senior has shared the carries since he was a freshman and has proven to be a reliable and explosive runner.
Tucker led the Frogs with 12 touchdowns last season and has gained 2,187 yards at 5.6 yards per carry in his career.
But he did that with a complement of fellow proven backs such as James and Ed Wesley, who left the program in the spring. True freshman B.J. Catalon and seldom-used senior Aundre Dean will have to step up into more prominent roles if TCU is to continue its ideal three-man rotation the remainder of the season.
"We're down to one guy who has really played, so I'm not sure I can say I have confidence in that," Patterson said.
No other position has been more decimated by the flurry of losses than linebacker.
First, Greg Burks was medically disqualified during last fall. In February, Tanner Brock, the team's leading tackler in 2010, was dismissed along with three others after they were arrested in a drug bust. A few months later Brock's replacement, Arlington Martin's Deryck Gildon, left for academic reasons.
Of the 20 recruits from TCU's heralded 2009 signing class, which included Casey Pachall, Josh Boyce, Stansly Maponga and Kenny Cain, nearly half are no longer in the program.
That class should have filled this year's roster with juniors and seniors starting or playing key roles.
Instead, TCU is forced to use multiple freshmen and sophomores in integral roles.
James, Brock, offensive lineman Dunbar, running back Dwight Smith and defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey -- all from the '09 class -- were projected to be playing leading roles for the 2012 season.
Now, two games into the heralded Big 12 inaugural season, the Frogs have played a Patterson-record 15 true freshmen, tied with LSU for the most in the country.
"If you don't grow some guys up then you don't have enough depth and you don't win as many games as we're used to here," Patterson said in August. "You win championships with 2s and 3s."