2011 College Football Preview: Tank Carder and the No. 17 TCU Horned Frogs
Question: What is the best way for a non-AQ school to celebrate their first ever BCS bowl victory?
Answer: Move to the most winnable BCS conference in college football.
164 days ago the Horned Frogs defeated the mighty Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl. 380 days from now, they will officially join the Big East.
Done and done.
As for the in between time? No one really knows what to expect.
TCU returns only six starters in 2011. Andy Dalton is gone. Jeremy Kerley is gone. Teejay Johnson is also gone. But, believe it or not, the Frogs aren't likely to see a drop off in talent.
What they will suffer from is a drastic loss of experience. A lack of experience typically correlates to an increase in mistakes, and often times a lack of leadership.
While TCU is headed to AQ land next summer, they're not there yet. For one more season they'll need to run the table to get into the dance. So the question, then, becomes: Can the Horned Frogs overcome the loss of so many familiar faces, and make their third consecutive run to the BCS?
SuperFrog was not the face of TCU football over the last two seasons. Andy Dalton was.
With Dalton gone, highly touted sophomore Casey Pachall is saddled with the responsibility of filling his over-sized shoes. Ultimately, his skill set will likely exceed that of his predecessor. Matching his leadership, however, will undoubtedly prove to be a more challenging task.
Pachall shouldn't have any trouble finding someone to throw to. Play-makers Josh Boyce (So.), Antoine Hicks (Sr.), and Skye Dawson (Jr.) yield a surplus of options on the perimeter. Senior Logan Brock and junior Corey Fuller provide big targets for the short game at tight end.
All-Americans Marcus Cannon and Jake Kirkpatrick headline the depletion of an offensive line that allowed only nine sacks in 13 contests last season. Senior guard Kyle Dooley is the only returning starter. Adequately re-tooling the offensive front around him is nothing short of crucial.
The running backs are the paramount strength of this unit. Junior Ed Wesley leads a full house that includes UCLA transfer Aundre Dean, highly regarded redshirt freshman Dwight Smith, and the Frog's second and third leading rushers from 2010—junior Matthew Tucker and sophomore Waymon James.
It is Tank Carder's time to lead in Fort Worth.
The 2010 first-team All-American heads up an entirely intact linebacking core, along with junior Tanner Brock. In Dick Bumpas' 4-2-5, these two guys are the heart. Senior Kris Gardner and junior Kenny Cain provide depth.
The defensive line looks strong once again. Sophomore Stansly Maponga is back after a very good redshirt freshman campaign in 2010. Opposite him, senior Braylon Broughton is finally expected to live up to expectations. The middle of the defensive front should provide solid production with juniors Jeremy Coleman and D.J. Yendrey leading the way at nose and tackle, respectively.
The secondary will be the key. Senior Greg McCoy is back at the field corner. Sophomore Jason Verrett emerged from the spring as the starter on the boundary. Freshman strong safety Sam Carter will be a first-time starter. The same can be said for senior Johnny Fobbs at free safety, though sophomore Elisha Olabode will push him for playing time. Senior Tekerrein Cuba started five games at weak safety in 2010, and he will need to be perform very well in that role for the Horned Frogs in 2011. Ultimately, this group will determine whether or not the TCU defense can live up to their usual lofty standards.
The kicking game should be a strength for the Horned Frogs, as placekicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton are back for what will be their fourth years as starters.
Jeremy Kerley's departure leaves a gaping void to fill in the return game. Skye Dawson and Greg McCoy will be looked upon to compensate for that loss.
Game of the Year
Oct. 28 @ Boise State
For the last several seasons, these two schools have led the non-AQ charge. Their profile similarities and proximity in the polls have created a natural rivalry that culminated in their 2010 Fiesta Bowl meeting.
Boise State's move to the Mountain West would have only intensified the competition between the two, giving their annual regular season tilts a "winner-take-all" feel.
Instead, TCU joined Utah and BYU overboard the MWC's sinking ship—leaving Boise State in a conference that may actually be worse than the WAC.
Regardless, when the two meet for their first and only conference matchup, it could stand as the final hurdle between themselves and another BCS bowl.
As of now, Ed Wesley (1,078 yards, 11 touchdowns in '10) is the only skill player worth drafting from this TCU squad. He's a Top 50 back that should be taken between rounds 11 and 13.
Josh Boyce and/or Antoine Hicks could become more attractive options later on if Casey Pachall shows some consistency and big-play ability. But, for a first-time starter in a run-heavy offense, that serves as a pretty large if.
Despite the sudden lack of experience along the defensive line and in the secondary, the TCU DEF/ST is still a Top 10 unit. Look to scoop them up toward the middle portion of your draft.
Fear the Frog: Final Forecast
A brand new quarterback coupled with a brand new offensive line is typically not a recipe for success. But, this defense will not need the offense to score a lot—just, enough.
The schedule is favorable, but pesky. The Horned Frogs will travel to Waco for a dangerous season opener with Baylor, then to Colorado Springs where they will need to contain Tim Jefferson and the Falcon running game.
SMU, BYU, and Boise State loom later in the season. But, each match-up comes with at least one MWC conference cupcake to provide a breather in the week preceding it.
Overall, it's tough to envision TCU losing more than twice. It's even possible, albeit unlikely, that Patterson and the Horned Frogs could find themselves back in the BCS.
Projection: 10-2, (6-1)