TCU entered 2015 with aspirations of winning the Big 12 and reaching the College Football Playoff behind Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin but things didn’t go quite as planned for the Horned Frogs. A rash of injuries, suspensions and other ill-timed roster moves threw the team into flux from a week-to-week basis but, in the end, Gary Patterson delivered one of the most impressive season-long coaching jobs of his storied career in getting the team to an 11-2 record that was capped off with an improbable comeback victory against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
While TCU fell a bit short of expectations last season, the seeds for exceeding them in 2016 were planted with so many young players getting a chance to shine on the field. A host of difference-makers still need to be replaced but the schedule sets the team up well to make a run at the final four and bringing another conference title to Fort Worth.
Can the Horned Frogs reach that promised land of the Playoff that they came ever so close to making two years ago? Here are three reasons why TCU will... and three reasons why it won’t.
Three Reasons Why TCU Will Make the College Football Playoff
1. One of the deepest defenses in the country
There may not be a head coach in the country better at scheming a defense than Gary Patterson and it’s to his credit that he’s consistently had one of the best units on that side of the ball no matter what conference he’s in. However, even he had to be surprised at how good TCU was last season on defense, doubly so when you factor in the sheer amount of injuries that the team suffered. While 2015 culminated in walk-ons playing key roles and freshmen being thrown into the fire on a consistent basis, the end result could be the deepest defense in the country this fall. The entire linebacker corps is back and then some and the secondary is a full two-deep of experienced players that have started in the past. Defensive line is a tad thin by comparison but getting back players like James McFarland (who missed all of last year) help soften the blow. In a conference full of elite offenses, having the best defense will certainly be something TCU can hang its hat on during the upcoming season.
2. KaVontae Turpin is a threat to score every time
While Biletnikoff Award finalist Josh Doctson drew most of the off-field press and on-field attention of defenses, the emergence of Turpin was one of the pleasant surprises for TCU in 2015, as the freshman made key contributions on both offense and special teams. He’s one of the fastest players on the team (and that’s saying something with as many track guys as there are at Amon G. Carter Stadium) and a threat to score just about any time he touches the football. Turpin figures to be a monster once again in the kick return game and his flexibility in lining up all over the field should force defenses to adjust on every snap to where he is. Some big names are no longer in a Horned Frogs uniform but coaches are certainly happy to have a versatile star in the making back for 2016 in Turpin.
3. Luck might be back on TCU’s side
When TCU made an incredible run to the Rose Bowl back in 2010 or came within a hair of making the playoff in ‘14, luck seemed to be on the Horned Frogs’ side. While those teams were certainly very good by any measuring stick, there’s little doubt that their success was buoyed by the fact that they seemed to stay remarkably healthy and had great luck in the timing of playing certain opponents. On the flip side, last year’s campaign showed that while TCU was a quality team that finished 11-2, it was remarkably unlucky with injures, which seemed to play a part in failing to live up to sky-high expectations. This year might be a little different though as luck seems to once again alternated to its side. TCU does have some key departures to deal with but these Frog also are getting back a number of key contributors from 2014 and may be as deep as anybody when you look at the young players that got to see the action last season. On top of all that, Big 12 favorite Oklahoma and non-conference foe Arkansas both come to Fort Worth and the mess at Baylor has seemingly narrowed the field of elite teams in the league. It’s always best to be lucky and good and TCU has the vibe of both heading into the fall.
Three Reasons Why TCU Will Not Make the College Football Playoff
1. The clutch playmakers are all gone
One factor for TCU in its late-season slide to end 2015 was the fact that quarterback Trevone Boykin, wide receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, plus a host of defensive starters all missed time with injuries. While that did allow younger players to step up and gain some experience, it goes without saying that replacing some mainstays in the playmaking department on a full-time basis will be a challenge for Patterson and his coordinators. There are talented pieces still around that could have big seasons but it remains to be seen if one player can step up in those key moments and make a play like the departed big names did time after time.
2. Offense is a question mark across the board
TCU was one of two schools not to take a quarterback to Big 12 Media Days this year and Patterson has indicated that it might be the opener before the issue is settled. Co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham both provide continuity and it’s not like the options are lacking between Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer but... Boykin re-wrote nearly every school record during his time behind center and it’s usually pretty hard to not have growing pains when replacing a player of that caliber. Add in question marks at running back, offensive line and a huge amount of youth at wide receiver and there are reasons to be cautious about the Horned Frogs when they host both Arkansas and Oklahoma early in the season.
3. Kicking could be a big issue
Every coach will tell you that special teams almost always gets overlooked at the beginning of the season but we’re here to correct that: losing kicker Jaden Oberkrom is a big issue for TCU in 2016. Whether it was clutch kicks at the end of games or simply being such a reliable option when the offense moved inside the 40, the Horned Frogs can chalk up a chunk of their success over the past few seasons to trotting out one of the best kickers in the country. Nobody on the roster has ever even attempted a field goal so it’s hard to think that TCU will be as good as it has been in close games that the Horned Frogs will almost certainly find themselves in due to their tough schedule.
There’s a lot to like about TCU heading into 2016 and there are likely to be a number of pundits and analysts that will tout the team as one of the leaders in a stable of dark horses to make the College Football Playoff. There is incredible depth at a number of positions and the Gary Patterson/Sonny Cumbie/Doug Meacham coaching trio is as good as it gets in the country. It’s no stretch to think the Horned Frogs will sport the best defense in the Big 12 and it’s conceivable that last season’s stretch run helped take the sting out of losing so many key playmakers on offense. Still, replacing a quarterback is no easy task and any growing pains associated with that are compounded by a schedule that is front-loaded with key games. TCU has a chance to sneak into the College Football Playoff picture this season but it will all come down to a handful of key questions being answered early and often.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 17
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 8
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.