The TCU Horned Frogs enter the 2010 season with high hopes and aspirations of improving on 2009’s historic run to the Fiesta Bowl. The 2009 season marked the first BCS appearance in school history and the third for the Mountain West Conference. Head Coach Gary Patterson’s team finished ranked sixth in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls after winning their fifth Conference Title under him. The Frogs earned their fifth straight bowl appearance and 10th in the last 11 seasons. Last year’ s graduating seniors ended their college careers with more wins than any other TCU graduating class with 42.
This week marks “Mountain West Conference Week” for the Examiner college sports department. In honor of this, College Football Examiner Kevin posed some questions for the Mountain West Conference Examiners. The first part of the Q&A focused on the Mountain West Conference as a whole and the second part shifts the subject to TCU, specifically. Here are the six questions Kevin posed in regards to the Horned Frogs along with my answers.
Give us a brief overview of TCU’s 2009 season.
By now everyone knows the résumé of the Horned Frogs, but their success in 2009 lies beyond the simple fact that they played in the Fiesta Bowl. As is becoming the norm for TCU, they led the nation once again in team defense (239.7 yards per game allowed).
Not to be out-done, the offense finished seventh on the season (456.7 yards per game) making TCU the only other team besides Florida to finish the season ranked in the top 10 both offensively and defensively. They became the second team in TCU history to reach 12 victories and the first since 1935’s National Championship team. In all, 23 players received some sort of post-season recognition. Seven players were named All-Americans and Coach Patterson was given nine National Coach of the Year honors. In April, three Horned Frogs were drafted in the 2010 NFL Rookie Draft while three more struck deals as rookie free agents.
Who are some of the top-returning players?
Senior QB Andy Dalton – Dalton’s the NCAA leader in wins by an active QB and his next victory will make him the winning-est QB in school history. Dalton finished 2009 among the top 10 finalists for the Manning Award and is TCU’s all-time leader in passing yards (7,457). He ranks second among TCU QBs in completions (603), TD passes (44) and completion percentage (60.2).
Senior WR/KR Jeremy Kerley – Kerley made several highlight reel-worthy plays in 2009 and was one of the nation’s most explosive kick returners. He was selected as the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year and was one of only two players in the nation to rank in the top seven for punt return average (14.4 yards) and the top 22 in kickoff returns (26.6 yards) while leading the team in receptions with 44. His “video game-like” 71-yard punt return for a touchdown against Colorado State was ESPN’s top play on SportsCenter that Saturday evening and ranked as the eighth-best play for the month of October.
Senior C Jake Kirkpatrick – Kirkpatrick is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, the Rimington Trophy , the Rotary Lombardi Award and finished among the final six for the 2009 Rimington Trophy. He was a lead contributor to last season’s fifth-ranked rushing and scoring offense in the nation in his first full year as a starter.
Senior LT Marcus Cannon – Cannon dominated 2009 without allowing a sack all season, which included the game against Clemson’s Ricky Sapp. He was an All-Mountain West Conference first team selection in 2009 and is ranked third in the nation by Lindy’s 2010 College Football Preview.
Junior LB Tank Carder – Let’s be honest here, any guy named Tank is born to be a linebacker. Carder ranked second on the team in tackles in 2009 with 89 and earned a highly-coveted helmet sticker from ESPN’s Rece Davis and MWC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Utah on “College Football Final driven by Pontiac.” He was a second team All-Mountain West Conference selection and played a vital role in the nation’s top defense. Carder is on the watch list for the 2010 Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Senior S Tejay Johnson – Johnson also earned a second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection in 2009 had a nose for the football last season with 59 tackles and three interceptions, which tied him for the team lead. His 14 tackles vs. BYU were the most by a TCU player since 2006. He patrols a secondary that didn’t intercept many passes, but also didn’t allow many completions in 2009 and held opposing quarterbacks to a 47.4 completion percentage. Johnson is on this season’s Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list.
What is the biggest storyline for TCU in 2010?
The biggest question is “what will the Horned Frogs do with last season’s success?” After the most decorated TCU season in recent history, the Horned Frogs have set the bar extremely high for 2010. The biggest game of the year may be the very first one; a showdown with Oregon State at “Jerry World” on September 4 but biggest does not necessarily equal “the toughest.”
Can this team live up to the expectations from 2009? Most fans cautiously expect this team to make another run at going undefeated. It’s certainly a possibility. The team lost just six starters (four on defense and two on offense) from last year’s Fiesta Bowl team and a majority of the returning starters play key positions. Two thirds of last season’s rushing attack remains in-tact and Andy Dalton returns at QB with all of his top receivers from 2009. This means there may be very little drop-off from 2009 to ’10.
This team also feels that they still have something left to prove. Last season’s main goal was not simply making a BCS Bowl, but winning the National Championship. With the Frogs entering the season ranked around fifth in most major magazines, an undefeated regular season presents the opportunity to play for the BCS Title.
