The TCU Horned Frogs have a number of challenges ahead of them as they prepare for the 2011 season. A second straight unbeaten regular season, and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl make last year a tough act to follow.
This is a team that has lost a number of key elements. Andy Dalton and Jeremy Kerley are gone, as is much of the offensive line. Only five starters are returning on each side of the ball. Among those returning are Rose Bowl star linebacker Tank Carder, as well as outside linebacker Tanner Brock. They will need to provide leadership to a defense that has also lost substantial numbers along the line and half the secondary.
On offense a key player coming back is fullback Ed Wesley, who will need to provide explosiveness for a unit that is also dangerously depleted. He will have to run behind a young and inexperienced offensive line and with a quarterback, Cody Pachall, who is talented and athletic, but who has some huge shoes to fill with the loss of Dalton.
Despite these handicaps, the Frogs head into the 2011 season with an ranking of 15th. That is a lofty spot indeed for a team that is supposed to be rebuilding.
If one looks at Garry Patterson's record with the Horned Frogs (98-28), however, it is apparent that he has had some success at succeeding year after year. His defenses are always sound and because of the Horned Frogs' success over the last several years, he has been able to recruit higher quality athletes to his program.
This will be the Horned Frogs' last year in the Mountain West Conference. Despite the departure of Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU to an independent status, the conference added Boise State, a definite nemesis for the Horned Frogs and the primary opponent standing in their way of, perhaps, another BCS appearance. San Diego State was a much improved club last year and the Frogs managed to add BYU to their schedule as a non-conference opponent. The rest of the schedule, however, is fairly weak. Other non-conference foes are Baylor, Portland State, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe, none of whom are exactly giant killers.
TCU has the athleticism and talent to have a successful season in 2011. Will it be a season that mirrors what they were able to do in 2010? Probably not. It is unrealistic to think a squad as young and inexperienced as the Horned Frogs will be able to go unbeaten. They should, however, be able to go 8-4 or 9-3 and get to a decent bowl game. Even 10-2 is not out of the realm of possibility.
Gary Patterson has set expectations high in Fort Worth and the Frog faithful have come to enjoy a winner. That won't change in 2011.