FORT WORTH, Texas – Rose Bowl champion TCU is coming off the mountain after this season.
Before going to the Big East, 14th-ranked TCU will try to win a third consecutive Mountain West championship and earn another Bowl Championship Series appearance without the benefit of the automatic berth that will be available in its new league.
The Frogs will have to do it without Andy Dalton, the winningest quarterback in school history, and seven other offensive starters.
"What the older players have left us with mentality-wise is knowing that it takes to get to that point," said sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall. "Everybody else says 'Oh, they had two undefeated seasons' and they're thinking we're going to fall off this year. But we don't think so and we don't expect anything less."
TCU was ranked No. 2 at the end of last season after going 13-0 with a 21-19 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The Frogs have won 25 consecutive regular-season games, their only loss the past two years coming in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2009 season.
The Horned Frogs have won at least 10 games seven times the past nine seasons under coach Gary Patterson. There were only five such seasons before that, four in the 1930s and the other in 2000 when Patterson was defensive coordinator for Dennis Franchione.
"I'll be honest with you, it will be an interesting year for us," Patterson said. "Everybody talks about how we lost a lot of seniors. I think, talent-wise, what we have coming back will develop. It won't be as much about the younger players.
"I'm more worried about the hunger of our group ... how bad we want to repeat."
Dalton is now an NFL rookie starter for Cincinnati after winning 42 games for TCU, the school where "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh won 29 games over three seasons in the mid-1930s before Davey O'Brien was the Heisman Trophy winner while leading the Frogs to their only AP national championship in 1938.
Pachall has already been through three springs with TCU after graduating high school early. But the dual-threat quarterback has thrown only nine passes and rushed 15 times while appearing in eight games behind Dalton.
"I've had to wait a little bit and put in my time," Pachall said. "Now that the opportunity has risen for me to kind of get into the mix, I'm excited. Excited to get things started, excited with the team we have."
Though it seems likely that Pachall will be the starter when TCU opens the season Sept. 2 at Baylor, Patterson has stopped short of declaring that. Pachall missed a couple of days of practice last week because of a sore shoulder. The other two quarterbacks are freshmen.
Pachall certainly brings a little more edge to the position.
Unlike Dalton, the clean-cut redhead who led TCU to consecutive undefeated regular seasons, Pachall has long hair and tattoos.
Receiver Skye Dawson said Pachall has taken some "very big steps" after watching Dalton.
"I feel like he's taken bitty pieces of what Andy has been doing and he's been doing good as well. He's definitely been doing a great job on the field," Dawson said. "The tattoos and stuff, I feel like that doesn't make a difference. Everybody's got a different side to them."
Despite all the lost starters on offense, the Frogs are loaded at running back with the return of their top three rushers — Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Wayman James, all underclassmen. Wesley is coming off a 1,000-yard season while all three had 100-yard games.
Rose Bowl defensive MVP Tank Carder headlines six returning defensive starters.
Carder and Tanner Brock give the Frogs both of the linebackers in their 4-2-5 defense. Up front are All-MWC defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and Stansly Maponga, who started 12 games as a freshman with 32 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks.
The Horned Frogs will be depending on a lot of youth this season.
"About 65 to 70 percent of our team are sophomores, redshirt freshmen or freshmen. When Boise State went on its run a few years ago, I think they started 12 or 13 freshmen. All of that can be done," Patterson said. "You've got to decide if you're going to use it as an excuse or a positive. We're trying to be a program and not just a team."
Ironically, Boise State is a conference foe — at Boise, on Nov. 12 — for TCU's final Mountain West season.
The Broncos are the newcomer to the altered league. BYU (independent) and Utah (Pac-12) are already gone before TCU heads east after this season.