TCU Season Preview: Out of the Shadows

Gary Patterson is due for a rebound. Last season's squad was too talented to finish under .500. This year's team is back largely in tact. The X-factor will once again be at quarterback where Kenny Hill either makes or breaks the Frogs. 

Patterson lost play caller Doug Meacham to Kansas of all places, meaning Sonny Cumbie gets a shot at calling plays. The best player on TCU's offense, Kyle Hicks, needs to get more touches. Whether Cumbie implements that strategy or just pays lip service will be evident early. At times Meacham could be accused of becoming a bit too cute. At times his cuteness extended for lengthy periods of games. TCU's rushing attempts dipped below 500 for the first time since 2013, even though the Frogs averaged 5.1 yards per carry. 

Back to Hill, who finds himself trying follow the great Trevone Boykin three years after trying to follow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Those are two tough acts to follow. TCU's championship aspirations will rise and fall with Hill and his fortunes are tied to how Cumbie manages Hicks and a talented stable of receivers. 

On defense, TCU will rebuild their front but can rely on talented linebackers and corners to pick up the slack. For a defensive guru, Patterson's Frogs have seen their productivity slide the past two seasons. From 2012 to 2014 TCU fielded back-to-back-to-back top 25 defensive units. In 2015 and 2016, the Frogs dropped to 63rd and 77th in total defense. While the offense has continued to put up points, the defense has fallen off a cliff. Last season's unit struggled on 3rd down and didn't force turnovers. Unless Paterson can find a way to reverse the defensive trend, the Frogs will have another season of squandered opportunity.  

Scoring Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Scoring Drives % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down % (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down Defense (Big 12 Rank) Turnover Margin (Big 12 Rank) Total Adjusted Run Rate (FBS Rank)
38% (7) 28% (8) 37% (6) 24% (2) 41% (8) 44% (9) -4 (8) 0.826 (30)
  • Scoring Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in points.
  • Touchdown Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in touchdowns. 
  • Scoring Drives % Allowed: Percentage of drives allowed that ended in points. 
  • Touchdown % Allowed: Percentage of opponent's drives that end in a touchdown. 
  • 3rd Down %: Offensives success on 3rd down. 
  • 3rd Down Defense %: Can a defense get off the field.
  • Turnover Margin: Total number of giveaways minus total number of takeaways. 
  • Total Adjusted Run Rate: Taking the national average of yards per carry and yards allowed per carry and comparing that to the relative team. Teams that end up with a plus Total Adjusted Run Rate average 8.4 wins per year. Teams with a negative Total Adjusted Run Rate average 5.5 wins per season. The top 20 teams in Total Adjusted Run Rate Averaged 9.7 wins per season over a five year period. 

Quarterbacks

After five games, Kenny Hill looked like an apt replacement for Trevone Boykin. Hill threw for 350 or more yards in four of his first five starts. In three of those starts he topped 400 yards. He completed 66% of his passes and his QB rating was 142. 

Kenny Hill

Kenny Hill

The the wheels came off. Hill completed almost ten percentage points less vs. conference opponents. He topped 200 yards just twice. His yards per attempt dropped by almost two yards. He threw eleven touchdowns and nine picks. He was benched, injured and TCU fell to 6-7. 

Hill has the talent, he's a natural, fluid passer. He has the arm strength to make every throw that Sonnie Cumbie's offense requires. His throwing motion is compact and efficient and he can flat out spit it. When Hill is on (and his receivers are catching) it's a beautiful things. 

Hill is an asset in the running game. He's instinctual in the pocket and when things break down and he takes off good things tend to happen. All that should add up to an elite level quarterback, but the math hasn't worked out. We mentioned how beautiful it can be when it works, and it does more often than not, but it's those other instances, the 5-10% of the time that Hill baffles you with his ball security and haphazard approach. If he can cut that percentage down, he's shown he has the potential to be as good as anyone in the country. 

Year two in TCU's offense gives Hill another opportunity to make good on his potential. If he doesn't there's a highly regarded freshman waiting. 

Shawn Robinson turned heads in the spring by seizing the backup job in his first semester. Robinson, an early enrollee from DeSoto, has all the tools to be special. The key will be can he adapt to the Frog's offense. Robinson threw for over 3,400 hundred yards and rushed for another 1,500. If he's at all ready Patterson and Cumbie will find a way to get Robinson on the field.

Grayson Muehlstein returns for his junior season. Muehlstein was once the fourth rated quarterback in the state, however, he's yet to earn significant playing time in Fort Worth. If Robinson redshirts (as some suggest though we don't see it) Muehlstein has been in this offense for three years giving the Horned Frogs the rare experienced backup. 

Running Backs

Kyle Hicks

Kyle Hicks

Kyle Hicks may be the best all-purpose running back in college football. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2016, in spite of missing time due to various nagging injuries. He also made 47 catches, best on TCU's pass happy offense. Hicks was the first Horned Frog since 1996 to lead the team in both rushing yards and receptions. As a runner, Hicks doesn't shy away from contact but he's elusive in tight spaces. As a receiver, he gives TCU a lot of options to keep the same personnel groupings and go empty or motion out to create matchup issues. He's an adept route runner. 

