TCU Horned Frogs 2016 Preview and Prediction

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#17 TCU Horned Frogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#17

Big 12 PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson, 143-47 (15 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sonny Cumbie, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chad Glasgow

TCU entered last season as one of the favorites to win the Big 12 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff but injuries and roster turnover on defense prevented coach Gary Patterson’s team from claiming the conference title. Even with the departure of quarterback Trevone Boykin and a revamped offensive line, the Horned Frogs aren’t expected to take too much of a step back in the win column in 2016. Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill is locked into a tight battle with Foster Sawyer for the starting quarterback job, and the winner of this competition will inherit a talented group of skill players. The defense improved over the course of 2015 and could be the best in the Big 12 this fall. If all of the pieces fall into place, TCU could challenge for double-digit wins for the third consecutive season.

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Previewing TCU’s Offense 
 

TCU has won 23 of 26 games since switching to the Air Raid. But now it needs new players to throw and catch the ball in the offense. Without Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson to terrorize the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have to figure out if Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer is the next quarterback to operate an offense that has averaged more than 40 points each of the last two seasons — and who will be the targets. There are lots of candidates. KaVontae Turpin, Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart combined for 76 catches, 1,051 yards and 11 touchdowns as freshmen. Veteran slot receiver Ty Slanina will be back from a broken collarbone that sidelined him in Week 4. Deanté Gray, who had eight touchdown catches in 2014, returns after missing a year recovering from knee surgery. 

But will there be enough time to throw it and catch it? TCU must replace four starters on the offensive line, although center Austin Schlottman and guard Matt Pryor played the last three games as injury replacements.

Previewing TCU's Defense
 

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TCU had to scrape together a linebacking corps on short notice last year. Now, it is the team’s strength on defense. Travin Howard, Ty Summers and Montrel Wilson ranked first, third and fifth, respectively, on the team in tackles. Howard and Wilson were backup safeties a year ago who were forced to cover for the loss of Sammy Douglas (Week 1 knee injury) and Mike Freeze (Week 1 personal leave). Summers? Merely a high school quarterback signed to play linebacker. But the presence of those three, along with the return to health of Douglas, provide a combination of experience and athleticism at the position, a key spot in Gary Patterson’s defense.

The defensive line is short on experience at tackle, but high on potential at defensive end with Josh Carraway, the 2015 sack leader, in place, and James McFarland, the 2014 sack leader, returning from a broken toe that sidelined him all of last season.

The secondary will miss do-it-all safety Derrick Kindred. At cornerback, Jeff Gladney and converted receiver Tony James have plenty of speed, but neither has started a game in college.

Previewing TCU’s Specialists
 

There will be new kickers in 2016 after four years of stability. Jonathan Song and Ryan Graf will compete to replace Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12’s all-time field goal leader, and Adam Nunez is first in line at punter in place of Ethan Perry. Those are big jobs. Oberkrom and Perry held them for four years, so TCU hasn’t had to worry about them for a long time.

Final Analysis 
 

Quarterback play matters in the Big 12, and if TCU gets quality play out of the position, there is enough talent on hand in the other spots to make for a championship-contending team. Co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie turned a former receiver into a Heisman candidate quarterback in Boykin. With Hill, they get an athlete who has won at the highest level of prep football in Texas and put up gaudy numbers in the SEC while at Texas A&M. So it’s not unreasonable to believe TCU will develop a quarterback for a deep, young, promising receiver corps.

On defense, Patterson knows what he has — four starters whose 2015 seasons were cut short by injury are expected back to join seven other returning starters. Patterson’s best defenses have been his most experienced defenses, and this edition can certainly be called experienced.

The coaches will have to do quick work — Arkansas visits in Week 2, and Oklahoma arrives in Week 5. But the raw materials are there.