College Football Playoff Sleeper: TCU
Under the leadership of Head Coach Gary Patterson, TCU was able to finagle its way through a myriad of injuries to key players and end the season with 11 wins. One of their two losses was a one-point-loss on the road against eventual-playoff-participant Oklahoma, without the Horned Frogs’ Heisman-contending Quarterback Trevone Boykin.
The injuries of the 2015 season helped create depth for their 2016 roster by giving many of their young players valuable experience in games where they otherwise wouldn’t have seen the field.
Let’s begin by looking at the TCU defense because defense still wins championships, even in the Big 12. They return every Linebacker who played meaningful snaps in 2015. The Horned Frogs lose 2 starters in the secondary, but they return nine Defensive Backs who played in at least 7 games last season. They also get back two DB’s who played in 13 games in 2014, but missed all of 2015 due to injury.
TCU will experience a bit of turnover along the Defensive Line by losing 4 players who appeared in at least 7 games. On the bright side, they return their top two tacklers on the D-Line (DE Josh Carraway and DT Aaron Curry) along with the return of dynamic DE James McFarland (12 TFL & 7 sacks in 2014) who missed all of 2015 due to injury.
TCU’s pass defense was ranked 31st in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings in 2015, and they return two of the best Safeties in the nation (Denzel Johnson: 13.5 TFL, Nick Orr: 9 PBU in ’15) along with all the other returnees listed above which should make this one of the best pass defenses in the nation. Despite a possible lack of depth on the Defensive Line, the front 7 (well, front 6 in TCU’s 4-2-5) should be stout against the run making this a well-balanced defense.
The Horned Frog offense was able to finish 3rd in the country in yards per game despite three of their biggest playmakers missing significant time due to injury in 2015 (QB Trevone Boykin, WR Josh Doctson, WR Kolby Listenbee). Those three players have exhausted their eligibility and need to be replaced, but their replacements were able to gain experience in their absence last season.
Who replaces Trevone Boykin? This question likely won’t be answered until late August because they have two very strong options. Gary Patterson hasn’t given any clues as to who leads the QB battle, which is between Rivals 3-star Sophomore Foster Sawyer, and Junior Texas A&M transfer, Kenny Hill.
Kenny Hill put up an impressive stat line during his short stint at Texas A&M (66.7% comp, 23 TD to 8 INT), while Foster Sawyer’s performance in Spring practice left Joe Tessitore gushing after his visit to Fort Worth on The Audible podcast.
Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to ensure their success beginning with WR KaVontae Turpin, a 5’ 9” 153-pound bottle rocket who provides an extremely explosive chess piece for Offensive Coordinator Doug Meacham as well as in the return game. Including Turpin, TCU returns 8 of their top 10 Wide Receivers from 2015 for their new Quarterback to throw to.
Their running game might take a dip after losing starting RB Aaron Green, but they return 4-star RB Kyle Hicks and RB Trevorris Johnson (6.2 yards per carry in ‘14) with the occasional end-around to the versatile Turpin. The Horned Frogs also recently added Michigan transfer RB Derrick Green who will be eligible for week 1. Green was a 5-star RB coming out of high school in 2013.
The Offensive Line will also experience some turnover in losing 4 starters, including 3 receiving All-Conference honors. Because of TCU’s well-documented injury struggles of the ’15 season, they return 5 Offensive Linemen who have made a start during their career, which should help an O-Line in major transition.
We won’t have to wait very long to see how good TCU really is thanks to a week 2 matchup with Arkansas in Fort Worth. The schedule looks to line up favorably for TCU: they get to play Oklahoma at home, their bye weeks fall before a games against Oklahoma State and a trip to West Virginia, and their visit to Baylor looks less daunting than it did a few months ago due to the extenuating circumstances surrounding that football team.
Outside of Oklahoma in Week 5, I think their toughest game will be against the Texas Longhorns on a Friday in Austin on November 25th. Texas’ young, talented roster will have had time to gain some experience, and they might have actually figured out who their Quarterback is by then.
Getting Oklahoma and Arkansas at home, along with a talented, now experienced, roster gives the Horned Frogs a good chance to run the table in 2016, which could catapult into the College Football Playoff as champions of the Big 12.