TCU Football: How Will the Horned Frogs Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

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How will TCU fare in its first year of the Big 12?

<p> How will TCU fare in its first year of the Big 12?&nbsp;</p>

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

How Will TCU Fare in its First Season of Big 12 play?

Sir Wesley Willis, SpitbloodTCU.com
Well, we're apparently losing Gary Patterson to the Curse of the Cell Phone Arkansas gig, so I suppose wins and losses are the least of our worries, no?  In all seriousness though, I'm not sure anyone truly knows what to expect.  Even before the overblown drug-related events of the spring, Patterson was tight lipped about his team's performances in practice, closing them to the public and media alike; after that, the man was practically a sealed vault, offering only the most cryptic of insights.  Offensively, at the skill positions the Frogs should be set to go toe-to-toe with any other offense in the Big 12.  The three headed rushing attack of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returns fully intact and QB Casey Pachall has old favorite Josh Boyce still in tow plus new toys like Brandon Carter, Cam White, David Porter and the elusive Ladarius Brown to pick apart the always questionable Big 12 defenses. The O line is a little thin where depth is concerned due to injuries so for my money OL Coach Eddie Williamson is the most important assistant on the coaching staff, at least for this year.  Stay tuned...

Speaking of questionable defenses, TCU should be right at home in year one because if you call yourself a TCU fan and aren't a little concerned then you haven't been paying attention.  Linebacker, typically a strong point for the Frogs, is particularly thin due to graduation and the extracurricular activities of Tanner Brock and it sounds like the spot opposite Kenny Cain is absolutely ripe for the taking.  Same goes in the secondary where CB Jason Verrett seems to be the only guy with his position locked down.  The defensive line isn't as thin as it seems, but you can't discount losing bonehead DJ Yendrey to suspension and rising star David Johnson to a spring injury.  D Line is our deepest position on defense, but it may take contributions from true freshmen to fill in the holes, a rarity for a GP defense.  After all these years it's hard not to trust Patterson as a defensive mastermind, and the defense last year steadily improved after a slow start,  but those guys are going to have to grow up quickly before Big 12 play.  Fortunately opening week opponent Grambling State doesn't have a Heisman candidate dark horse under center that I'm aware of.

Again, it's hard for me to make an actual prediction based on the lack of solid information leaking out of the spring, but I'd say TCU should conservatively go 9-3 in Year 1, and maybe even 10-2.  Not that the Frogs aren't as talented or more so than their Big 12 opponents, but it's going to take a season or two to build the depth needed to compete at the highest level on a week-to-week basis.  Talent wise, I'd put TCU up against anyone in the Conference, but if on-paper talent won games, UT and OU would win the Big 12 every single year so clearly it takes a little something else.  It's going to be a bit of a learning curve this year as far as gauging how to keep your team energized and healthy when you're playing top quality opponents each week, but I have full faith in this coaching staff and maybe they'll shock the college football world and win the thing, who knows?  One thing I'm certain of, though - it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
TCU is in a similar spot to a handful of other Big 12 teams between Oklahoma (the favorite) and Kansas (the cellar dweller): The Frogs will be difficult to figure out in the preseason. TCU’s in a mix with teams like Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma State who all could finish in any spot in the top half of the league. That said, I’m not totally optimistic about TCU finishing in the top three or four. The defense may lag behind the Casey Pachall-led offense next season. A defense that’s already losing linebacker Tank Carder also must absorb losses from the drug bust scandal earlier this year. The learning curve of moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 is bound to catch up with the Horned Frogs, especially late in the season when the Frogs play every Big 12 contender – and only Big 12 contenders – after Oct. 27.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
First, all Big 12 fans need to understand how Gary Patterson has constructed his teams at TCU. He builds them from the inside out with a heavy focus on defense. This is how the most powerful BCS conference teams are constructed and thus gives the Horned Frogs a unique set-up for a mid-major program jumping to BCS play. On the offensive side of the ball, TCU already looks exactly like a Big 12 program — great passing quarterback, deep running back stable and electric wide receivers. And there is nothing on the schedule that indicates that Patterson won’t have success in his first romp through the Big 12. Until November. The purple amphibians could very easily be 7-0 entering Halloween weekend (Oct. 27), but the rest of their schedule is filled with freaks and ghouls that don't reside in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs finish: At Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State at home, at Texas and Oklahoma in Ft. Worth. Should the Frogs win three of their last five, 2012 will be considered a major success and fans should be amped about their future in the league. But a 2-3, 1-4 or, gasp, 0-5 run would push TCU down the Big 12 pecking order significantly. It would indicate that the jump in competition was much steeper than anticipated and that conference contention is still a couple of seasons away.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After dominating the Mountain West, TCU is ready for its next challenge of contending in the Big 12. The move to a BCS conference isn’t going to be easy, but there’s also a lot to like about TCU in 2012. The offense returns only five starters, but the backfield is loaded with options and the receiving corps is one of the best in the Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. However, there are question marks about an offensive line that loses three starters.

Considering the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, TCU should fit in just fine in 2012. However, a usual strongpoint – the defense – is a concern. Although the Horned Frogs return five starters, gone are linebacker Tank Carder, safety Tekerrein Cuba and defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey. The secondary ranked 60th nationally last season and a handful of key contributors have finished their eligibility. With the talent returning at quarterback and receiver in the Big 12, the personnel turnover and last season’s so-so play has to worry coach Gary Patterson. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but road trips at Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas could all easily be losses.

It’s certainly possible TCU finishes with 10 wins, but the Big 12 is a much tougher conference than the Mountain West. The week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference could cost the Horned Frogs a game or two, which leads me to my projection of an 8-4 or 9-3 season. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Horned Frogs finishing fourth or fifth in league play, with a Big 12 record in the 6-3/5-4 range. Most quality non-BCS teams can beat the big boys on a given Saturday, but the challenge is when you have to play four quality opponents in a six-week span. There will definitely be an adjustment for Gary Patterson’s club, but the veteran coach has built a solid program that expects to win.  The TCU offense loses three starters on the offensive line but returns top-notch skill players in quarterback Casey Pachall, receiver Josh Boyce and a trio of quality backs. The Frogs did lose offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis, but they should still put up points in their new league. The toughest obstacle for TCU competing in a BCS conference will be improving a defense that lost several contributors and gave up too many passing yards last season. The offenses in the Big 12 can air it out, so Patterson and veteran coordinator Dick Bumpas will have their work cut out. Even with the step up in competition, I think TCU has the type of program that can handle the week-in, week-out rigors of the Big 12 and finish with a winning record in conference play.

Where will TCU finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

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