TCU Football: 7 Best Players of the Gary Patterson Era

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2011

TCU Football: 7 Best Players of the Gary Patterson Era

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    Dennis Franchione started the modern TCU football renaissance, but when he bolted for Texas A&M and defensive coordinator Gary Patterson took over that's when things really got started.

    Since Patterson first took over for the final game of the 2000 season, TCU has had an impressive record of 103-30. From 2000 to 2009 the Horned Frogs were one of the top 10 teams, winning 76.6 percent of their games.

    With Patterson at the helm, TCU has had a bevy of successful players that brought a winning tradition to the program. Here are the seven best players of the Gary Patterson era.

7.) Cory Rodgers WR, KR, PR

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    Rodgers would be higher on this list if he wasn't one of the few Horned Frogs to leave early for the NFL draft. Although Rodgers elected to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL draft, his impact on the program was undeniable.

    While he was an integral part of the team that upset an Adrian Peterson-led Oklahoma team and went 11-1, he should be given the most credit for being the only form of offense TCU had in Gary Patterson's worst year, 2004. Although TCU had a losing record that year going 5-6, Rodgers was able to make things exciting, kept them in games they had no business being in and overall was great at getting underneath the opponent's skin.

    He was given the honor of All-Conference as a kick returner and wide receiver (twice in Conference USA and once in the Mountain West Conference) and was also named an All-American kick returner his final season at TCU.

    Professionally Rodgers was a fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2006 draft. Rodgers was eventually cut by the Packers and played in the CFL from 2007-2009, first for the BC Lions and then for the Toronto Argonauts.

6.) Tommy Blake, DE

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    Tommy Blake is by far the most enigmatic player of the Gary Patterson era and is the poster child for wasted potential.

    Blake was the first dominant pass-rusher of the Patterson era, and after being named All-MWC in his sophomore and junior seasons, was even in the top five on Mel Kiper's big board for the 2008 NFL draft.

    However, Black mysteriously abandoned the team just before his senior year, and when he came back he was overweight and clearly was a shell of himself. It was later revealed he was dealing with mental health issues.

    Even when Blake was overweight and struggling with his personal issues he was still effective, racking up four sacks in his final four games as a Frog.

    Blake comes in at No. 6 on this list, but had his senior year lived up to the hype he could have been the No. 1 on this list.

5.) Jason Phillips, LB

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    In another brilliant position change by coach Gary Patterson, Phillips was moved to linebacker from fullback after his initial redshirt year. The result? One of the best tacklers in school history.

    Phillips was inserted into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman for TCU's infamous upset of the Adrian Peterson-led Oklahoma Sooners and finished the season as the first freshman to be named All-Mountain West Conference.

    Phillips was an All-Conference selection all four years of his career and anchored some of the most vicious defenses in TCU history. Phillips' sure tackling enabled the defensive line to play fast and aggressive, sending offensive coordinators into a daze trying to slow down their aggressive attack.

    Phillips was the 137th pick in the 2009 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After five years as mostly a special teams player, the Ravens waived him and he was picked up by the Carolina Panthers.

4.) Tank Carder, LB

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    Tank Carder is the only current Frog on this list so he could potentially climb up this list when he goes on to the NFL. While Carder is a great player, his performance in the Rose Bowl alone has earned him a spot on this list.

    When Carder famously batted down Scott Tolzien's pass attempt that could have tied the Rose Bowl in the final minutes, his place in TCU history was forever sealed.

    Lost in that epic play was the fact that Carder was an anchor for that defense all year and his knack for making big plays played a pivotal role in putting TCU in position to win the Rose Bowl in the first place. Along with winning defensive player of the game honors for the Rose Bowl, Carder was also a consensus All-American.

    Carder, who has 43 tackles eight games into his final season, is currently projected as a fourth-round selection for the 2012 NFL draft.

3.) Marcus Cannon, OT

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    Year in and year out TCU has one of the best rushing attacks in the country. They also seem to have about four running backs that can get it done every year. This trend can be attributed to excellent offensive line play.

    While TCU has had many great linemen, Marcus Cannon stands out among the rest. Literally. Cannon is a behemoth tipping the scales at 358 pounds in a 6'5" frame.

    Anytime TCU was left with a 3rd-and-short situation running behind the road grading Cannon was a guaranteed first down and a demoralized defense. Cannon's ability to dominate the point of attack was a huge advantage during the most successful years of the Patterson era.

    Cannon was the 138th selection in the 2011 NFL draft, even after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, by the New England Patriots who plan on playing him at the guard position in the future.

2.) Jerry Hughes, DE

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    Defensive end Jerry Hughes is TCU defense personified: fast, fierce, versatile and relentless, no Frog brings the pressure quite like Hughes. When Tommy Blake graduated most fans wondered aloud if such an athletic force could be replaced on the defensive line.

    Then came Hughes.

    Hughes, like Blake before him, came to TCU as a running back but was quickly turned into a game-changing, quarterback-sacking beast. His rare combination of size and burst off the line of scrimmage put offensive tackles on the run and terrified running backs flailing in his wake. 

    Hughes totaled 28.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles in his career despite only spending two years as a full-time starter. Hughes was an All-American in both 2008 and 2009.

    Hughes was selected 31st overall, becoming the first genuine Gary Patterson era player (LaDainian Tomlinson only played one game under Patterson) to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

    Hughes has had mixed reviews as a professional, some consider him a bust in his limited playing time behind Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

1.) Andy Dalton, QB

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    After the Frogs' 2011 Rose Bowl victory Andy Dalton is easily the most recognizable Frog of the Patterson era and takes the top spot on this list. Quarterbacks are judged most critically on one stat: wins.

    In Dalton's four years as a starter he won. A lot. Although he owns every major passing record in TCU history, his enduring legacy will be his 42-7 record as a starter.

    Accurate, gritty and athletic, Dalton was the perfect quarterback for the TCU system and took the program to its highest heights in the modern era. Dalton won't soon be forgotten by Frog fans and is now the standard by which all TCU quarterbacks will be compared.

    Dalton was selected 35th overall in the 2011 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he started immediately as a rookie and appears to have a bright future as a franchise quarterback.