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Big 12 preview: TCU expects to keep winning despite offensive overhaul

Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire
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TCU defensive end Josh Carraway was apprised of the following statistic: Four teams have finished ranked in the top 10 five of the last eight seasons: Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and TCU.

“I didn’t know that, I don’t think a lot of guys on our team know that,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll just keep winning.”

Thanks to a historic comeback to win the Alamo Bowl, an injury-riddled Frogs team finished 11-2 last season and has gone 23-3 the last two seasons. Coach Gary Patterson, who recently received a contract extension and a raise, goes into his 17th season in Fort Worth. TCU has won 10 or more games 10 times.

That TCU – a small, private school in a Power Five conference – is able to reload instead of rebuild is a testament to the coaching staff’s recruiting and player development. The offense must replace four starters on the offensive line, quarterback Trevone Boykin, wide receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, and running back Aaron Green.

“We’re starting back at ground zero again,” TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said.

Kenny Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M, has been named the starting quarterback. There are numerous returnees in the receiver corps – Emanuel Porter, Ty Slanina, KaVontae Turpin, Deante Gray, Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart. Junior-college transfer Taj Williams has earned a starting job.

Junior Kyle Hicks is at the top of the depth chart at running back, but backups Derrick Green, Sewo Olonilua, Darius Anderson and Trevorris Johnson all figure to gain action in different roles.

The defense returns eight starters from last season, but that doesn’t include four starters who missed 2015 with injuries. If the offense struggles early, the defense should be able to pick up the slack.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit picks TCU to win the Big 12. Told of that prediction, the sardonic Patterson replied with, “He hasn’t seen us practice.” But a number of national experts believe the Frogs can win the Big 12 and reach the College Football Playoff.

Here’s Patterson:

“I take it as a respect factor, and like I’ve always told people, either you’re proving people wrong or you’re proving people right. In this case, we’re going to need to prove (them) right. But also there’s other people I’ve got to prove wrong.”

Patterson is a coach who often regards the glass as broken instead of half full or half empty, but there’s a strong hint that he likes this team.

“I’m really kind of excited to see what all unfolds,” he said. “I have a lot more energy, and excited about this season going into it than I was a year ago. There’s a blue-collar element to this team. We had that two years ago but I think we lost it a little bit of that last year.

TCU at a glance

2015: 11-2, 7-2 in the Big 12, tied for second

Coach: Gary Patterson

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 8 on defense

Impact players: Jr. QB Kenny Hill, Soph. WR KaVontae Turpin, Jr. WR Ty Slanina, Jr. RB Kyle Hicks, Sr. DE Josh Carraway, Sr. DE James McFarland, Jr. LB Travin Howard, Jr. CB Ranthony Texada, Sr. S Denzel Johnson, Sr. S Kenny Iloka

3 reasons to hope

  • Kenny Hill has been named the starter at quarterback. The transfer from Texas A&M has experience in the offense favored by co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Two years ago, Trevone Boykin was unproven but wound up being one of the top QBs in school history.
  • The defense, decimated by injuries last season, basically returns 12 starters. With the offense in a transition phase, the defense appears capable of carrying the load early in the season. Defensive end James McFarland and cornerback Ranthony Texada, who were injured last season, are among the best in the Big 12 at their positions.
  • Injuries tend to run in cycles, and last season the Frogs had enough to last for two or three seasons. Assuming the injury bug won’t be as viral this season, TCU has enough talent to make a strong run at the Big 12 title and a College Football Playoff berth.

3 reasons to worry

  • The offensive line has several questions — it must replace four starters from last season. Left tackle Joseph Noteboom started all 13 games last year and center Austin Schlottman stepped in as the starting center after an injury to Joey Hunt. There is depth and talent, but how it fits together is uncertain.
  • TCU must replace four-year starters at kicker and punter. Kicker Jaden Oberkrom made 78 percent of his field goals during his career and finished as the Big 12 career leader in field goals with 79. His accuracy and reliability will be difficult to replace.
  • In addition to replacing Boykin at quarterback, the offense must replace wide receiver Josh Doctson (TCU’s career leader in yardage and touchdowns) and running back Aaron Green. There is depth and talent at both positions, but is there a clear-cut No. 1 starter?
Kenny Hill --- Icon Sportswire

Kenny Hill — Icon Sportswire

Difference maker on offense: Kenny Hill. Now that he has been named the starter over sophomore Foster Sawyer, Hill needs to keep the job. The offense has talent but uncertainty on the line, at receiver and running back. Those uncertainties will be resolved as long as there is no uncertainty at quarterback.

Difference maker on defense: James McFarland. The senior defensive end led the Big 12 in sacks in 2014 but missed last season with a broken toe. He’s the most experienced player on the TCU defense and should team well with defensive end Josh Carraway, who led TCU in sacks last season.

It’s a fact: TCU’s defense allowed 4.2 yards per rushing attempt last season. That snapped an impressive streak of 18 consecutive seasons of allowing less than 4 yards per carry.

Projected final record: 10-2. The schedule is favorable. The biggest nonconference game (versus Arkansas on Sept. 10) and the biggest Big 12 game (Oklahoma on Oct. 1) are both in Fort Worth. The toughest road trips will be at West Virginia, Baylor and Texas, but all three of those teams go into the season with major question marks.

2016 Schedule

Date Opponent
Sept. 3 South Dakota State
Sept. 10 Arkansas
Sept. 17 Iowa State*
Sept. 23 at SMU
Oct. 1 Oklahoma*
Oct. 8 at Kansas*
Oct. 22 at West Virginia*
Oct . 29 Texas Tech*
Nov. 5 at Baylor*
Nov. 19 Oklahoma State*
Nov. 25 at Texas*
Dec. 3 Kansas State*
* – Conference game
Big 12 preview: TCU expects to keep winning despite offensive overhaul

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