Hicks is really good by himself, be he's got some talented running mates.

Darius Anderson was a very good pinch hitter for the Frogs, averaging an impressive 8.5 yards a carry, even if he bolstered that with a 34 yard average against Texas. Out of George Ranch, he gives the Frogs an explosive threat. Anderson has really good vision and runs well behind his pads. 

Sewo Olonilua, another sophomore, is a bigger back at 6-3 225. He averaged 8.1 yards a carry in just 15 rushes last season. Olonilua has really good feet for a bigger back. He's upright, but he's a pile mover at contact.  

Receivers

There aren't enough balls to go around in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs return just about every player who caught a pass in 2016.

The key guy is KeVontae Turpin, the undersized big play threat. Turpin battled injuries last season that hampered his numbers, but he still caught 73% of his targets. He has great balance and vision with the ball in his hands. He excels as a return man. This spring Turpin battled academics. Assuming he's back, that's a huge piece of the puzzle. TCU has a lot of pieces.

John Diarse, an LSU transfer in 2016, has paid huge dividends. He caught 66% of his targets last fall. He's a big target with strong hands. He plays with great physicality as well, tough to handle on slants and 50/50 balls. If senior Ty Slanina can stay healthy, he's a very good inside target who isn't afraid of contact.

TCU has a wide, varied, talented stock of receivers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Getting the ball to these guys and using them is a luxury that Sonny Cumbie and Sonny Dykes will deal with this fall.

Desmon White was an electric quarterback at DeSoto at five feet-seven inches tall. He's become a great slot target. So has Daniel Walsh, a California native who came to TCU because of his love of LaDainian Tomlinson. Taj Williams and Daniel Porter are both 6-4. Neither caught targets above national average in 2016. Drops have been an issues for TCU and a concern for Gary Patterson moving through the spring. TCU will run out the deepest and perhaps most talented group of receivers the Big 12.

Tight Ends

Rice transfer Cole Hunt might be the prototypical tight end. He's 6-7, 250 pounds, he can block and get off the line of scrimmage. He looks like Gronk, if only he played in an offense that appreciated him. Hunt caught five passes with one going for a score last season. 

Another transfer, Cole Novak from Texas State, is another big, physical blocking specialist. TCU tends to forget that Hunt and Novak are on the roster until there's a short yardage situation or in the shadow of either goal line. 

Redshirt freshman Artayvious Lynn chose the Frogs over Florida during the 2016 recruiting cycle. He comes in at 6-6 248 pounds. This offseason the Frogs signed Christian Williams, the 5th ranked JUCO tight end in the country. 

If only TCU found a way to use these magical giants. 

Offensive Line

Last season TCU's offensive line was average. Just average. The Frogs were 66th in adjusted sack rate, 76th in power success rate, 46th in yards per carry, and 90th in sacks allowed. TCU returns almost their entire two-deep including All-Big 12 center Austin Schlottman

Austin Schlottman

Austin Schlottman

Schlottman is listed second on the depth chart coming out of the spring. This might be a temporary demotion due to his offseason injury, but at this point Patrick Morris is listed as the starter. Morris is a man mountain who bench presses 500 pounds and squats 720. If Schlottman is back, it frees Morris up to move back to guard where he made nine starts. 

6-7, 350 pound Matt Pryor has made eighteen straight starts at right guard. He is a mauler inside. On the other side, assuming Morris isn't there, junior Trey Elliott is listed as the starter. He missed half of 2016 due to injury. Elliott made two starts at left guard. He's as close to a question mark as the Frogs have inside. He was bullied at times by more physical players.

TCU must replace Aviante Collins and his 35 starts at tackle. Right now the Frogs are turning to Luca Niang, a true sophomore who played nine games in 2016, mostly on special teams. On the other side Plano's Joseph Noteboom returns. Noteboom has been a solid contributor with 26 starts, eleven on the right side and fifteen on the left side. 

Overall the Frogs are talented and deep and if they can replace Collins there's no reason to think they can't be better in 2017. 

Defensive Line

So much of TCU's defensive line success will depend on whether Ross Blacklock, Joseph Broadnax, Chris Bradley and L.J. Collier can hold up in the middle of TCU's defense. Last season the Frogs were good at creating havoc plays in offensive backfield, but when opponents needed short yardage or lined up and ran at the Frogs, they found lanes.

Blacklock is a four-star redshirt who chose the Frogs over Alabama and Texas A&M among others. At 6-4, 326 pounds he's a load inside. Broadnax made three starts last season goes 300 plus pounds. He made 23 stops and 1.5 sacks last season. Collier is undersized at 279, but has good arm length and quickness. Bradley is a salty veteran who made nine starts last season. He came out of the spring listed as the backup to Collier, but they'll both see a lot of time. 

Those four provide a decent rotation, provided Blacklock is as advertised.

