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Big 12 Football: Why TCU Will Be a Legitimate Threat in 2012

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IMay 14, 2012

TCU coach Gary Patterson will have his players ready to do battle in the Big 12 this season
TCU coach Gary Patterson will have his players ready to do battle in the Big 12 this seasonTom Pennington/Getty Images

Over the last decade, TCU coach Gary Patterson has been building a sleeping giant down in Fort Worth, Texas. Now, in 2012, his Horned Frogs will have the opportunity to finally prove themselves against the big boys of the BCS when they make the transition and take the step up from the Mountain West to the Big 12 conference. 

Incredibly, TCU has won at least 11 games in six out of the last seven seasons, and Patterson has solidified his status as one of college football’s top coaching minds with his team’s remarkably consistent success.

The question that everyone around the Big 12 is wondering now, though, is what should we expect from the Horned Frogs in their inaugural season in their new conference in 2012?

Judging from the reaction of many Big 12 fans around the message board circuit and on social media outlets, it seems as if most fans of top conference schools such as Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State aren't too concerned about the arrival of TCU.

The fact that the Horned Frogs have been just flat-out dominant for the past seven years, and the fact that they’ve been to two BCS bowls in the past three seasons (including an eye-opening win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl), doesn’t seem to overshadow the common perception they were simply a very good team that beat up on less-than-stellar non-BCS competition. 

It seems many are expecting TCU to get a wake-up call when it does battle with Big 12 opponents. However, it actually may turn out to be the teams in the Big 12 that get that reality check from Patterson’s crew in 2012.

QB Casey Pachall flourished in his first season as a starter in 2011
QB Casey Pachall flourished in his first season as a starter in 2011Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

It’s fair to point out there’s an obvious disparity between the level of competition in the Mountain West and the Big 12, but don’t fault TCU for beating the teams it had to play. Instead, respect the Horned Frogs for routinely being head and shoulders above everyone else they squared off with.  

There’s no disputing TCU has had some top-notch talent recently. In fact, the Horned Frogs have produced 15 NFL draft picks in just the last four years. The only current Big 12 teams that have had more players drafted during that time are Oklahoma (23) and Texas (17).

Patterson and his staff have done an outstanding job of mining Texas, a state which is annually stocked with the most FBS college football recruits, and they've managed to find the type of kids that can be molded into highly productive, fundamentally sound and successful players. Whether Big 12 fans want to give the Horned Frogs credit, it’s now clear that they have the type of athletes needed to compete with any other team in the country.

And yes, they’ll have the type of talent this year to compete for a conference championship in their first season in the Big 12. 

While Oklahoma and fellow newcomer West Virginia will likely be the trendy picks and preseason favorites to win the Big 12 championship this season, the Horned Frogs also deserve to be in the conversation as well.

On offense, TCU will have one of the best collections of skill-position talent in the country in 2012. QB Casey Pachall, who completed 66 percent of his passes for more than 2,900 yards in his first season as a starter last year, will be surrounded by the type of playmakers he needs to make TCU’s offensive attack truly explode this year.

Gary Patterson will get to show off his team on the national stage much more often in the Big 12
Gary Patterson will get to show off his team on the national stage much more often in the Big 12Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Pachall appeared to be poised and always in control during his first season as a starter, and it certainly didn’t look as if the pressure of replacing Andy Dalton, who happens to be one of the most consistent and successful quarterbacks in college football history, ever got to him.

The 6'5", 216-pound junior signal-caller is the type of big, strong-armed pocket-passer that will fit in extremely well in the Big 12. With so much firepower surrounding him, he’s got the kind of surrounding cast he needs to put together a monster campaign in 2012, and he could possibly even enter the Heisman discussion at some point this season.

Speaking of that firepower, not only do the Horned Frogs have one of the most talented trios of running backs in college football—comprised of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James—they also have one of the most explosive receiver corps in the country with Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter all returning.

Wesley, Tucker and James combined to rush for more than 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns last year, while Boyce, Dawson and Carter hauled in a combined 129 passes for 1,850 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012.

The key to the offense's success will ultimately be how the offensive line, which only returns two starters, can match up with the bigger, faster and more physical defensive fronts that the Big 12 has to offer. If the front five can gel quickly and handle themselves appropriately this season, the Horned Frogs have the type of dangerous offensive weapons to do major damage in 2012.

On defense, the offseason dismissals of LB Tanner Brock, DT D.J. Yendrey and S Devin Johnson, who were arrested back in February as part of a campus drug bust, are tough to take. All three players were expected to be starters this season, and Brock was going to be counted on to be one of the leaders of the unit after sitting out last season with a foot injury.

Even though Brock, Yendrey and Johnson will all be missed, TCU does still have three players capable of being the leaders of each level of the defense.

Up front on the defensive line, the premier player is DE Stansly Maponga, who racked up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season. Maponga is one of the most physically gifted pass-rushers in the country, and the 6'2", 265-pound junior possesses the type of power and speed off the edge to blow by any offensive tackle he goes up against.

Maponga will be the face of a four-man defensive front that also includes fellow end Ross Forrest and defensive tackle David Johnson, two players who should vie for All-Big 12 honors this season.

Kenny Cain, who led the team with 72 tackles last season even though he missed two games with an injury, will once again be one of the key defensive leaders for TCU in 2012. Cain will likely be joined by sophomore MLB Deryck Gildon, who has some big shoes to fill taking over for the departed Tank Carder.

The secondary was one of the team’s key weaknesses last season, as the Horned Frogs gave up 223 passing yards per game in 2011, and it could once again be shaky this year, since there will be four new starters amongst the five-man group. Jason Verrett is a top-flight corner, but it will be interesting to see how the three safeties fare against some of the conference's top passing attacks this season.

Just like every team, TCU has a few notable weaknesses and question marks (offensive line and the secondary are the two main concerns). However, the Horned Frogs also have one of the most talented rosters in the country, and they have one of the best and brightest coaches in the game to guide them.

Gary Patterson has worked wonders with this program during his tenure, and he’ll now have the opportunity to show off his squad on the national stage on a weekly basis.

As far as the schedule is concerned, the non-conference slate is certainly manageable with games against Grambling, SMU and Virginia. With the way things are set up, there’s a good chance TCU could be 7-0 going into a late-October road trip to Oklahoma State.

That’s when things will get considerably tougher, though.

The Horned Frogs end their season with five games against teams that will likely enter the year ranked in the preseason Top 25 (Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma). And that includes trips to Stillwater, Morgantown and Austin.

We’ll surely find out a lot about Patterson and his program in 2012. Given the type of talent the Horned Frogs have this year, it would be wise for some of the snooty Big 12 fans to take this team seriously and not write it off as some second-rate BCS wannabee.

TCU undoubtedly has the pieces in place to compete for a conference championship in 2012, and with Patterson leading the charge, the Horned Frogs should have no trouble making themselves right at home in the Big 12 this season.

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