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West Virginia Mountaineers vs. TCU Horned Frogs Preview and Prediction

Kenny Hill

Kenny Hill

West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen

Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone, but this West Virginia-TCU game has quietly become kind of a really big deal here.

The two Big 12 rivals (well I wouldn’t exactly call them bitter rivals... yet) both come into this weekend with Big 12 title aspirations, national rankings in hand and completely refreshed from having last weekend off.

Not only that, it turns out that ESPN”s “College GameDay” is coming to Cowtown and will crank the excitement meter into the red for the Frogs’ rabid fan base. The last time GameDay was around for this matchup the Frogs edged Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers in a 31-30 thriller in Morgantown three years ago.

This showdown of far-flung conference mates (the campuses are more than 1,000 miles apart) has produced a gaggle of nail-biting finishes since the they both joined the Big 12, including 2011’s 39-38 overtime win by TCU, Josh Boyce’s 2-point conversion catch in ‘12 and Jaden Oberkrom’s 37-yard game-winning field goal in that aforementioned ‘14 game.

Last year, the Horned Frogs coughed up some early turnovers and dug themselves into a deep hole, eventually getting pasted 34-10. They’ll be bent on revenge here.

West Virginia at TCU

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FS1

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Spread: TCU -12.5

Three Things To Watch

1. WVU’s receiving corps vs. TCU’s secondary

The Mountaineers have a great crop of receivers, headed up by David Sills (seven TDs among his 26 catches) and Gary Jennings (team-high 29 receptions). Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs’ secondary gave up some big plays to Oklahoma State as well as nearly 400 passing yards to Mason Rudolph in their last game. It will be interesting to see what WVU QB Will Grier can do against the Frogs’ nickel package. This isn’t quite a typical nasty Purple Gang defense, but they do stop the run quite well, ranking 13th nationally in that respect. So it will be imperative for Grier to utilize his wealth of targets, matriculating the ball down the field and keep the INTs to a minimum.

2. Mountaineers’ run defense... or lack thereof

The Horned Frogs average 5.19 yards per carry and sport the 25th-best running game in all of FBS. That’s good but not earth-shattering. The problem comes when you match that against the West Virginia run defense, which has been Swiss cheese. Consider that Kansas RB Khalil Herbert ran the rock for 291 yards against the Mountaineers two weeks ago in a 56-34 loss. The Frogs controlled the clock in their win vs. Oklahoma State, holding the ball for 39 minutes thanks to Darius Anderson’s 160 rushing yards and converting 11 of 19 third down attempts. The hope here is that WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson used the two weeks to shore up his run defense. The defensive front of his 3-3-5 alignment must get a good push on that punishing TCU O-line or this could quickly get dicey for the visitors.

3. Confidence factor

Both teams have had a big early-season test as the Mountaineers dropped their opener to Virginia Tech 31-24 while the Horned Frogs won on the road 44-31 at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys were ranked No. 6 in the country. On top of that, keep in mind TCU was not ranked in the preseason but skyrocketed up to the No. 8 slot on the strength of a 4-0 start. That road win at OSU has made the Frogs walk with their chest stuck out just a little bit more. And talk about gaining confidence, QB Kenny Hill, who threw a Big 12-high 13 picks last year, has fit in quite comfortably this season, connecting on 73 percent of his pass attempts with nine TDs and just three picks. The Frogs changed their fate with that transcendent win in Stillwater and it will show here too.

Final Analysis

Neither team is afraid of a shootout, to say the least. WVU is the No. 2 offense in the country piling up 595 yards per game. But TCU has a tough ball control-type of offense that can pound you into submission. Oklahoma State found that out in spades two weeks ago. The Horned Frogs also have the better defense, which is usually the case for a Gary Patterson-coached squad. The old saying is that defense wins championships. In a shootout, the D that comes up with more big plays can also say the same. For that reason, go with the Frogs.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: TCU

Prediction: TCU 55, West Virginia 41

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.