Anyone who has ever had that feeling of being in the right place at the right time knows what Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie felt a year ago.
“We got really lucky,” Meacham said.
He and Cumbie had just been put in charge of the TCU offense as co-coordinators, allowed to reshape it for the Air Raid offense. They just didn’t know if they had the parts.
But they did.
“We fell into a really unique situation, talent-level wise,” Meacham said. “We had some pieces of this puzzle that were perfect.”
The assembled picture, with receiver-turned-quarterback Trevone Boykin in the middle of the frame, wound up displaying the best offense in TCU history. Now, in 2015, offense may be what the No. 2-ranked Horned Frogs lean on as they begin a quest for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and with it, a chance at the national championship.
“I think we’ll be where we have to win early on offense,” coach Gary Patterson said. “The defense has the potential, the longer the season goes, the better we’ll keep getting.”
The schedule allows for that; the biggest games of the season for TCU could be the last two, at Oklahoma and home against Baylor, when the defense may be needed most.
Until then, it’s on the offense.
Those pieces that fit perfectly a year ago will have to slide into place again. At least Meacham and Cumbie remember how they fit.
“We were a blank canvas last year,” Cumbie said. “We didn’t know what any of these guys were going to do. You had nothing to pull from the year before. We kind of got going well, so now you have something to draw from — you have a starting point.”
That’s probably Boykin. The senior threw for a school-record 33 touchdown passes a year ago and ran for eight.
He is back as a more experienced, confident player and has at his disposal almost every player he threw to or handed off to in 2014.
Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee combined for 1,771 yards and 15 touchdowns as the top receiving tandem in the Big 12. Aaron Green had nearly 1,000 yards rushing despite not starting until the final five games.
“We left some points on the board last year,” Doctson said. “We always have room for improvement. I know there were times when I could have blocked better, maybe run the route faster. But we’re definitely starting at a point where we already know the offense. We’re not coming in learning the offense like we were last year.”
Who knows what that could mean for down-the-roster players like Ty Slanina, Deante’ Gray and Emanuel Porter. They are part of a receiving corps that goes eight-deep for the Horned Frogs. The running backs, with Kyle Hicks, Shaun Nixon and Travorris Johnson, are four-deep.
Pass-catchers and ball carriers, the Horned Frogs have.
“Before I got here, you might have thought, ‘It’s going to be 15 tight ends and five fullbacks,” Meacham said with a smile. “There was some of that. But there were really pieces to the puzzle as to how we would have recruited. I thought it’d be a little more of a process in terms of getting personnel. But it wasn’t. I was pleasantly surprised.”
Linebackers and cornerbacks and safeties, the Horned Frogs need.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Patterson said. “We’ll lose at least four or five ballgames if the defense doesn’t keep coming. We’ve made a lot of progress; we’ve just got a long way to go.”
The Horned Frogs, missing six starters from a year ago, are likely to start a freshman, Mike Freeze, at linebacker and play two or three others in the season opener at Minnesota.
As fall camp went along, Patterson grew more encouraged about the secondary, particularly the work of the safeties. But injuries slowed the progress of the cornerbacks, and the defensive line — experienced as it is — was largely unimpressive to Patterson.
Which is not surprising. Patterson sets a high bar for his defenses at TCU. This season, with what could be at stake, he has more reason to.
“If everyone thinks we’re coaching them like we think we’re third or second in the nation, it’s not happening,” Patterson said. “Right now, we’re 70th. If we don’t play better on one side of the ball, that’s what we’ll be.”
Patterson knows Meacham and Cumbie have their pieces in place on offense. He wants his side ready to do its part — sooner rather than later.
“Biggest thing is just a little bit more chemistry,” he said. “We’re starting to get our legs back a little bit. And that’s how we’re going to be able to play defense. We’re going to be fast. Got to be able to run.”
And got to be able to score. As the national championship quest begins, the offense holds the pieces for that.
Last year’s record: 12-1
Bowl result: Beat Ole Miss 42-3 in Peach Bowl
Opener: Sept. 3 at Minnesota (8 p.m., ESPN)
Players to watch: QB Trevone Boykin, WR Josh Doctson, LB Mike Freeze
Tarrant tie: Jaden Oberkrom, K (Arlington Martin)
Big 12 countdown
The Star-Telegram will spotlight each team leading up to TCU’s Sept. 3 season opener at Minnesota.
Tuesday: Texas Tech
Thursday: Oklahoma State
Saturday: Kansas State
Aug. 31: Baylor
Sept. 1: West Virginia
Sept. 2: Iowa State