OVERVIEW: Although TCU is better known for its defense, the Horned Frogs have been productive on both sides of the ball in recent seasons. Last season, they ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 41.6 points per game. TCU will have a tough time approaching those figures this season as it attempts to replace four-year starting QB Andy Dalton while returning only one starting lineman. TCU passed more with Dalton in the past two seasons, but expect a bit more conservatism this season. Still, there will be no overriding scheme change.
AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Is QB Casey Pachall ready to lead a BCS contender? While TCU's defense justifiably has garnered the most of the attention, the Frogs wouldn't have earned back-to-back BCS bids and gone a combined 25-1 over the past two seasons without the steadiness of QB Andy Dalton. Dalton, a two-time MWC offensive player of the year, ended his career as the conference's leader in total offense. We know TCU's defense will be great. It always is. But will the offense be quite as good as it was the past couple of seasons? That likely depends on how well Pachall steps in for Dalton.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The defense is as good as ever and the crew of talented running backs makes up for the lack of experience elsewhere in the offense. TCU has a couple of scares along the way, but the Frogs bid farewell to the MWC with a third consecutive undefeated regular season and BCS bid.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Pachall struggles behind an inexperienced line as TCU gets upset in one of its first two games. The passing game never quite gets settled and the Frogs slip up a few more times and go 8-4 before settling for a minor bowl invitation.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: TCU has led the nation in total defense three consecutive seasons and five times in the past 11 seasons. No other FBS program has led the nation in total defense as much as five times since the NCAA began measuring the statistic in 1937.
BACKFIELD: TCU's chances of earning a third consecutive BCS bid depend heavily on how well sophomore QB Casey Pachall steps in for Dalton, the two-time Mountain West player of the year and a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. Pachall is a former four-star recruit who threw for 2,808 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Brownwood (Texas) High, but he has attempted just nine passes since enrolling at TCU. The inexperience at quarterback could cause TCU to lean more on its talented collection of running backs. Ed Wesley (166 carries, 1,078 yards, 11 TDs), Matthew Tucker (148-709-7) and Waymon James (87-513-5) each had at least one 100-yard game last season. Wesley earned first-team All-MWC honors.
RECEIVERS: The Frogs must replace WRs Jeremy Kerley (56 catches, 575 yards, 10 TDs last season), Jimmy Young (32-486-4) and Bart Johnson (31-419-4), but they still have some talented wide receivers. Josh Boyce (34-646-6) is back after leading TCU in receiving yards last season. TCU also is counting on a return to form by Antoine Hicks, who was limited by injuries last season. Hicks caught 23 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns two years ago, but he had just 13 receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns last season. Skye Dawson won the 2010 MWC indoor title in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.69 seconds, and his speed could allow him to emerge as a big-play threat. Redshirt freshman Ethan Grant or true freshman LaDarius Brown also could step in. Both were four-star recruits. The starting tight end is Logan Brock, the older brother of TCU LB Tanner Brock.
LINE: Senior G Kyle Dooley, a former walk-on, is the lone returning starter from a line that allowed just nine sacks last season. TCU has the tough task of replacing Rimington Trophy winner Jake Kirkpatrick and Marcus Cannon, who earned first-team All-MWC honors in each of the past two seasons. The new linemen aren't total neophytes. Junior G Blaize Foltz has made four career starts and senior T Jeff Olson has started twice. Spencer Thompson, who exited spring practice as Dooley's backup at left guard, made three starts last season. Sophomore James Dunbar is the favorite to take over at left tackle, while junior James Fry is expected to step in for Kirkpatrick at center.
OVERVIEW: TCU has led the nation in total defense in each of the past three seasons. The Frogs also topped all FBS programs last season in scoring defense (12.0), pass defense (128.77) and pass efficiency defense (94.92). History suggests TCU again will boast one of the nation's stingiest defenses, though the Frogs do have plenty of holes to fill. TCU returns only four defensive players who made at least seven starts last season, though the Frogs also bring back S Tekerrein Cuba (six starts last season) and T D.J. Yendrey (five starts). Yendrey earned honorable mention All-MWC honors last year. Dick Bumpas is the coordinator, but coach Gary Patterson calls his own defensive signals in TCU's 4-2-5 scheme. TCU will miss safeties coach Chad Glasgow, who left to become Texas Tech's coordinator.