All things considered, the Horned Frogs will find themselves under immense pressure to perform this season. They have their best shot at a National Championship since 1938 – which they won that season, by the way. Teams will be gunning for TCU, seen by many as the best of the non-BCS AQ schools along with Boise St.
What are TCU’s chances to win the Mountain West Conference?
The Horned Frogs are picked by most to win it once again in 2010. They were hands-down the best team in the Mountain West Conference in 2009 and also return a majority of their starters.
Air Force, Wyoming and Utah might be the biggest threats to TCU this season and with the amount of talent that cycles through, even this season’s young BYU team could create a challenge for the Frogs. To TCU’s advantage though, three of those games will be played at Amon G. Carter Stadium during a three week stretch at home.
The Horned Frogs are by far the most-decorated team in the conference coming into the season, but the phrase “any given Saturday” can apply to the Mountain West. They’ll see the best from everyone they play and cannot afford to let down at any point but they are the odds-on favorite to win again in 2010. (That rhymes; it should be a marketing campaign)
Best case scenario? Worst case scenario?
The best case scenario for TCU is a National Championship and this is probably the first time (well, since 1938) that statement won’t be followed by laughter from fans outside of Fort Worth. With a perfect regular season and losses for three of the four teams ahead in the polls (Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State and Florida in most polls), they may have a chance.
Perhaps the perfect turn of events for the Horned Frogs would be going undefeated while Boise State beats Virginia Tech and then loses to Oregon State two weeks later. This would be optimal because Oregon State is a common opponent for both teams and since the Frogs and Broncos won’t face each other in the regular season, this would favor TCU in the polls. However, a Boise loss to VT and a win against OSU would bode equally well for the Frogs.
The worst case scenario for TCU is likely an 11-1 regular season. The opener against Oregon State is not likely to cause a problem for Patterson’s players in what amounts to a gigantic home game. As Frog fans remember, SMU could throw a proverbial wrench into the works in the nationally-televised game at Gerald J. Ford Stadium but it would be more of a shock this season than it was in 2005.
The games that could fumble up the Horned Frogs are the Wyoming game on 10/9, BYU 10/16, Air Force 10/23 and the Utah game on 11/6. As mentioned previously, the Utah game is the only road game out of this stretch though and that’s why even a 10-2 season for the Frogs is unlikely. If history is any indication, Gary Patterson football teams learn from their losses and usually don’t make the same mistake twice. One loss this season would be understandable, but two is almost unexpected. Perhaps that’s the other big reason this team is expected to run the table once again. They’ll likely learn from their loss in the Fiesta Bowl and use that as motivation to go even further this season.
Best moment in your program’s history? Best player? Best coach?
TCU has a rich history, although it looks kind of like a giant doughnut with a lot on the outside and not much in the middle. They saw a run of success early in the 20th century and then became good again 60 years later. The 1935 and 1938 National Championships could easily be pointed to as the best moments, however the game has changed a lot since then and the way championships are awarded has evolved greatly.
In the modern era, the best moment in TCU history was the nationally-televised victory over Utah this past season. ESPN’s College Gameday was in town for the game and the largest crowd in Amon G. Carter Stadium history poured in to witness the 55-28 onslaught. That was the big win the Frogs needed and lit the fire for the final portion of the regular season. Receiving a berth to play in the Fiesta Bowl was huge, but the Frogs were on top of the world after that November 14 blowout.
Like the “best moment” selection, this could easily be divided by “best modern player” and “best pre-modern player.” Davey O’Brien is the school’s lone Heisman Trophy winner and guided the Frogs to a National Championship in 1938. He was the first player from the Southwest Conference to win the Heisman and the annual award for the Nation’s best college quarterback is named after him. After being drafted in the first round (fourth overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles (Kevin should love that) he played just two years and then went on to become an agent in the F. B. I. His #8 is retired by TCU.
It’s hard to compare a player from the 1930s though to a player from the modern football era. The game is different, the players are different and the NCAA is different. For that reason, LaDainian Tomlinson is the best TCU player in modern history. He finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2000 and won the Doak Walker award that same season. He twice led the NCAA in rushing yards and was drafted in 2001 by the San Diego Chargers in the first round with the fifth overall pick. His #5 is retired by TCU.
As it stands right now, the greatest coach in TCU history is Dutch Meyer. Old era or not, it’s hard to argue against two National Championships and the most wins in school history. He coached the Frogs to TCU’s only two championships and was the catalyst for TCU’s first “golden age.” However, Patterson is a close second in the debate.
In Patterson’s defense, his road to a championship is much more difficult than Meyer’s was since a perfect season is all-but required for TCU to contend. This wasn’t the case in 1935 for Meyer. It would be interesting to see some kind of game between Meyer and his best players against Patterson and his best. A man can only dream . . .
The first part of the Q&A with College Football Examiner Kevin can be found here.