It’s rare to hear “excited” come out of Gary Patterson’s mouth when it comes to the potential of a TCU football team.
Not because he isn’t. Or hasn’t been.
But because he doesn’t usually say so.
Especially in the spring and summer, before a game has been played, the veteran TCU coach uses phrases like “paper tigers” and “we’ll see” and “right now there are no stars.”
But he went to Big 12 Media Days on Monday at the Dallas Omni hotel, sat for his formal news conference and a minute into it, said, “I’m a lot more excited right now than I was a season ago.”
Seconds later, “I’m really kind of excited to see what all unfolds.”
And, “I have a lot more energy, and excited about this season going into it than I was a year ago.”
Something about the Horned Frogs gives Patterson confidence.
TCU returns 13 starters, not counting six who missed all or part of last season because of injury, for 2016. In all, 41 players have combined for 224 starts.
If it’s the performance over the past two seasons, that makes sense.
The Frogs are 23-3 since recovering from a shaky first two years in the Big 12. They won 16 consecutive games at one point. They shared the conference championship two years ago.
Last year, they were first in the Big 12 preseason media poll. This year, they are second.
Patterson and the Frogs have established a toehold on respect in the conference.
But this time of year, Patterson doesn’t look at the big picture. He looks at his team. He’s thinking details.
The small things appear to give him confidence.
You know you can tell when you have a group where they think they’ve arrived a little bit, and this team doesn’t feel like it’s arrived.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
“You know you can tell when you have a group where they think they’ve arrived a little bit, and this team doesn’t feel like it’s arrived,” he said. “We only have seven seniors, but I’m not really sure we’re a young football team.”
Patterson values experience, and this team has it. Forty-one players have started a game, 20 have started five or more, 10 have started 10 or more. All but three projected starters on defense have a start. On offense, all but one.
Thirty freshmen appeared in a game last season.
“We’re a year older,” linebacker Travin Howard said. “We have a lot of people with experience, especially myself.”
There is no more Trevone Boykin or Josh Doctson. Patterson started preparing the Frogs mentally for life without their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback and All-America receiver even before last season ended. The injuries that interrupted (in Boykin’s case) and ended (in Doctson’s) their seasons prematurely simply provided a head start.
“Everybody knows that Josh and Trevone left, but it’s just the next man up,” running back Kyle Hicks said. “They were going to have to leave sometime. We’re confident in our ability to go out and make plays, be prepared. Everybody does their 1/11th, you’ll be fine.”
30 Freshmen who appeared in a game for the Horned Frogs last season, second most in the nation. Fourteen appear on the two-deep chart.
Patterson has wondered how his team would react without those playmakers. He saw them come within a 2-point pass of winning at Oklahoma without them. He saw them rally to beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl without them.
But in the spring and summer? The Frogs would have to get themselves ready without their most motivational player, Boykin, and the playmaker they had the most confidence in, Doctson.
“I think it’s going to be very important for us to understand going forward that you’ve got to win as a team when you don’t have some of those guys that stick out that we had a year ago,” he said. “That’s what makes coaching a lot of fun, is when you have a group that will do it as a group.”
Maybe that explains the excitement.
TCU football key dates
Aug. 3 Fall camp reporting date
Aug. 4 First practice
Sept. 3 vs. South Dakota State, 7 p.m.