Steve Pipps

TCU Could Be Big 12 Sleeper

Created on Apr. 27, 2014 5:29 AM EST

The Big 12 took a hit last year when the conference sent only six teams to bowl games, three less than in 2012. What changed?

Texas Christian endured injuries and suffered close losses, missing a trip to a bowl game for the first time in eight seasons. West Virginia struggled defensively and couldn’t muster enough offense. But things are looking up at the bottom half of the conference. WVU has beefed up its defense and has a good battle brewing at quarterback, while Kansas brought in John Reagan as offensive coordinator and just named Montell Cozart the starting quarterback.

However, TCU could post the biggest turnaround. The Horned Frogs are 11-14 since joining the Big 12, but that record is deceiving. Although the Horned Frogs managed only two conference wins last season, they lost four games by three points or less, with two of those setbacks coming against Oklahoma and Big 12 champion Baylor.

Head coach Gary Patterson brought in Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech and Doug Meacham from Houston as co-offensive coordinators to turn the attack into a quick-hitting spread offense. Cumbie will also be the quarterbacks coach. Quarterback was a shaky position last season after Casey Pachall was injured early in the year. Trevone Boykin, who got the most snaps in the spring game, stepped in and started six games.

The team moved Boykin from wide receiver, where he's better suited and had 26 catches for 204 yards. The Horned Frogs need someone to step in behind center so he can return to his natural position.

They may have found that player last week when Matt Joeckel left Texas A&M for TCU.

Joeckel, who was Johnny Manziel's backup at A&M, started the opening game of last season against Rice when Manziel was sitting out a first-half suspension. He is accustomed to a fast-paced spread offense, and with Cumbie's help he should fit right into TCU's system. The team also has incoming recruits Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muhehlstein to provide competition and depth.

The Horned Frogs return eight starters from a defense that ranked 54th overall in points allowed at 25.3 per game, and was second in total defense in the Big 12. That's a huge plus in a conference known for high-scoring offenses. Even better is the return from injury of star defensive end Devonte Fields. Fields was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending foot injury last season.

What the Horned Frogs now need is an offense that can produce points after the defense does its job.

The schedule works in their favor next season. They have five home conference games, including the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma. If they can gain confidence with three non-conference wins to start the season, they could pose a threat to the Sooners on Oct. 4. After that, it's not unreasonable to expect the Horned Frogs to win six or seven games and get themselves right back into the bowl picture.

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