TCU has a new head coach and two new quarterbacks. Here you go, Sonny Dykes, as you begin your first year in Fort Worth — a quarterback competition to sort through. Go with Max Duggan, a veteran of 29 starts who's beaten Texas twice, can rocket the ball downfield, inspires with intense competitiveness and even led the team in rushing two years ago ... or, try Chandler Morris, a high-pedigree recruit who transferred from OU after starring at Texas high school powerhouse Highland Park and stepped in to slay Baylor in 2021 in an initial TCU start marked by dazzling all-field accuracy, 531 total yards and three touchdowns.
Dykes flashes a knowing smile, well-versed in the classic response to inquisitive fans and media. "The quarterback who takes care of the ball the best and handles situational football the best will end up being the starter," he says.
The biggest personnel decision of the summer will be clear by the time the Horned Frogs kick off at Colorado on Sept. 3.
"You wake up one day, you come to practice, and everybody kind of knows who it is," says Dykes, whose imprint is on Nick Foles, Jared Goff and Shane Buechele from his stops at Arizona, Cal and SMU. "The players typically know before the coaches who everybody believes in.
Previewing TCU's Offense for 2022
Either quarterback must have help, and the Frogs can offer veteran performers. Kendre Miller has a career 7.4 yards per carry average and is in line for lead-back duties following the departure of Zach Evans. Quentin Johnston slides from the 'Y' he's played for two years, averaging 20.4 yards per catch, to the 'X' to take advantage of his long speed and high-point skill. "We want the X to take the top off the defense," Dykes said. "That's what he can do." Super senior Taye Barber and Derius Davis are veteran slot options (192 catches combined), with Gunnar Henderson drawing raves for his grit and speed. Tight end Jared Wiley transferred from Texas to add a mobile pass target for new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
First-team All-Big 12 center Steve Avila anchors the offensive line, which also added versatile four-year SMU starter Alan Ali via transfer and already includes one of the conference's most promising tackles, Andrew Coker.
Previewing TCU's Defense for 2022
In Disney's "Aladdin," the hero sings of a "Whole New World" with "a new fantastic point of view." That's TCU on defense in 2022. The Horned Frogs have a new defensive boss for the first time this century, as Joe Gillespie is in as DC after holding the same job the previous three years at Tulsa, where he beat Dykes' Mustangs twice. His 3-3-5 defense replaces the 4-2-5 Gary Patterson had operated since 1998.
"We're not inventing anything," Gillespie says of his system, used by Iowa State to blank a fourth-ranked TCU squad in 2017 (the Frogs got their only points on a kickoff return for a touchdown) and similar to Baylor's three-man front under Dave Aranda. "We just made it an every-down defense. The 3-3-5 can turn into a 3-4 in a hurry and also a 4-2-5 if you're not making any personnel substitutions."
And personnel is key — do the Frogs have sturdy bodies to hold the defensive line yet also get to the passer (think Baylor's James Lynch)? Who are the hybrid linebackers/safeties who can both cover and play in the box?
TCU has long built its defense on speed over size. Yet some answers are clear. Dee Winters is the Frogs' most experienced 'backer, and cornerback Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is coming off a first-team All-Big 12 campaign. To the mix, TCU added Navy transfer linebacker Johnny Hodges and Colorado transfer safety Mark Perry, and both emerged promptly in spring practice.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022
Previewing TCU's Specialists for 2022
Griffin Kell and Jordy Sandy have kicked and punted for TCU the past three seasons, with Kell making 79-of-80 extra points and 29-of-39 field goals and Sandy delivering an average of 40.6 yards on 160 punts. Derius Davis has 50 combined kickoff and punt returns over the previous four seasons, including four to the house (three punt, one kickoff). In all cases, the Frogs know what they have on special teams.
Unfamiliarity reigns at TCU, where a new head coach is in place for the first time in 21 years — the rival from the next county over, at that — and transfers are the way of the world. What's more, spring practices were — gasp! — open to the public, unheard of in the Gary Patterson era; the spring game was even televised.
For Dykes, the open door was about brand building and creating visibility for high school coaches, recruits and fans. "It's TCU's football team, TCU's family's and alumni's and boosters' and supporters' team, and they need to have an opportunity to see it and feel it up close," Dykes says.
But lately, nobody recognizes it. It's a program with losing seasons two of the past three years and three of the past six, well removed from its last postseason game (the infamous, interception-filled 2018 Cheez-It Bowl victory). Horned Frog football requires a makeover. Dykes at least sees a foundation. "If you look at the long run of success TCU has had, it's because guys have been tough and played hard," he says. "That mentality has existed here for so long. That's where it starts."