TCU’s long, drawn out journey to the Big 12 is well documented. The Frogs felt shunned when the old Southwest Conference fell apart and spent 15 years bashing their way through three mid-major conferences before finally getting an invite. Since then, it’s safe to say things haven’t gone as planned. After going 139–57 in college football purgatory, they’ve won a combined 11 games the past two seasons.
So, what happened?
It’s no fault of the defense. Coach Gary Patterson’s 4–2–5 has remained among the top units in the nation. The Frogs ranked 29th in the country in 2012 allowing five yards per play while the team finished with just seven wins. Last season the team posted just four wins while ranking ninth in yards per play allowed.
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Most of the fault for the losses then falls to the offense, which dropped to 86th in yards per play in 2012 and 105th in 2013 after ranking 14th in 2011. HawkeyedFrog from Frogs O’ War summarized the angst of the TCU fan base in 2013, comparing the Frogs to the Lawrence dumpster fire. “Even Kansas managed to get at least one first down in each of their halves of play last season. TCU? Not one first down against Oklahoma in the first half.”
A combination of injuries and instability at the quarterback position contributed to the decline, but the biggest culprit was the exit of offensive coordinator Justin Fuente after the 2011 season. Back in April, Ian Boyd broke down the Frogs offensive struggles and the plan to move to the air raid in 2014.
But in order for this new scheme to work, TCU has to have players that can run it.
Fortunately for the Frogs, salvation may arrive in the form of fifth-year senior (and former Johnny Manziel backup) Matt Joeckel. New TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie was co-OC under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech last season and Kingsbury was OC at A&M in 2012. It’s safe to say Joeckel will have a healthy leg up on any potential challengers. Trevone Boykin is still around, but all signs seem to point to him changing positions in 2014. HawkeyedFrog points out that Boykin’s future might be brighter if he can escape from under center. “There were times where it looked like Boykin was the best receiver the Frogs had last year, and with a full offseason of practicing at the position he may be in line to do big things this year.”
Outside of those two, redshirt freshman Zach Allen will be joined by a pair of incoming recruits, four-star Foster Sawyer and three-star Grayson Muehlstien. HawkeyedFrog considers Sawyer the only contender to have a shot to unseat Joeckel, but notes “ you don’t bring in a graduate transfer like Joeckel to sit on the bench for a year.”
Whoever ultimately ends up throwing the passes, they’ll need some folks who can catch. The post-spring depth chart shows sophomore Ty Slanina in the H spot with senior David Porter and junior Josh Doctson filling in at Y and Z respectively. The X receiver shows as an OR between juniors Ja’Juan Story and Kolby Listenbee. If Boykin does indeed move, he’ll be a strong competitor to move into one of these spots. The Frogs also have a pair of four-star newcomers in Corey McBride and Emanuel Porter that could stand to shake things up.
Spring ball didn’t clear anything up at the running back position. The front-runner is junior B.J. Catalon but the depth chart shows an OR between him, fellow junior Aaron Green and redshirt freshmen Kyle Hicks and Trevorris Johnson. Add highly touted four-star signee Shaun Nixon to the group and things get even more blurry. But HawkeyedFrog seems more than confident that Catalon will be the man and expects him to have a great year despite the move to a pass-first scheme.
“Despite the jumbled mess of an offensive line and defenses keying on the run because Boykin couldn’t throw, Catalon averaged over five yards per carry last year. And because of Anderson and Burns’ steadfast determination not to feed him the ball, he doesn’t have a lot of wear on his tires yet.” Mr. Frog also notes that he has Catalon as his early pick for first-team all-Big 12 running back.
The “jumbled mess” HawkeyedFrog referred to might end up the key to the reformation of the TCU offense. Ian Boyd writes in his breakdown that the line is generally the most challenging part of overhauling an offensive system and roster. The Frogs face quite an uphill battle based on the line play from the last two seasons, but they may have a chance to cobble together something decent. The post-spring two-deep shows juniors in all spots but one, with redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom beating out Aviante Collins for the right tackle spot. The other four are Frank Kee and Jamelle Naff at guards, Halapoulivaati Vaitai at the other tackle and Joey Hunt in the middle. Collins or fellow junior Bobby Thompson might work their way into the lineup by fall, but it’s safe to say that TCU’s entire offense hinges on finding the right combination with chemistry and the ability to adjust to the new pace.
The defense has much less to worry about. The Frogs return eight starters and might have the best front four in the conference. Devonte Fields is back and healthy after taking a medical redshirt last season. Fields is listed as a backup right end on the post-spring chart, but that’s just the stick Patterson is using to poke the bear. No one should expect to see Fields anywhere but on the field come August. Defensive tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson might be the scariest pair in the country and should free Fields up to create all kinds of problems in opposing backfields. The left end spot is still somewhat up for grabs with Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Josh Carraway all fighting it out, but there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer there.
At linebacker, TCU returns every single piece of last season’s corps. Some combination of seniors Jonathan Anderson, Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet will fill the two spots with sophomore Sammy Douglas and freshman Paul Whitmill left as capable contributors.
Despite the loss of Jason Verrett, HawkeyedFrog isn’t expecting a drop off in the coverage of top opposing receivers thanks to Kevin White. White proved himself in big spots last year, including the opening game against LSU and their crop of NFL-caliber wide-outs. The opposite side is a little less solid with redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada, but Frog fans are hopeful that the talented safety trio of Sam Carter, Derrick Kindred and Chris Hackett can provide enough help to make his job easier.
Despite the road environment and the scary defense, no one on the BOTC staff is predicting a slip-up in Fort Worth. It won’t be easy, but the uncertainty of the offense is enough for us to chalk this one up in the win column. It might take a year or two, but TCU continues to recruit well and has the talent to compete for a Big 12 trophy sooner rather than later. And with almost two decades of buildup, a championship will taste all the more sweet.