By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: A lot was expected of the Horned Frogs entering the 2009 season and they certainly did not disappoint, even though the Football Bowl Subdivision subsequently let down TCU and head coach Gary Patterson. The
coach had taken the program to an 11-2 record in 2008 and guided them to a
Poinsettia Bowl victory, the fourth straight postseason win for the Horned
Frogs, so anything less than another appearance in the postseason would be a
disappointment. Actually, the team had its sights set on an appearance in a
BCS Bowl and had plenty of reason to think it could happen given the talent
that was returning and the level of competition in the Mountain West
TCU began the quest with a 30-14 win over Virginia on the road and then picked
up the scoring pace with a 56-21 triumph over Texas State in the home opener
at Carter Stadium, even though the defense was a bit weak against an unknown
commodity. A narrow victory (14-10) against Clemson on the road continued to
feed the high expectations, as did a 39-14 thrashing of SMU at home. The
second week of October nearly saw the team's dreams die in Colorado, but
somehow they pulled out the 20-17 win against Air Force in the MWC opener. The
only true challenges remaining on the regular-season schedule were a road date
versus nationally-ranked BYU and a home meeting with Utah in the middle of
November and in both tests the Horned Frogs left no doubt. Not only did TCU
crush the Cougars in Provo, 38-7, it also demolished the Utes, 55-28, to
advance to 10-0 on the season and a perfect 6-0 in league play which left the
Frogs all alone atop the standings. With two games remaining in the regular
season the Frogs used those opportunities to make their case for a major bowl
appearance, and by crushing Wyoming (45-10) and New Mexico (51-10) the team
got its chance with a date against sixth-ranked Boise State in the Fiesta
While the game certainly gave the Frogs major visibility, by teaming them with
the Broncos the NCAA refused to give either a realistic shot at the national
title even though both were undefeated heading into the postseason. A battle
between two of the top offensive and defensive units in all the land, TCU
scored a season-low 10 points and permitted more than two touchdowns for just
the fourth time as they bowed by seven points.
Even though the team hit a sour note in the finale, TCU still put up a 12-1
mark and went a perfect 8-0 in MWC play for the second time (2005). For the
second straight year the Horned Frogs possessed the top overall defense in the
nation, allowing a scant 239.7 ypg. Since 1937 TCU has led the nation in total
defense a total of four times, tying it with Alabama and Auburn for the most
honors. By putting together a powerful defense and a potent offense, Patterson
was named the national coach of the year by several outlets as he led the team
to a perfect 12-0 regular-season mark for the first time since 1938 when the
school won the national championship.
OFFENSE: "Last season didn't end how we wanted it to," quarterback Andy Dalton
says when talking about his team's drive and determination this time around.
"That in itself is motivation for us. A lot of our drive is wanting to get
back to that game (a bowl game) and win it this year. Our goal going into last
season was to go undefeated, win the conference and we were able to do that
and the rest was going to take care of itself."
Dalton, who enters 2010 as the nation's leader in victories with 29, is one of
four Horned Frogs who return after being named First Team All-MWC on offense
last year. Dalton is second among returning signal-callers in the MWC in terms
of passing yards from 2009 with 2,756, but the real key to his success is
being able to make the right choices in the pocket and not taking unnecessary
risks. Dalton tossed 23 TDs and just eight interceptions, ranking him eighth
in the country in pass efficiency with a rating of 151.8. The QB also placed
fourth on TCU in rushing with 512 yards and scored three times on the ground,
which means defenses can't ignore the option of him taking off and running.
Matthew Tucker gained a modest 676 yards rushing, but what was even more
impressive was his 6.4 yards per attempt and eight TDs, numbers that should
make it that much easier to hand the ball more to Tucker now that he'll be the
primary running back.
All three of the top receivers from 2009 are back to line up for Dalton and
the TCU offense, with Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young and Bart Johnson suiting up.
However, with no one player catching more than 44 balls over 13 games, Dalton
made every one of his receivers a true threat as he spread the ball all
around. Antoine Hicks, who collected just 23 passes, averaged a staggering
20.8 yards per grab and scored a team-best six TDs, which proves that any TCU
skill player could be a significant contributor from one game to the next.
Add in the fact that the Horned Frogs have four returning starters on the
offensive line and it's almost unfair how much better this team will be
compared to the rest of the Mountain West.
DEFENSE: All you need to know about the TCU defense is that it ranked first
overall in the NCAA with just 239.7 ypg allowed. That's the sort of number
that other teams can only dream about, but for the Horned Frogs it is almost
an expected result given how well coach Patterson puts together his roster and
fits players into roles that he believes they will thrive in. That was true
with Jerry Hughes who was all-everything during his time in Fort Worth.
But Hughes has left for the NFL and that means the new linebacker of record
for the squad is Tank Carder, an All-MWC Second Team performer himself last
year after he placed second on the team with 89 tackles and was also third in
tackles for loss with 10. Carder can do it all, having logged a team-best 10
pass breakups over the course of 13 games as well. Carder will have to help
Tanner Brock learn some of the ropes in the middle of the field, but it
shouldn't be too stressful given that the defensive line brings back three
experienced starters in Wayne Daniels, Kelly Griffin and Cory Grant.
A total of eight players came up with at least one interception in 2009 for
the Horned Frogs, the good news here being that so many returning players have
already shown the ability to cover tight and make game-changing plays. Tejay
Johnson tied for the team lead with three picks, while Jason Teague and Greg
McCoy both tallied a pair of INTs and all three of them will again be
patrolling the secondary for TCU when opponents get frustrated and try
desperately to make something significant happen down the field.
SPECIAL TEAMS: With as potent as the offense for the Horned Frogs should be
this season, having kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton hanging around
almost seems like a waste, yet it is a luxury that many teams wish they had.
In Evans TCU has someone who nailed 15-of-18 field goal attempts last season,
making good on all but two of his attempts from 30 yards and further. Kelton
was solid in his position, but should the Frogs really need him to step up his
efforts, there is certainly room for his improvement, given that the team
ranked eighth in the conference and 77th in the nation with an average of just
34.8 yards per try. In addition to being one of the prime receivers, Kerley
also accepts the role of returner on both kickoffs and punts. Kerley was a key
factor in the Frogs placing first in the country in kickoff returns with an
average of 29.2 yards.
OUTLOOK: "Any time we've ever had a great year we've always started the season
on the road," coach Patterson said when asked about opening this year at the
Metroplex in Dallas. "I don't know if you qualify playing in Mr. Jones's
stadium as a road game or not."
Either way, the Horned Frogs will likely be favored against Oregon State in
the opener due to how many returning starters they have and the quality of
players they continue to churn out year after year. It might be an
overwhelming environment for OSU, but you better believe that the Frogs will
be more than ready for the challenge. After that the squad needs to clamp down
hard on Tennessee Tech, harder than it did last year versus Texas State, and
then finish the non-conference slate strong versus the other Lone Star State
opponents in Baylor and SMU. While the other members of the MWC will not
simply lie down against TCU, it is tough to find one that will really put up a
stand to keep the Frogs from keeping the conference trophy in Fort Worth.