The TCU Horned Frogs are coming off the worst season ever under head coach Gary Patterson as they took several steps backwards in the Big 12, finishing 4-8 and 2-7 in conference play. Their struggles have created some turnover on the coaching staff this offseason as Patterson looks to shake things up in Fort Worth this season, including moving to an up-tempo spread offensive attack.
Just a few years removed from being one of the premier mid-major programs in college football, TCU finds itself stuck near the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Can they finally get back on the winning track in 2014 and make some headway as a member of a Power Five conference?
If they hope to turn things around in 2014, it will have to start on offense. The Horned Frogs offense struggled to create any consistent production in 2013 and it really hurt them week in and week out. TCU will make the transition to a more open spread offensive attack that will rely on tempo to create an advantage but will need some playmakers to step up to make the new offense work.
At quarterback, the team is looking at a wide-open competition this August between returning signal caller Trevone Boykin and Texas A&M Aggies graduate transfer Matt Joeckel. Boykin has good athleticism and a decent arm to make the spread attack work but has struggled to produce under center. Last season, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes for 1,198 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Joeckel brings a wealth of experience in a spread offense from A&M and could push Boykin out to wide receiver this fall.
The running backs will be used in a committee-approach as none have distinguished themselves as a true work-horse. B.J. Catalon is the most experienced member of the TCU backfield after leading the team with 569 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season. An injury during the spring, however, opened up the competition with Kyle Hicks, Aaron Green, Trevorris Johnson all making a case for carries next fall.
Perhaps most important to TCU’s chances at getting their new offense up and running, however, will be the development of the receivers this fall. Josh Doctson returns after leading the team with 36 receptions for 40 yards and four touchdowns. David Porter was a deep-threat in 2013 catching 26 passes for 435 yards and scoring five touchdowns. The team is also converting a number of running backs and tight ends to add some depth the receiving corps.
While the offense is in the midst of a transition, the defense remains steadfast and should be one of the best in the Big 12. The group returns eight starters from 2013, perhaps none as important as defensive end Devonte Fields. After winning the Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year award as a freshman in 2012, Fields missed almost the entire 2013 season due to injury. Now healthy and hungry, Fields leads a strong defensive front that should create havoc for opposing offenses.
The linebacking corps comes back completely intact for 2014 led by Paul Dawson, who led TCU with 91 tackles in 2013. Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson round out the starting lineup and give the Horned Frogs a formidable and battle-tested trio to fill out their front seven. Together, they were three of the top four tacklers on the team in 2013 and will be counted on to lead the team once again in 2014.
In the secondary, TCU will boast one of the best groups in the Big 12 next season despite losing cornerback Jason Verrett to the NFL. Kevin White steps in the No. 1 corner spot this fall and will be backed by one of the best safety trios in the country. Sam Carter, Chris Hackett, and Derrick Kindred will work together to serve as the back line of defense for TCU in 2014 and keep a lid on some of the high-powered offenses in the conference.
TCU will be helped out be an easier schedule in 2014. This year, the team’s marquee non-conference game will be against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (instead of the LSU Tigers) with FCS Samford and a road game against the SMU Mustangs rounding out the non-conference slate. It presents a soft opening for the Frogs as they get their legs underneath them before hitting the conference schedule.
In conference play, TCU will benefit from getting many of the conference’s toughest teams on their own home turf. The Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and Kansas State Wildcats all come to Fort Worth this season. Their toughest games may be a pair of road trips to take on the Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns but the rest are winnable or on their own field.
If the offense comes along this fall and can get close to matching the level of their defense, TCU will finally be a legitimate player in the Big 12 title race. With a half way decent offense, the Horned Frogs could win eight or nine games in 2014. But if they struggle like they did last season, the offense could keep them from bowl eligibility yet again.