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Done Dealing With Questions, TCU Has All The Answers

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Glance at the record and see a 7-6 mark with a bowl loss in 2012. Find as many defeats in Big 12 play (five) as there were in all the games from the previous four seasons combined. You’d probably come to believe TCU’s first season in the Big 12 was a flop.

You’d be mistaken.

You would have overlooked all the personnel issues with which the Horned Frogs dealt: arrests, departures, injuries.

You would have dismissed the wealth of young talent on the roster and on the way.

You would have missed the arrival of two transfers from big-time teams in power conferences who are now parts of a big-time team in a power conference.

You wouldn’t know that even with the record and the setbacks, the Horned Frogs addressed the sort of criticism and concerns they couldn’t address as a member of the WAC, Conference USA or the Mountain West.

You wouldn’t see that they’re ready to be legitimately good in a legitimate league. Believe it or not, 2012 suggests the Horned Frogs can be as good as anyone else in the conference in 2013.

Now, this is not to say last season, the debut in the Big 12, was simple. It wouldn’t even be accurate to say it was difficult. A private school fed by donor dollars that prides itself on values, TCU was embarrassed in February 2012 by a sting operation that targeted drugs on campus. Coach Gary Patterson dismissed four players, all on defense, including a starting defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback.

And that was only the beginning. Three months after the sting, the presumed starter at running back left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft a month later. Players on offense and defense picked up injuries early in the season, but TCU started 4-0, with a Big 12 win, and was leading the FBS with 12 straight wins and 25 straight conference wins.

The calm was interrupted days before the fifth game when quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested and charged with a DWI. He was suspended for the remainder of the season and spent three months in a substance abuse facility, but returned to the school in January.

He’s battling for the starting spot with sophomore Trevone Boykin, who went 3-6 as a starter last season, but who was also practicing at quarterback the day before Pachall’s arrest.

Things threatened to go bad. The Horned Frogs were crushed 36-14 at Oklahoma State after taking a 14-0 lead. After that loss, the third loss in four games following Pachall’s arrest, center James Fry told reporters that his team gave up in the second half.

“I don’t want to admit it, but we quit,” he said. “Coach Patterson mentioned we quit, and it kind of felt like felt like we did. I don’t know if we were just shocked that they came back or we just don’t know how to dig ourselves out from being in a corner. We just didn’t fight back.”

That was unlike the Horned Frogs, who had fought back against critics to become arguably the country’s preeminent program found outside an automatic qualifier conference. Yet despite their past success, enemies and skeptics could point at and question the strength of their schedule and their conference and the ability to recruit and sustain as part of a better league.

That things were falling apart in the Big 12 seemed only to highlight those claims.

Then the youngest team in the country collected itself. TCU won on the road in double overtime at West Virginia, surviving a punt return touchdown and forcing overtime with a 94-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes to play.

The Horned Frogs played Kansas State hard a week later in a 23-10 loss, and then won at Texas on national television Thanksgiving night, which was one of the most significant and underrated final scores of the season. Remember, the Horned Frogs weren’t supposed to be like Texas, let alone beat Texas.

The season could have ended better, but TCU wasn’t off by much. It lost 24-17 at home to Oklahoma when the Sooners defended a fourth-down pass near their goal line on TCU’s final possession. The bowl game was a similar story, a 17-16 loss to Michigan State in which the Spartans scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter after a TCU turnover on a punt and then won the game with a field goal with 61 seconds to go.

The Horned Frogs did all of this with the replacement parts and without the services of expected contributors, but also with 17 true freshmen. And they were good, too. Defensive end Devonte Fields was named the defensive freshman and player of the year by the media. B.J. Catalon led the team in rushing. Jaden Oberkrom made 22 of 30 field goal attempts. Aviante Collins started every game at either offensive tackle position. Ethan Perry led the Big 12 in punting.

They’re all back with the 12 redshirt freshmen who played last season, one that was in so many ways just a beginning for TCU with new stars in a new conference. And they have plenty of help as they aim for the Big 12 title with 17 combined returning starters on offense and defense.

There are questions, chief among them at quarterback, but Boykin isn’t a rookie and Pachall is 15-2 as a starter. Many offensive linemen, running backs and receivers return, but TCU also welcomes Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and former Texas commit Kyle Hicks in the backfield and Florida transfer Ja’Juan Story at receiver. Story, sophomore LaDarius Brown and junior Brandon Carter lessen the early loss of Josh Boyce to the NFL.

It’s the defense that should be the strength, led by All-America candidates Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett. Defensive end Stansly Maponga left school early for the draft, but nine starters and 26 of the top 27 tacklers are back. Defensive tackle recruit Tevin Lawson, once a LSU commit, could further strengthen things.

The challenge starts right away as the Horned Frogs open against LSU at Cowboys Stadium, but it’s important to remember this: For the longest time, TCU had to deal with all the questions. Now it seems to have all the answers.