I know, it's a little early to be making spring predictions.
And while a relatively safe bet in the Big 12 is always Oklahoma or Texas, last season proved to be a disappointment for both teams—neither made it to a BCS bowl. Texas did beat a feisty Oregon State team in the Alamo Bowl, but Oklahoma got embarrassed by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
Kansas State has had great success under head coach Bill Snyder, but the Wildcats were destroyed by the Oregon Ducks in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl and lost an incredible amount of talent from the 2012 team. Oklahoma State is on a lot of analysts' minds this year, but the Cowboys have some huge holes to fill on the interior offensive line and at defensive end.
So Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas are the Big 12's big guns this year (no surprise, right?), and we'll certainly keep tabs on them as we do every year. Anyone else we're missing?
Why not the purple power of TCU?
Last year the Horned Frogs went 7-6, but that record doesn't really encapsulate the season. The wheels came off early when quarterback Casey Pachall left the team after an October arrest that eventually saw him seeking drug and alcohol addiction treatment—Pachall was one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the country before he entered rehab.
Trevone Boykin had a rough go of it as Pachall's replacement—TCU lost to Iowa State in his first start. Receiver Josh Boyce talked about Boykin's performance with the media after the loss.
As the season progressed, so did Boykin, and his mobility does give head coach Gary Patterson something to think about during his closed practices. Patterson has not named his starting quarterback, and he probably won't until fall practice, ostensibly to give Pachall some time to return to form.
What makes TCU a real threat in the Big 12 this year is its defense—the Frogs return almost everyone. Linebacker Kenny Cain (team's leading tackler) and defensive end Stansly Maponga (early defection to NFL) will be missed, but overall, the defense returns fairly intact.
In fact, with end Devonte Fields seeing full-time action and defensive back Jason Verrett (league's No. 1-ranked pass defender) deciding to return to the team for his senior season, this defense could be even better than last year's No. 16 nationally ranked defense.
Devonte Fields will be turning heads this season, but unfortunately, most of those heads will be attached to quarterbacks' bodies.
Fields was named the Associated Press' Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in his freshman year. (His 2012 highlight video can be seen here, but be advised that the video's music contains offensive language).
Offensively, the Frogs will have to reload at receiver with both Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson gone—guard Blaize Foltz will be missed as well—but considering the offensive (and defensive losses) other Big 12 teams are facing, the Frogs are looking locked and loaded if they can solidify the quarterback position.
How soon will we know if the TCU Horned Frogs are for real?
TCU plays LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on August 29.
Yes, this game could be a season-killer for both LSU and TCU but more so for TCU—even if TCU lost to LSU but ended up 11-1, the lack of a conference championship game could push it down a few notches by pollsters.
But if TCU wins, that would put it near the top of the rankings after just one week of football having been played. More from ESPN:
"If you can win it, then it ricochets you and skyrockets you in the rankings and gets you closer to all the things you’re trying to do, and that’s what we’re trying to get done," Patterson said, "plus financially, it’s a great deal for the university."
The SportsBusiness Journal reported that LSU earned $3.5 million for its game against the Ducks in 2011. TCU is no stranger to this kind of stage, either. It earned $1 million for playing Oregon State in Cowboys Stadium in 2010. The Frogs and Tigers signed up to play a home-and-home series all the way back in 2006, but last fall switched up plans and decided to play a single game at a neutral site.
TCU plays both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State on the road which means it only has four home conference games—its SOS should be fairly high this year.
The only thing missing is that huge game that catapults TCU above some SEC teams who will presumably be very highly ranked in the preseason.
Beating LSU and both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road should put the Horned Frogs in contention for a BCS bowl as long as they don't drop a game they were favored to win.
As history has shown, the BCS can be very unforgiving toward Big 12 teams that lose to unranked teams.