by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

It is a year of transition for TCU (11-2 last season). In several ways. But head coach Gary Patterson is hoping against hope that this is not the absolute wrong time for the Horned Frogs to be moving into one of the “big six” conferences after 16 combined seasons in the WAC, C-USA, and Mountain West, during which TCU won or tied for seven championships. The Frogs rejoin a “big-boy league” for the first time since the dissolution of the storied (and often corrupt) Southwest Conference in 1996.

TCU goes into the Big 12 with a renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium (to the tune of $164 million). But the Horned Frogs re-enter the big time after bothersome off-field issues and with personnel attrition that will thoroughly test the TCU depth that made Patterson’s teams a “non-automatic qualifier” power and respected “BCS buster” in recent seasons. Since taking over, Patterson has produced double-digit victories for the Fort Worth school in 8 of his 11 years as head coach. He’s done it by crafting his 4-2-5 defensive scheme into an often-dominating unit, one that recently led the nation in total defense for three straight years (2008, 2009, 2010).

Indeed, Patterson’s 4-2-5 is being copied by many teams in order to combat the proliferation of speed-oriented, no-huddle, spread offenses. But an offseason campus marijuana sting operation, combined with academic issues, has cut into the depth of Patterson’s pet defensive unit just when depth and experience will be needed most in the offensively-dynamic Big 12.

With battle-tested 6-5 jr. QB Casey Pachall (right; 66.5%, 25 TDs, only 7 ints.) at the controls, the Frogs are well-set for point production in their new league. Three of Pachall’s top four WRs return from last year, including big-play target Josh Boyce (15 TDC and 17.3 ypr in his first two seasons). Plus, speedy RB Waymon James (875 YR, 7.2 ypc) and the powerful Matthew Tucker (702 YR, 5.7 ypc) return to balance the offense. Unfortunately, sr. Ed Wesley—who would have given TCU three returning RBs who gained more than 700 yards last year—has had to leave the team due to family matters. Last year’s Frog offense produced 41 ppg as a member of the Mountain West Conference. Even with the loss of three starting OLmen, TCU might come close to that kind of production in the tougher Big 12, as Patterson relishes the advantages provided by an experienced QB.

The strong-armed Pachall exceeded expectations last season as a soph, leading a clutch 36-35 comeback at Boise State. Pachall’s only losses were 50-48 to Robert Griffin and Baylor in the season opener and 40-33 in OT vs. old SWC Metroplex rival SMU. As long as Pachall is healthy, TCU will be a constant threat to score.

It’s the rebuilding, depth-depleted defense that is giving Patterson some sleepless nights going into the 2012 season. Patterson, who spent his entire playing and assistant coaching time on the defensive side of the ball, has produced units that have been No. 1 in the country five times in his 11 years in Fort Worth. But in the pass-happy Big 12, his prideful units will no longer be able to improve their defensive stats by frequently facing a list of offensively-challenged foes such as Tulane, UAB, Memphis, Army, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Wyoming from the Horned Frogs’ days in the Conference USA and Mountain West. Last year, the then-rebuilding TCU stop unit dropped to 59th in sacks and 60th vs. the pass. Now, that platoon will be tested against a Big 12 list that includes consecutive games vs. Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma.

Academics and the campus-wide drug sting in February have cost Patterson not only top LB Tanner Brock, but also promising young OLB Deryck Gildon and sr. starting DT D.J. Yendrey. Patterson must also replace 3 graduated DBs of the starting 5 in his 4-2-5. On the plus side, 3 of 4 starters on the D-line (including extra-dimension jr. DE Stansly Maponga, shown at left, with 9 ½ sacks LY) return to provide a solid base. And Patterson has consistently demonstrated a valuable knack for recruiting the fertile Texas-Louisiana-Oklahoma area to land players who fit well in his scheme (which, by the way, has been picked up by many college and several NFL teams). Plus, TCU is happy to welcome back safeties coach Chad Glasgow, who left TCU prior to last season to try his hand at shoring up the defense at Texas Tech.

TCU must also break in a new punter and placekicker as it transitions to its tougher league.

Summary...With QB Pachall and a solid cast of offensive veterans returning, the Horned Frogs seem prepared to move the ball with the best of ‘em in the revamped Big XII. However, HC Patterson’s usually-rugged defense will be tested unlike it has in many years. While many in the coaching profession have been reviewing Patterson’s well-received DVD on how to construct a 4-2-5 defense, the Frog coach himself has spent much of summer watching DVDs of every Big 12 game of 2011. Repeatedly. During the last four seasons, TCU has gone 11-2, 12-1, 13-0 and 11-2 for a wonderful total of 47-5, usually keeping the BCS nervous while the Frogs have sought to elbow their way into big-money bowls from their non-BCS conference starting point. Now, the Horned Frogs are finally a member of a BCS league. But perhaps with their weakest team—on paper—of the last five years. We have no doubt the Purple will compete furiously. However, with its defense first thinned of some key players and then taking a big step up in class, TCU will be hard-pressed to reach double figures in victories for a fifth straight season.

Note: With its offense flourishing and defense in rebuilding mode, TCU is 12-5 “over” its last 17 games.


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