When the TCU Horned Frogs made their fifth conference move dating back to 1996, it ended a long climb back into the major conference picture. After being left out of the formation of the Big 12, Texas Christian began a journey to earn enough respect and merit to be welcomed back as a major player.
The first two seasons in the conference have pretty much gone the way many figured. Transitioning to a new conference is a difficult process, even for a team with as much success as the Frogs had since ‘96. While there might be differences in opinion about a fair time frame as to when a team should feel comfortable in their new conference home, the third season seems to be a reasonable assessment of adequate time for players and coaches to gain a familiarity with the other teams and for fans to expect results.
Will 2014 be the year the Frogs become the same team that had so much success in Conference USA and the Mountain West? Is the same level of dominance attainable in the Big 12? The question isn’t a matter of if, but when. In fact, had it not been for a lack of consistency on offense, TCU could have already been a threat in the conference title race.
Over the past two seasons, the defensive unit, for the most part, has stayed true to the usual Gary Patterson signature recipe, punishing other teams with sheer physicality. Just looking at the defensive side of the ball, we see a team that was ranked in the top 25 in the nation in total defense, and has been the best team in the Big 12 against the run.
Even going against the high powered offenses in the Big 12, Texas Christian held conference opponents to just 25.8 points a game. The 2013 conference champ Baylor Bears’ had nearly identical numbers (25.7 ppg). The Frogs’ defense also gave up at least 11 points a game less than the bottom four teams in the conference.
Offense has prevented TCU from making any serious impact the past two seasons. Believe it or not the offense actually totaled more yards in losses last season. Obscure stats aside, they haven’t really had any consistency at quarterback. Casey Pachall wasn’t a shoe-in every week, and Trevone Boykin has been learning on the job since 2012. Boykin really wasn’t ready to be thrown into the fire and it showed. There have been moments of brilliance but those flashes are balanced by underwhelming performances.
Since joining the Big 12, production in the ground game has dropped significantly. In 2010, the rushing attack accumulated over 2,700 yards between Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker, Waymon James and even quarterback Andy Dalton. In the first two seasons in their new conference (2012-13), the rushing offense has gained a total of 3,400 yards. The offense had a little over 3,200 in 2010 alone. That was also the last time TCU has had a 1,000 yard rusher.
Four of the Horned Frogs’ eight losses last season came when the offense failed to gain 100 yards on the ground as a` team. They didn’t even average 2 yards per carry against an average Texas rushing defense.
It wasn’t a complete failure last year. The offense did improve a little, scoring 31 and 38 in their final two games, but the defense didn’t hold up in losing efforts. The offensive unit has lacked an identity recently, but that will change in 2014.
While a definite starter hasn’t been named at quarterback — Patterson has even stated it could take three games to figure out who will be No. 1 — we do know new co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sunny Cumbie are changing the tempo to match the rest of the speedy offenses in the conference.
Meacham should be a great fit; he spent one season in charge of the offense at Houston, and under his watch the Cougars averaged almost 34 points a game, good for 35th in the country. He also played a part in transforming the Oklahoma State offense in the years prior.
Whether it’s Boykin or Matt Joeckel behind center, the passing game is expected to play a major role in the new system. So, if the Frogs can decrease the amount of turnovers committed in conference play alone (26 in nine games), which was enough to doom the 2013 season, we should witness the 2014 squad perform above .500 and land in a bowl game this season.