Surprisingly, last place in the Big 12 will be on the line Saturday as the TCU Horned Frogs travel to Lawrence to face the Kansas Jayhawks. The Frogs fell to a disappointing 3-4 overall and 1-3 in league play with last week’s 52-27 home loss to Oklahoma. The blowout was the fourth loss in five games for TCU, which hopes to get back on track despite a season-ending injury to its starting quarterback and the dismissal of one of its top offensive and special teams playmakers.
Meanwhile, Kansas lost its fourth straight game last week and sits 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12 following a 48-16 loss to Texas Tech. Can the Jayhawks take advantage of the reeling Horned Frogs and give head coach David Beaty a much-needed win?
TCU at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
Spread: TCU -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback questions
TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson started the first seven games this season. Robinson threw for 1,334 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions while also running for 230 yards and three scores. But Robinson has been hampered by a shoulder injury, and he also appeared to be losing his grip on the starting job after tossing at least one pick in five straight games. In the second quarter against Oklahoma, after going 3-for-8 passing for 21 yards, Robinson was replaced by Michael Collins.
This week, head coach Gary Patterson announced Robinson would have season-ending surgery, clearing the top of the depth chart for Collins. A transfer from Penn (as in the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania Quakers), Collins is 13-for-31 (41.9 percent) for 247 yards and three TDs with one interception this year. True freshman Justin Rogers, the most highly touted QB recruit Patterson has landed since taking over in Fort Worth, could provide competition after he was cleared to play following successful rehabilitation of a knee injury.
Kansas has also made a change at quarterback recently. Peyton Bender started the first four games of the season for the Jayhawks, but he was benched and replaced with Carter Stanley for the games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Beaty returned to Bender midway through the loss to the Mountaineers, and the senior returned to the starting lineup last week. Bender has completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 902 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions this season.
2. Special teams spark
Aside from Robinson’s surgery, the biggest news of the week for TCU was the dismissal of wide receiver and return man KaVontae Turpin following an arrest on an assault charge. Turpin, one of the top special teams playmakers in the country over the last few seasons, caught a touchdown pass and returned kickoff for a touchdown in the loss to Oklahoma a week ago. It was his sixth career special teams touchdown.
Without Turpin, the Frogs must turn to other players for a spark on special teams. Four other TCU players have been credited with a kick return this year, with Emari Demercado ranking second to Turpin with four. Demercado has averaged 25.5 yards per kick return this year. Derius Davis, who returned two punts for 80 yards including a touchdown against Southern in the season opener, is the only other Horned Frog with multiple punt returns this season. Jalen Reagor, who has one kick return and one punt return, and leads the team in receptions (38), receiving yards (465) and TD catches (4), may also play a bigger role on special teams moving forward.
3. Ball security
No FBS team has forced more turnovers than Kansas, and the Jayhawks are tied for the national lead with a plus-14 turnover margin. And, despite West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s claims before his team played the Jayhawks, KU’s takeaways aren’t simply the “Rutgers effect.” KU did force the Scarlet Knights to commit six turnovers, but the Jayhawks also forced six from Central Michigan and four from Holgersen’s Mountaineers, including three interceptions of Heisman candidate quarterback Will Grier. Last week, Kansas forced two Texas Tech fumbles and also intercepted a pass.
In all, 10 Jayhawks have interceptions and three have been returned for touchdowns. Hasan Defense leads the team with three picks and 125 return yards. Six players have forced a fumble, led by linebacker Kyron Johnson and Mike Lee, who have forced two apiece.
TCU finds itself on the other end of the spectrum. The Horned Frogs have six takeaways all season which is tied for the fewest in the Big 12 and ranks 120th nationally. Combined with an offense that ranks last in the league with 16 turnovers, TCU ranks dead last in the conference and No. 128 in the country with a minus-10 turnover margin. Only Rutgers and East Carolina have been worse.
TCU ranks No. 7 in the Big 12 in scoring offense (28.4 points per game), and that figure is slightly inflated by Turpin’s two touchdowns (plus Davis’ one) on special teams — not to mention the vast majority of scoring drives occurred with Robinson under center. Now, without its starting quarterback and top playmaker, TCU must get more creative to score points. Though scoring on the Kansas defense might not look like a daunting task, the Jayhawks have been the best team in the nation forcing turnovers — a major problem for a TCU squad that ranks among the worst in the FBS in turnover margin. And, though the Jayhawks have yet to stabilize the quarterback position, true freshman running back Pooka Williams has proven to be one of the best in the Big 12.
Nevertheless, TCU still has a talent advantage, and the Horned Frogs still boast one of the best defenses in the Big 12. Plus, Patterson is one of the best coaches in the country. Expect the Horned Frogs to win, but it probably won’t be pretty.
Prediction: TCU 27, Kansas 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.