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July 25, 2009
THE SCHEME: The Frogs use multiple offenses, with an emphasis on balance. Last season, TCU averaged 220 rushing yards and 201 passing yards per game under former coordinator Mike Schultz, who's now at Illinois. Two assistants were promoted to co-coordinator - Justin Fuente, who still will be the quarterbacks coach, and Jarrett Anderson, who also remains the running backs coach.
STAR POWER: Junior WR Jimmy Young is coming off a breakout season in which he caught 59 passes for 988 yards - the second-highest yardage total in school history. He's a sure-handed receiver who can make tough catches in the middle of the field. He also has big-play ability, which he demonstrated with four 100-yard games last season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Teammates and coaches were raving last season about shifty freshman RB Ed Wesley, who was named scout team MVP during a redshirt season. They were raving again when he had a strong showing in spring practice. Now, he figures to make an impression as a backup tailback. He has excellent speed and is a receiving threat. He might not be a starter (not right away, at least) but expect him to make a significant contribution even though he heads into fall drills third on the depth chart.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Sophomore WR Antoine Hicks originally signed with Texas, but he transferred before playing for the Longhorns. He caught seven passes last season, but five came in the last two games. He'll be featured more prominently this season as the Frogs attempt to be less dependent on Young.
STRONGEST AREA: Although TCU typically is ground-oriented, the Frogs may not be able to resist throwing more frequently because of the talent at wide receiver. QB Andy Dalton, a third-year starter, has to love his options. Young is among the best receivers in the Mountain West, and he may not even be the Frogs' primary big-play threat. Hicks is primed to establish himself as a deep threat. Meanwhile, junior Jeremy Kerley, who has shined as an explosive return specialist and at quarterback in the "Wild Frog" formation, figures to see a dramatic increase over the 11 receptions he had in '08. And junior Bart Johnson is a reliable possession receiver. The Frogs return all but one of their receivers from last season.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: It's not that junior C Jake Kirkpatrick has never started before that is a concern for TCU. The biggest concern is that Kirkpatrick is replacing all-league performer Blake Schlueter, a three-year starter who was taken by Denver in the NFL draft. Ts Marcus Cannon and Marshall Newhouse, an all-MWC selection, are returning starters and G Kyle Dooley has starting experience, so overall the line projects to be solid. But the center has to call blocking assignments as well as perform at a high level. That wasn't a concern for three years with Schlueter in there. This season? We'll see.
THE SCHEME: TCU uses a 4-2-5 set, with a third safety providing options and versatility in formations. Last season, TCU ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, and has ranked among the nation's top 25 in total defense in each of the past four seasons. Coordinator Dick Bumpas doesn't get enough attention for the job he does.
STAR POWER: A high school running back, senior E Jerry Hughes is coming off an incredible season in which he earned All-America honors. Hughes started just one game his first two seasons at TCU, but now he is established as one of the nation's premier pass rushers after leading the nation with 15 sacks last season. He also ranked among the national leaders with 19.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles. Hughes also showed off his background as a skill-position player with two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. As if that wasn't enough, coaches and teammates insist he's gotten better after a stellar showing this spring.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Two All-MWC safeties completed their eligibility, so TCU has some obvious holes to fill. Junior college transfer Malcolm Williams will make a bid to fill one of them. Williams originally was an Oklahoma signee before heading to Trinity Valley CC (Texas). He figures to make a contribution either as a starter or role player.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: The Frogs are absolutely giddy over the potential of senior LB Daryl Washington, who brings a major "wow" factor to an already-strong defensive unit. Perhaps TCU's best overall athlete, Washington has been a special-teams demon throughout his career and played extremely well in a backup role. He started last season's Poinsettia Bowl victory over Boise State and posted six tackles and three pass breakups. TCU will have two new starting linebackers, but there are no worries about Washington handling a bigger role.
STRONGEST AREA: Although Hughes is a dominating end and Washington could be special at linebacker, the Frogs are most secure at cornerback. Seniors Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders have been starters since they were redshirt freshmen. Priest was credited with 10 pass breakups last season, when he was a second team all-league selection.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: It seems odds that a line with Hughes on it could be an area of concern, but the Frogs have to replace three departed starters up front. TCU had underappreciated - but not underproductive - tackles who clogged inside running lanes. Can the Frogs be as efficient with new starters? Junior Kelly Griffin started 13 games as a true freshman, but he was a backup last season. He'll return to the starting lineup at nose tackle and play alongside Cory Grant, who also was a backup last season. That duo combined for just seven tackles in '08. Junior E Wayne Daniels is the likely starter opposite Hughes; he had one sack in a reserve role last season. The Frogs also hope the light finally turns on for E Braylon Broughton, a 6-6, 248-pound sophomore who originally signed with Arizona. He was the MWC's preseason defensive newcomer of the year last season, but he managed just one tackle in three games.
Don't be surprised in TCU has the best special teams in the Mountain West; they could be among the best in the nation. Sophomore K Ross Evans has 50-yard range and 80-percent accuracy, although he did miss a couple of short attempts that could have sealed an upset of Utah. P Anson Kelton, who has a great knack for killing kicks inside the 20, has all-conference potential. Yet despite their prowess, the special teams star is Kerley, who ranked 13th in the nation in punt returns (13.92 yards) last season. He may be used on kickoff returns, too. Washington blocked three punts two seasons ago, so the Frogs are a threat there, too. And no surprise that TCU's coverage units were solid last season.
Since taking over as coach in 2001 Gary Patterson - who had been TCU's defensive coordinator - has had just one losing season. Furthermore, the Horned Frogs have posted 11 victories in four of the past five seasons. Patterson and Bumpas have fielded defenses that consistently have ranked among the nation's best. At least part of the reason for TCU's continued success is the continuity of the coaching staff. Four assistants - Anderson, safeties coach Chad Glasgow, tight ends coach Dan Sharp and offensive line coach Eddie Williamson - have been on the staff for at least nine seasons.
Teams from the Mountain West and other leagues of that ilk are in dire need of victories over teams from "Big Six" conferences. The Horned Frogs have excellent opportunities to post those types of victories with September trips to Virginia and Clemson of the ACC. Should the Frogs manage victories in those games, they'll be in great shape to make a run at a BCS bowl. Of course, that will require winning at Air Force and at BYU, which is no small accomplishment. TCU lost in its most recent trips to Colorado Springs and to Provo. If the Frogs get through the first two months of the season unscathed, the schedule is set up for a last-month charge. There's a stiff challenge with Utah on Nov. 14, but every other game in November is against a team coming off a losing season and with a new coach.
Six times this decade, TCU has posted double-digit victory totals, but it has yet to reach a BCS bowl. There is a feeling in Fort Worth that this is the year to break through. As usual, the defense will be strong. The offense may have more big-play ability than any season since LaDainian Tomlinson completed his career in 2000. But the Horned Frogs have settled for a consolation prize so frequently that they're almost expected to come up short again. While there are several star players, there also are some substantial holes that must be filled. If a few new starters distinguish themselves, this could be a special season. A Sept. 26 road trip to Clemson should give an indication of which way the season will go.
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.