TCU's offensive struggles, which have centered around sophomore quarterback Trevone Boykin, have been well documented.
No game this year has epitomized those struggles like the Horned Frogs' 24-10 loss to Oklahoma State in Week 8. Though TCU's stellar defense forced four turnovers, the Frogs offense failed to capitalize. In turn, TCU committed four turnovers of its own. Frogs head coach Gary Patterson also replaced co-offensive coordinator Jarrett Anderson with Rusty Burns mid-game and briefly benched Boykin in favor of redshirt freshman Tyler Matthews before returning Boykin to action.
Burn the game tape. Burn it with fire.
Now enter the Texas Longhorns, undefeated in Big 12 play and on a three-game winning streak. Yet, TCU is oddly a three-point favorite over the 'Horns, according to VegasInsider.com.
Is Texas so volatile/untrustworthy it deserves to be an underdog (+2) at TCU? At least UT has a good outing under its belt. TCU has nothing.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) October 24, 2013
With a stout running game and improved defense under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, Texas seems like a natural favorite against an opponent that can't score (TCU is averaging 16 points in conference games).
Perhaps, there are lingering questions about Texas head coach Mack Brown that have oddsmakers setting the spread so small. Or maybe it's the matchup of Boykin against Texas' defense.
When Texas' defense was at its worst during back-to-back losses in September, BYU and Ole Miss had a ton of success with zone read and option plays. And Boykin's running ability can be compared to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who had 259 rushing yards against the Longhorns.
Texas' defense has done a better job against mobile quarterbacks in the past month. Only Iowa State's Sam Richardson has rushed for more than 50 yards during that span (83). But Boykin's ability to run has to be accounted for; he leads TCU in rushing attempts with 86.
Especially when many of those runs are improvised. Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman explains:
Boykin has some good moves in the open field, and despite Texas’ recent improvement, the Horns have given up large chunks of rushing yardage to quarterbacks like BYU's Taysom Hill and Iowa State's Sam B. Richardson.
Boykin is in the same speed department as Hill, who gashed Texas for more than two bills, and was a big reason why the Horned Frogs were able to get out of Austin with a win last Thanksgiving. He threw only nine times but finished with 77 rushing yards on 10 carries in the 20-13 win.
Boykin, Golden says, would actually be a bigger matchup nightmare for Texas than Casey Pachall, who will be available Saturday according to TCU head coach Gary Patterson (via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). Pachall sustained a broken arm in Week 2 against Southeastern Louisiana.
TCU's wide receivers, none of whom have more than a single touchdown catch this season, haven't been a factor. Coupled with TCU's shaky offensive line, incorporating a less-mobile (and recently injured) Pachall could actually have disastrous results.
There's no question Boykin and TCU's offense has regressed in 2013. But it's not like Texas has been playing lights out on defense for a year, either. In fact, the 'Horns have only looked good on that side of the ball in two of the past three games (against Kansas State and Oklahoma).
Texas should be the favorite to beat TCU, despite the spread. But Boykin, despite his struggles, could be the player who validates the Vegas line.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.