By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 11-2, 7-0 MW
Spring practice: Feb. 25-April 5
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5
Passing: Casey Pachall, 228 of 343, 2,921 yds., 25 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Waymon James, 121 car., 875 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Josh Boyce, 61 rec., 998 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: Kenny Cain, 72 tackles
Sacks: Stansly Maponga, 9
Interceptions: Two players tied with 1
Redshirts to watch: WR LaDarius Brown, OG Jamelle Naff, WR David Bush, OT Carter Wall, LB Laderice Sanders, OG Brady Foltz, S Jamie Byrd
JUCO Transfer to watch: CB Keivon Gamble
Early Enrollees: QB Tyler Matthews, CB Keivon Gamble, ATH Kolby Listenbee, RB B.J. Catalon
Sept. 8 Grambling
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 17 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma
Offensive Strength: Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Horned Frogs in 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after a terrific sophomore year, throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns. Pachall has plenty of support around him, as TCU returns three running backs with at least 700 yards last year and dynamic playmakers at receiver in Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson.
Offensive Weakness: While the Horned Frogs have plenty of skill players and quarterback Casey Pachall returning, only two starters are back on the offensive line. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry are back to anchor the line, but both tackles and All-Mountain West guard Kyle Dooley must be replaced.
Defensive Strength: Despite the dismissal of tackle D.J. Yendrey, TCU should be solid on the defensive line. End Stansly Maponga is back after recording nine sacks and five forced fumbles last year. Ross Forrest registered 32 stops last year and should start at the other end spot. Jon Lewis and David Johnson turned in solid freshman campaigns last season and will be in charge of anchoring the middle of the line.
Defensive Weakness: Only two starters return in the back seven, and this group was hit hard in the spring when linebacker Tanner Brock and defensive back Devin Johnson were dismissed from the team. With the pass-first tendencies of most teams in the Big 12, the secondary will be under fire early and often in 2012.
Spring Storylines Facing the Horned Frogs:
1. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in Fort Worth this spring, as the Horned Frogs are on the move from the Mountain West to the Big 12. And TCU has the pieces in place to contend for the conference title in its first season in the league. The offense finished ninth nationally in scoring last year and returns five key starters. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors in 2012, while the Horned Frogs return All-Mountain West receiver Josh Boyce and three running backs with over 700 rushing yards last year. TCU has fought its way from being left out of the Big 12 in 1994 to emerging as one of the top non-BCS programs in college football. With coach Gary Patterson at the helm, the Horned Frogs are poised to make some noise in the Big 12 in 2012 and beyond.
2. Some of the energy and excitement with the move to the Big 12 was quieted with the recent drug scandal on campus, which resulted in four players being dismissed from the team. Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, defensive back Devin Johnson and offensive lineman Ty Horn were booted from the team after their arrest, leaving the Horned Frogs with some voids to fill. Brock was expected to be the leader in the linebacking corps, while Yendrey was TCU’s top returning defensive tackle. While this incident has been a black eye for the Horned Frogs, this shouldn’t affect the program in any long-term capacity. However, the defense will miss Brock, Yendrey and Johnson's contributions in 2012.
3. For the first time since 2007, TCU finished outside of the top 12 nationally in pass defense. The Horned Frogs’ secondary allowed 223.6 yards per game and surrendered 23 passing scores last season. TCU also picked off only 10 passes, and allowed quarterbacks to average 12.4 yards per completion. Considering quarterback play is stronger in the Big 12 than it was in the Mountain West, this group will be under fire to perform right away in 2012. Cornerback Jason Verrett earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors last season and will be counted on for leadership in the secondary. Junior college transfer Keivon Gamble is expected to contribute right away and could earn a starting spot this spring. Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs are both gone at safety, leaving the Horned Frogs with some work to do this spring in revamping this group.
4. There are few question marks about the offense, but the offensive line figures to get the most attention in the preseason. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry is a solid duo to build around, but three other starters must be replaced. With all of the talent TCU returns at the skill positions and under center with Casey Pachall, it’s important for this group to jell. If the line struggles, it’s fair to wonder if this offense will match last season’s average of 40.8 points a game.
5. One of the most intriguing elements of conference realignment is the adjustment period teams on the move will have with their new conference foes. TCU has recently played some of the teams in the Big 12, but the every week grind is going to be much tougher in this conference than it was in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs have a lot of time to study their new nine conference foes and are built to contend right away. However, developing depth to handle the tougher week-to-week schedule is going to be crucial for TCU’s chances at winning the Big 12 in 2012.
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