LINE: TCU must find someone to replace the production of E Wayne Daniels, who had 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season to lead the team in both categories. The Frogs' top returning linemen are Yendrey and Stansly Maponga. Maponga had 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman last season. Yendrey started the Frogs' final five games and recorded three sacks. The other likely starters are junior NT Jeremy Coleman and senior E Braylon Broughton. If TCU's defense had a weakness last season, it was its relative lack of a pass rush. The Frogs ranked 54th nationally in sacks (2.08 per game) and 64th in tackles for loss (5.77).
LINEBACKER: Tank Carder and Tanner Brock form arguably the nation's top linebacker tandem. Carder was the MWC's defensive player of the year last season, and he entered the national spotlight with a huge Rose Bowl performance that included a game-clinching breakup of a two-point conversion pass. Brock delivered 106 tackles - 26 more than any of his teammates - and earned first-team All-MWC honors last season.
SECONDARY: TCU allowed only one opponent last season to throw for more than 200 yards, but a lack of experience could make it tough for the Frogs to match that success in 2011. TCU must replace Thorpe Award finalist Tejay Johnson at free safety and has only two defensive backs (CB Greg McCoy and S Tekerrein Cuba) who made as many as five starts last season. McCoy -who might be the fastest player on the team - had 30 tackles and two interceptions last season, while Cuba made 49 tackles. The other likely starter at cornerback is sophomore Travaras Battle. Senior Johnny Fobbs and sophomore Trent Thomas are the likely starters at the other two safety spots.
TCU may have the most experienced kicker/punter duo in the nation, as K Ross Evans and P Anson Kelton have been in their respective roles for each of the past three seasons. Evans went 11-of-13 on field-goal attempts last season, but he wasn't tested from long range often; he was just 1-of-2 from at least 40 yards, with a long of 43. Kelton - a 280-pounder (and, yes, you read that right) - averaged 41.6 yards per punt as TCU ranked 58th nationally in net punting. TCU's biggest challenge on special teams will be finding a way to replace Kerley, who ranked 15th nationally in punt returns and 19th in kickoff returns last season. TCU ranked 28th in kickoff coverage and 40th in punt coverage last season.
THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 59th
Buzz: Will the upcoming move to the Big East pay off in the recruiting game for the Horned Frogs? All signs at the moment seem to say yes. Even in a non-Big Six conference, TCU has done well over the past few years. The class of 2012 is off to a strong start. Many thought Rivals250 DE Devonte Fields was headed to Oklahoma, but the Horned Frogs made a strong push to land his commitment. Army All-American QB Tyler Matthews from Kansas was an early pledge and the chance to play in a Big Six conference was part of the school's appeal. Gary Patterson and his staff always have done well finding diamonds in the rough, but it looks as if the move to the Big East could help TCU consistently land elite prospects. - BRIAN PERRONI
TCU lost so many quality receivers that highly touted true freshman LaDarius Brown could step into a featured role. Brown, from Waxahachie, Texas, was the No. 53 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. The lack of experience in the receiving corps also could create an opportunity for redshirt freshman Ethan Grant, a converted running back and a former Rivals250 recruit from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area. True freshman LB Deryck Gildon won't beat out Carder or Brock for a starting job, but the early enrollee made quite an impression in spring practice and could warrant playing time on special teams or as a backup on defense.
TCU is getting no favors from the Mountain West Conference in its last season as a league member before it joins the Big East. TCU faces its three toughest MWC foes - Air Force, San Diego State and conference newcomer Boise State - away from home. Two of TCU's trickiest games come right off the bat, as the Frogs open the season with back-to-back trips to Baylor and Air Force. Then again, TCU had its way with both teams last season: The Frogs beat Baylor 45-10 and whipped Air Force 38-7. TCU also has an intriguing matchup with former MWC rival BYU at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 28.
TCU has done a great job of reloading these past few seasons without slipping at all, but the Frogs might have too many holes to fill at too many critical positions this season. And it certainly doesn't help matters that TCU has to play Boise State, Air Force and San Diego State away from home. TCU will run the ball well and should play elite defense again, but we don't know if they'll be able to throw the ball effectively enough to come from behind if they're forced into that situation. If the Boise State game were at home, we'd be tempted to predict an undefeated season anyway. But it's tough to imagine TCU beating an experienced Boise State team on the blue turf. TCU probably will lose at least once more - whether it's in a regular-season road game or in a minor bowl - to finish 11-2.
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