TCU was a bowl participant for the 19th time in 21 years. The Horned Frogs' less-than-inspiring 10–7 overtime win over Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl resulted in a winning season.
Forgive the Frogs if they didn't celebrate long. Their 7–6 record left a dissatisfied taste they spent an offseason trying to shake.
"We're not good losers," veteran coach Gary Patterson says bluntly.
No, and not frequent losers, either. The Frogs typically get off the mat quickly after subpar seasons. Patterson teams followed four previous campaigns of 7–6 or worse with records of 10–2, 11–1, and 11–3 (with a 4–8 outlier thrown in). Even a respectable 8–5 year in 2007 was followed by an 11–2 mark.
The 2019 squad expects similar improvement. "It's a little bit tougher and a little bit more attention to detail," Patterson says. "You don't have to coach as hard when you don't have a great year, because everybody’s worried about everybody saying you're not any good. The head coach doesn't have to say as much, to be honest with you."
The head coach can instead spend his time developing cohesiveness on a squad that returns 12 starters (seven offense, five defense) but was missing 22 players during the spring due to injury, including running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua, receiver Jalen Reagor, center Kellton Hollins, guard Wes Harris, tackles Lucas Niang and Austin Myers, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock, safety Innis Gaines, and cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis. All are major contributors or all-conference performers (Reagor, Niang, Gladney, Blacklock).
The Frogs canceled their spring scrimmage because of the dearth of players and instead held a public practice.
Help came in the form of a 27-member signing class that was ranked third in the Big 12 and 33rd nationally by the 247Sports Composite. It included four-star defensive tackle Karter Johnson of Pickerington, Ohio. The Frogs also added two graduate transfers, defensive end Shameik Blackshear of South Carolina and quarterback Alex Delton of Kansas State.
Previewing TCU's Offense for 2019
For a second consecutive year, TCU needs a quarterback. Shawn Robinson's disappointing season ended in injury and a subsequent transfer to Missouri. The Frogs have options aplenty. They bolstered the position with four-star signee Max Duggan and Delton. Additionally, former Ohio State quarterback Matthew Baldwin decided to transfer to Fort Worth after spring practice. If Baldwin gets a waiver to play right away in 2019, he will be a contender for the starting job. Already on hand were last year’s backup, Michael Collins, and celebrated 2018 four-star signee Justin Rogers, who is nearing full strength two years after he suffered a severe injury at the start of his last high school season in Louisiana. "You know me. The one who makes the other players better is the one who'll play," Patterson says of the quarterback battle.
The QB's top target should be Reagor, who set a TCU record last season with a touchdown catch in seven consecutive games and led the Frogs across all receiving categories. Sophomore H-back Taye Barber, second on the team in catches as a freshman, starred in the offseason.
Running back is stocked with experience in seniors Anderson, a shifty burner, and Olonilua, a 231-pounder who rocked a career-high 194 yards in the Cheez-It Bowl.
The offensive line welcomes back four starters, most notably Niang, an all-conference right tackle.
Previewing TCU's Defense for 2019
Linebackers and safeties are the backbone of a Patterson defense. The problem is that the veteran coach lost more than 400 stops with the departure of linebackers Ty Summers and Arrico Evans and 44 games of experience in graduated safety Niko Small.
Junior hybrid linebacker Garret Wallow is the leading returning tackler. He's joined by senior Montrel Wilson, who has played only 10 games the past three seasons because of injury but remains one of the team’s best all-around athletes.
The Frogs replace talent with inexperienced talent at defensive end. Redshirt freshman Ochaun Mathis and true freshman Adam Plant have played in four games combined, all by Mathis. They’re joined by Blackshear. In the interior, veteran defensive tackle Corey Bethley (5.0 sacks in '18) is paired with Blacklock, who missed last season with an Achilles injury.
Gladney emerged as the Big 12's best corner a year ago. Fast and physical, the 6'0" senior enters 2019 as one of the Big 12's top pro prospects.
Previewing TCU's Specialists for 2019
TCU joined the recent trend of expeditions Down Under to sign Jordy Sandy, an Australian rugby-style punter. Experience is on the side of placekickers Cole Bunce and Jonathan Song, seniors who have kicked since they were freshmen. The return game is looking for a dynamic replacement for KaVontae Turpin.
TCU fielded the Big 12's top-ranked unit in total defense and pass defense and the second-best scoring defense a season ago. Don’t expect much to change. Patterson has another outstanding group of athletes, particularly at cornerback. Offensively, quarterback is the variable. Big 12-level skill is all over the field, highlighted by the ultra-competitive Reagor, and the offensive line is experienced. With health and turnover luck, the Frogs can reasonably picture double-digit wins. Throw in high-level quarterback play, and they can set their sights higher.