Critical Dates for TCU During the 2011 Season
The TCU Horned Frogs head into the 2011 season with a young and inexperienced squad. Gone are stars such as Andy Dalton and Jeremy Kerley. Only five starters return on each side of the ball. Both the offensive and defensive lines are young and inexperienced.
All of that might make most people fearful of a challenging season, yet the Horned Frogs head into the 2011 season with a preseason ranking of 15th. That confidence from the pollsters is due in large part to head coach Gary Patterson and his success in Fort Worth. Patterson has compiled a record of 98-28 during his tenure and his success, particularly TCU's Rose Bowl win on New Year's Day, is drawing high-ranking recruits to the program.
Nevertheless, there are a number of dates on TCU's schedule this season that Horned Frogs fans should circle as games that will be a test of just how good this team will be with so many young, new players. If the Frogs can overcome some or most of these obstacles, they will have yet another extremely successful season.
Sept. 8: At Baylor
This nationally-televised game will kick off the 2011 season for the Horned Frogs. They will be taking on a Baylor squad thirsty for revenge after being pummeled by TCU last season, 45-10. Baylor went to its first bowl game in many seasons last year and expectations are high in Waco for even more success in 2011.
Baylor has perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback in the Big 12 in Robert Griffin III, able to sprint for yardage when he has to and able to throw the ball very long and very accurately. Joining him in the backfield is Jay Finely, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last year and averaged 6.1 yards a carry.
TCU's top-ranked defense managed to contain the Bears in Fort Worth last year, but that may be a much taller order this season, on the road. Should the Horned Frogs manage a victory in their opener, that could be an early indicator of a successful season.
Sept. 30: SMU
SMU's football program is on the upswing under June Jones, and they have always been a dangerous opponent for the Horned Frogs. Although TCU has managed to dominate this rivalry for the last several years, the matchup is always a volatile and unpredictable one.
Many Horned Frog fans will remember the 2005 season, where TCU opened up with a stunning 17-10 win over Oklahoma in Norman, only to lose to the lowly Mustangs the following week in Dallas, 21-10. It was the only loss they had that year.
The Mustangs return all five of their offensive lineman as well as playmaker Zach Line who rushed for 1,494 yards last year, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Beasley Cole and Darius Johnson are both dangerous receivers who will threaten a depleted Frog secondary.
The big question in this game will be if an inexperienced TCU offensive front can move the ball against a solid, if unspectacular Mustang defense. SMU gave the Frogs fits last year in Dallas, before TCU pulled away for a victory. This year's game should be just as competitive.
Oct. 8: At San Diego State
Of all of TCU's opponents last season, none gave them a bigger scare than the Aztecs. San Diego State's offense was one of the few on the Horned Frogs' schedule that found a way to score against a TCU defense that was tops in the nation in points allowed.
The Aztecs face some challenges coming into 2011, however, perhaps the biggest hurdle being the loss of their coach, Brady Hoke, to Michigan. Nevertheless, almost all of their offensive starters are returning, including quarterback Ryan Lindley, who is outstanding, and an offensive line that gave him all day to throw last year. Ronnie Hillman gained 1,532 yards in 2010 and scored 17 times and will be an imposing threat. The receiving corps will feature Dominique Sandifer who, while unproven as yet, has loads of talent.
The defense is also quick and athletic, but the unit is not overpowering. Once again, TCU will have to rely on a young defense if they are going to win this clash. If they can, only Boise State will stand in their way of another Mountain West crown.
Oct. 28: Brigham Young
BYU suffered through a disappointing season in 2010 and no game was, perhaps, more disappointing than their clash with TCU in Fort Worth. What was supposed to be a tough, competitive game turned into a rout early, and the Cougars went home after a 31-3 thrashing.
That kind of result is not likely to occur again this season, although the game is being played in Frog-friendly Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The Cougars have 10 returning offensive starters and will be led by one of the most sought-after quarterback recruits in the nation, Jake Heaps.
Bronco Mendenhall is an excellent coach, and last year will probably be put safely behind them as the Cougars head into 2011. BYU is a talented and dangerous bunch, and although this is now a non-conference clash, with the Cougars being an independent, the schools have formed a fierce rivalry and the game should be fun to watch.
Don't look for a blowout this year.
Nov. 12: at Boise State
Gee, do you think the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl was really how Boise State envisioned ending their season? Do you think they watched the Rose Bowl and thought, "if only?" Do you think they'll be just a teeny bit motivated to take on TCU November 12th?
Of all the games on the Horned Frogs' schedule in 2011, this one is probably in the forefront of everyone's mind. Boise State squandered a probable Rose Bowl trip with an unexpected loss to a very good Nevada team last year. TCU, which was slightly behind in the polls at the time, was looking at a possible perfect season without, perhaps, even a chance at a BCS bowl bid. All that changed with the Boise State loss.
Although the two teams did not meet last year, they have been rivals for a while now. They have met three times in the postseason, with Boise State holding a 2-1 edge. They will be led in 2011 by senior and fourth-year starter Kellen Moore. He will lead a Bronco team that has lost two of its top receivers, but that shouldn't slow Moore or the Broncos down. Doug Martin is a great pass-catcher out of the backfield and will be just one of many pieces in the Bronco arsenal.
On defense Boise State will be led by defensive end Shea McLellin, who can force turnovers and get to the ball quickly.
This looks to be the Horned Frogs' toughest game on their schedule for 2011. The Broncos will be their biggest roadblock as they attempt to win a third straight conference title.
Gary Patterson leads a young, talented, but inexperienced lineup into 2011. He will, however, expect a great deal from his team, and he will set expectations high. Patterson is a coach who knows how to get the most out of his players, and his enthusiasm for the game and for his team is infectious. His players love to play for him.
TCU will need all of those intangibles as they head into 2011. Although their schedule isn't overwhelming, these five dates are ones that will prove the mettle of this squad and will determine just how quickly the Frogs can bounce back from all of their personnel losses.
It will be an intriguing year for the Horned Frogs as they bid goodbye to the Mountain West Conference and ready themselves for the Big East and BCS play in 2012. These five games will determine the success of TCU's 2011 season.