With Big 12 expansion and Baylor being the primary targets of Big 12 Media Days — so much so that TCU head coach Gary Patterson was asked about events in Waco — other headlines had a hard time reaching the surface. Patterson shrugged off the loaded Baylor question like a pro, saying his problem remains TCU and not his most bitter rival.
Last season his problem was how to keep his Horned Frogs competitive in the face of so many injuries. Over half the defense was injured at some point, as were playmakers on offense. Things don’t seem to be easing up in Fort Worth, either: Patterson revealed that running back Shaun Nixon would miss the entire 2016 season.
Nixon, who ran for only 66 yards on 16 carries last season, was expected to play a backup role to Kyle Hicks, the team’s returning leading rusher. Yet, his role stretched far beyond a typical running back, and would be better defined as a receiver: His 501 receiving yards are the second-highest total for any returning TCU pass catcher.
In front of him is KaVontae Turpin, whose 649 receiving yards and eight touchdowns turned heads as a freshman. Not only does he hold a lead over Nixon’s receiving total — as a receiver should — but he also holds a 50-yard lead on the ground, due to the fact that he took on 20 carries. Last season, Turpin was an X-factor for TCU. With the absence of Nixon, Turpin’s role should grow even more as long as offensive coordinators Sonnie Cumbie and Doug Meacham keep the offense on a straight path.
Directly behind Nixon — as far as pure running back depth is concerned — are a number of potential stars: junior Trevorris Johnson, graduate transfer Derrick Green, and true freshman Sewo Olonilua.
All three can be trusted with the rock. Johnson averaged over six yards a carry last season, Green was an ESPN 300 recruit who couldn’t thrive at Michigan, and Olonilua has the makings of a bonafide star. The issue is that none of them function in the passing game as well as they have as runners in the trenches.
That puts sizable expectations on Turpin’s shoulders. His touch total — receptions and carries — should increase from absorbing part of Nixon’s role. The only thing that might put a stake in those plans is how transfer receivers Taj Williams and Ryan Parker — the nation’s two top-ranked JUCO receivers — are utilized in the offense.
Also worth considering: Who will be gunning the ball between Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer? As a sophomore, Turpin could be one of the few constants that carries over from last season, now that Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson are in the NFL.
There’s a bit of precedence as to how Turpin may work without:
- a vertical target working opposite him.
Against Oklahoma, Turpin was limited to just one catch, but it was a vital 86-yard play that kept the Frogs alive. In TCU’s miraculous Alamo Bowl comeback against Oregon, Turpin was second with 81 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches. Both performances were sans Doctson and Boykin.
There’s good reason that Turpin was named to the Maxwell Award watch list. He’s sure to be a fixture this season, given the diminishments to other parts of the TCU offense.