TCU’s transition to the Big 12 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. After finishing 7-6 overall and 4-5 in conference play in their first season as one of college football’s so-called “big boys,” the Horned Frogs were expected by many to contend for the top spot in the Big 12 in Year 2.
Instead, Gary Patterson’s team took several step backwards, stumbling to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12. It was the worst showing by a TCU team in Patterson’s 13 seasons as the head coach and the fewest wins by the program since going 1-10 in 1997.
While TCU’s defense was solid last season, the offense was a disaster, finishing near the bottom of the FBS ranks in both total and rushing yards. Not surprisingly, Patterson made some changes on his coaching staff, bringing in two new coordinators to overhaul the offense. This will be the key for the Horned Frogs’ hopes this fall, as the defense returns eight starters and could be one of the better units not only in the Big 12, but the entire nation.
TCU Horned Frogs 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 1
Spring Game: April 5
Three Things to Watch in TCU's 2014 Spring Practice
1. Starting over on offense. TCU was bad on offense last season. There’s simply no other way to state it. The Horned Frogs finished near the bottom of 125 FBS teams in total offense, rushing offense and third down conversions. Things were so bad on that side of the ball that despite being a top 25 defense nationally, TCU managed just four wins, one of them coming against an FCS opponent. And the other three victories were over Kansas, Iowa State and SMU, teams that went a combined 11-25. Not surprisingly, head coach Gary Patterson made some changes in the offseason, bringing in two new offensive coordinators to hopefully “fix” his offense. Doug Meacham comes to TCU after spending last season as the offensive coordinator at Houston. Sonny Cumbie joins the Horned Frogs’ staff after serving as the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at fellow Big 12 member Texas Tech. Last season, the Red Raiders’ and Cougars’ offense finished eighth and 55th, respectively, in the nation in total offense and both also were in the top 40 in scoring offense. Meacham and Cumbie will share offensive coordinator duties at TCU with the former slated to call plays. Meacham also will coach inside receivers, while Cumbie will stay with quarterbacks. It’s probably a good thing these two are working together because as last season showed, they have their work cut out for them. Starting with…
2. Finding a quarterback. Despite having two experienced signal-callers last season, the tandem of Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin produced disappointing results. With both seeing plenty of action, the duo combined to complete 57.1 percent of their passes for 2,666 yards while throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (13). Pachall has exhausted his eligibility, leaving Boykin, a junior, atop the depth chart entering spring practice, at least for now. TCU also has sophomore Tyler Matthews and redshirt freshman Zach Allen who are expected to see plenty of reps this spring, as the Horned Frogs are shifting to more of a spread offensive system under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. Boykin is athletic and versatile enough to operate in a spread, but he won’t just be handed the starting job, not after last season’s results and with new leadership running things. There’s been some talk already that Boykin could be moved to wide receiver, which means Matthews and Allen should get plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff and potentially shake up the depth chart. Either way, expect plenty of attention to be paid to what happens under center this spring.
3. Rounding out the defense. TCU returns eight starters from a defense that finished in the top 25 in the nation in yards allowed. This unit should be the strength of this team, but that doesn’t mean that defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas can sit back and take it easy during spring practice. For one, he has some decisions to make regarding his secondary, which is made up of five defensive backs due to the unique 4-2-5 scheme the Horned Frogs have long employed under Patterson. The biggest loss from last season is cornerback Jason Verrett, who earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after leading the conference in passes broken up (14) while recording two interceptions. The secondary should be in good shape with senior strong safety Sam Carter, senior cornerback Kevin White and junior wide safety Chris Hackett forming a strong foundation to build around. However, Bumpas will need someone new to step up at cornerback opposite White and in the free safety spot that was occupied by Elisha Olabode last season. Otherwise, the front six returns largely intact form last year’s starting group, which doesn’t include Devonte Fields. The 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman, Fields played in just three games last season because of injury. He will start the spring second on the depth chart at right end. Fields also has run into some trouble off the field, including being robbed at gunpoint in January, so he could use a good spring to get things started on the right foot.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
The good news is that things shouldn’t get any worse for Gary Patterson and company compared to last season. Schedule-wise Minnesota replaces LSU as the marquee non-conference opponent and TCU’s defense should be good enough to keep this team in most games. However, whether or not these Horned Frogs get back to a bowl game will more than likely be determined by the performance of their offense. Patterson has brought in two new coordinators to oversee the offensive overhaul, now it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces and putting it all together. TCU has enough talent to win six games, but its margin of error will probably be pretty thin unless the offense takes a dramatic step forward this fall.