2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: TCU's final year in the Mountain West Conference was certainly a positive one as the team went 7-0 to win the league crown. The season didn't start out in a positive way however, as the Horned Frogs dropped a narrow decision to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and his Baylor Bears (50-48).
TCU ran off three straight wins against Air Force, ULM and Portland State, but then fell in overtime to local rival SMU. At 3-2, the Frogs suddenly found themselves at a crossroads, and head coach Gary Patterson restored whatever lost confidence the team had as it went on to win seven straight games to close out the regular season -- the biggest win being a 36-35 verdict against Boise State.
While a BCS bowl bid wasn't in the cards, the Horned Frogs were rewarded with a trip to San Diego to play in the Poinsettia Bowl against a surprising Louisiana Tech squad. TCU won the game, 31-24, giving the team an 11-2 record on the year as it looked ahead to beginning play in the ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference.
OFFENSE: Casey Pachall certainly made the most of his first season as TCU's starting quarterback in 2011, as he set a new school record by throwing for 2,921 yards. He tossed 25 TD passes against only 7 INTs, and the return of junior WR Josh Boyce (61 receptions, 998 yards, 9 TDs) means Pachall will once again have his favorite target looking for openings down field. In fact, three of the team's top four pass catchers are back, among them being the lone senior of the bunch in Skye Dawson (45 receptions, 500 yards, 5 TDs).
When the Frogs decide to keep the ball on the ground, expect to see plenty of Waymon James (875 yards, 6 TDs), Ed Wesley (726 yards, 6 TDs) and Matthew Tucker (702 yards, 12 TDs). Each had roughly the same number of carries in '11, and they all averaged in excess of 5.5 ypc.
The one area that could wind up being TCU's Achilles' heel this fall is the offensive line. Only two guys with starting experience return, and it remains to be seen just how much talent there is among the newcomers. That said, it wouldn't be all that surprising if Patterson is somehow able to find guys who complement each other well, and show considerable growth as the season moves along.
DEFENSE: The TCU defense led the nation in points allowed in 2010, but last year the unit surrendered an average of 21.5 ppg. The Frogs were solid against the run, yielding a mere 7 rushing scores, but their effort versus the pass resulted in foes tallying 223.6 ypg and scoring 23 TDs.
Only five starters return, and the bulk of those are along the defensive line. Junior DE Stansley Maponga enjoyed a solid campaign last year, leading the team in TFL (13.5) and sacks (9), and he is considered one of the top defensive linemen in the Big 12 coming into the season.
Senior LB Kenny Cain paced the club in total tackles in '11 with 72, and he is back in the middle of the field to add some stability to a unit that may take some time to come together.
The defensive backfield features just one returning starter in junior CB Jason Verrett (58 tackles, 1 INT), but there is talent among the safeties as sophomores Sam Carter and Jonathan Anderson and junior Elisha Olabode look to take the next step in their development.
Patterson knows the guys in the secondary are going to need to step up in a big way if the team as a whole is going to be successful.
"We are going to be thin at cornerback, which is not exactly ideal for the Big 12. With a young team, we are going to learn real quickly who can grow up and who can't."
SPECIAL TEAMS: There aren't any known commodities in the kicking game for TCU this season, as it turns to a pair of freshmen to handle the jobs. Setting the team up with favorable field position is crucial, and any a number of speedy skill players may be utitilized in place of the departed Greg McCoy, who returned two kickoffs for TDs last year.
OUTLOOK: The Horned Frogs open the season at home against Grambling State, and that game is followed by their first-ever Big 12 bout at Kansas. A solid Virginia team is next and then comes a revenge-tinged matchup at SMU. From there, it's all conference action, with some of the toughest bouts taking place on the road (Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas).
Patterson, who needs just one victory to become TCU's all-time winningest coach, spoke recently about this next chapter in the school's history.
"We're excited about our inaugural year in the Big 12. Obviously it's been a long journey for us. We've been through a lot of different conferences along the way. And, for us, the way we approach things, we've always approached things, whether it's been as a university or as a football program, it's been about one day at a time and making sure we build a foundation that would last. And so my biggest job as a head football coach is to make the Big 12 proud of inviting us into the league."