At defensive end TCU replaces seniors Josh Carraway and James McFarland plus transfer Tipa Galeai. The Frogs return a pretty good player in Matt Boesen who accounted for six sacks last season and eight tackles for loss in 2016 after transferring from Long Beach Community College. 

On the other side Louisiana Monroe transfer Ben Banogu is eligible after sitting out 2016. He was named to the Sun Belt's All-Newcomer team with five sacks and fourteen tackles for loss in 2015. Whether those numbers translate to the Big 12 is question that needs answering. Four-star redshirt Isaiah Chambers will provide depth along with four-star sophomore Brandon Bowen

Linebackers

Travin Howard

Travin Howard

Travin Howard and Ty Summers are the names to know. Howard was All-Big 12 last season while Summers made 2nd team. The duo were 1-2 in the Big 12 in tackles last season. Howard is a super athletic former safety who's made the transition to linebacker over the past couple of seasons. He's considered undersized at 213 pounds, but he's suited to play a number of roles within TCU's scheme. 

Summers is solid at the other side of TCU's 4-2-5 defense. He plays downhill and complements Howard well. In Gary Patterson's defense the linebackers play along with the defensive tackles to man the inside gaps. Summer is specifically gifted for inside play. 

Sammy Douglas and Montrel Wilson give TCU two very capable backups. Douglas would start for a lot of Big-12 rosters. Wilson is another uber athletic option. 

Secondary

The Frogs lay claim to one of the best secondaries in the Big 12. Ranthony Texada is a legit stopper on the outside. Fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him his 2015 season, Texada give the Frogs the ability to shut down part of the field. Opposite Texada is Jeff Galdney who made eight starts and Julius Lewis a sophomore who made four starts in 2016. 

At safety in TCU's 4-2-5 alignment Niko Small and Nick Orr both return. Orr made second team All-Big 12 as a junior and Small started in twelve games last season. Both are candidates for All-Big 12 honors in 2017. 

Ridwan Issahaku is the new guy at strong safety, but he's not entirely new. He's made seven starts in his two seasons playing in Fort Worth. Innis Gaines had a great spring for TCU and should see the field quite a bit.  

Specialists

TCU played a couple of kickers last year, as is the case when you play more than one kicker, results were mixed. TCU was replacing Jaden Oberkrom who made nearly 80% of his kicks over four years. Brandon Hatfield and Ryan Graf split duties last season. Graf went five for six and Hatfield was thirteen of nineteen. Competition is open this fall and will include Johnathan Song who might have been the answer last year were it not for a quadricep injury. 

Only 22 of Adam Nunez' 72 punts were returned last season. The number mitigates his 38 yard average. He put 26 punts inside the 20. His efficiency was good enough to garner him Honorable Mention All Big 12 recognition. 

If TCU ever wants a big play KaVontae Turpin is their guy. He returned a punt for a TD and averaged 12 yards per return. On kickoffs that number shot up to 28. If TCU doesn't want to expose him in the kick game then Desmon White can handle duties. 

2017 Schedule

Best Case

Good Kenny Hill shows up for most of the season. TCU gets back to playing tough, Frog defense. Patterson's team can contend in the Big 12. Ten wins in sight. 

Worst Case

Bad Kenny Hill is back or good Kenny Hill gets hurt. Sonny Cumbie's offense can't get on track. Kyle Hicks isn't on the field much and the defense is left out to dry. A repeat of last seasons 6 wins is possible. 

Jackson State Win

Body bag game vs. a SWAC squad. 

Just stay healthy, the season comes at you pretty fast. 

@ Arkansas Loss

Trip to Fayetteville is never easy. 

Not sure how good the Hogs are, but they'll be up for the Frogs.

SMU Win

TCU should have plenty to deal with the Mustangs.

Can't get caught looking ahead to Okie State. 

@ Oklahoma State Loss

Top 5 Pokes in Stillwater won't be easy. 

If TCU can pull of the upset, watch out Big 12. 

West Virginia Win

Frogs catch the Mountaineers in Fort Worth. 

By now the offense should have defined itself. 

@ Kansas State Pick'em

Last season the Wildcats boat raced TCU in Cowtown. 

Trips to Manhattan are never easy. 

Kansas Win

Frogs escaped pulling a Texas last season with a ever so close win in Lawrence. 

Don't expect Kansas to keep up on the road. 

@ Iowa State Win

Call it a trap game with Texas and OU looming. 

The Cyclones are improving and in Ames they're tough. 

Texas Win

Huge game against the Horns in Fort Worth. 

Texas is trying to catch the Frogs for the first time since the 50's. A win keeps them nipping at TCU's heels, for now. 

@ Oklahoma Loss

If things break right, this is a Big 12 title eliminator. 

Frogs have played tough in Norman before. 

@ Texas Tech Win

The last couple of years this one's gone down to the wire. 

Expect a lot of points in Lubbock. 

Baylor Win

Bears come to Fort Worth possibly playing for a bowl bid. 

Frogs are too tough at home. 

Prediction 9-3

Posted on August 15, 2017 and filed under TCU, Southwest Round-Up.