Since the TCU Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012, it has been feast or famine in Fort Worth. In those nine seasons as a conference affiliate, the Horned Frogs have finished with 11 or more wins three times. The other six seasons resulted in less than seven wins.
What’s concerning here is that in the past three seasons TCU has failed to reach the double digit win threshold. This is the first time under head coach Gary Patterson’s 20 year tenure that his team has failed to do so in three consecutive years. A COVID-19 shortened schedule has a lot to do with this past season, only allowing for a total of ten games to be played.
If the college football season is able to get started on time and teams play all of their games, then TCU is a shoe in for 11 wins right? Well it’s not that simple but TCU can definitely get there. Here’s how:
A Strong Rushing Attack
TCU is returning what could be labeled the deepest backfield in the conference. Quarterback Max Duggan was the x-factor all season for the Horned Frogs, not only leading them in passing but rushing as well. Alongside Duggan were three freshman running backs that all averaged above 5.9 yards per carry.
Leading the way in average per carry was Zach Evans. He was the number two overall running back and a five star recruit as a senior the year prior. He’s already turning into a serious contributor by garnering a lustrous 7.7 yard average on the ground.
Evans may win the starting job for next year but it shouldn’t take anything away from the other young backs, Kendre Miller and Darwin Barlow. Guiding these players is Emari Demercado, who happens to be the most experienced back on the team.
If TCU can stay healthy in the backfield, it’s very possible that they end up as a top five rushing attack in the country. Duggan is so good with his legs out of the pocket and picks up many first downs on scrambles. The threat he poses running the ball essentially puts more eyes on him and less on the running back group.
With all the talk about his legs, it’s rare to discuss Duggan’s throwing ability. However this season he did make a giant leap in terms of efficiency. His completion percentage went up seven points to 60.8% and his passer rating climbed from 113.6 to 134.1.
A full offseason should help him gain more confidence in his arm and form a good bond with his wideouts. Theoretically, if the run game is more potent than last year then the box should be pretty stacked. That correlates to one-on-one opportunities on the outside and Duggan has to deliver.
Trust Defensive Coordinator Chad Glasgow
The Horned Frogs will be tasked to replace linebacker Garret Wallow and second team All-American safety Trevon Moehrig-Woodard. Replacing great talents and long-time contributors is a feat in itself. Thankfully, the program can fall back on a very experienced coordinator like Glasgow.
He has been with TCU for all but one of Patterson’s years as head coach. In the race to 70 which happens on a weekly basis in the Big 12, having a defense that makes any stop is a luxury. TCU was top 25 in rush yards allowed per game, and 51st in pass yards allowed per game last season.
Those aren’t incredible numbers by any means, but the base defense that TCU runs is what’s most important. A 4-2-5 defense has been the primary scheme for a long time in Fort Worth, and allows for faster defensive play. Even the two teams playing for this years Super Bowl (Kansas City and Tampa Bay) knew the importance of defensive speed by running a similar scheme.
Fortunately the Horned Frogs get to unleash the ultra talented LSU transfer Marcel Brooks off the edge next season. Also they return linebacker and second leading tackler Dee Winters to help usher in his partner in the middle. On the back end, second team All-American cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson returns as well to shut down one side of the field.
Will TCU Make the Playoffs?
Back in the 2014-2015 season, TCU’s defense ranked only 24th nationally in yards per game. Even though they were left out of the playoffs, that easily could have been the best Big 12 team fielded in the seven year playoff era. That just goes to show that it doesn’t require an elite defense, only a defense good enough to get a little more than the occasional stop and turnover.
As long as the holes are plugged on the defensive side of the ball, TCU becomes a real competitor. The run game should keep their offense on the field and on schedule with their play calls.
Bottom line is that if Duggan follows his improvement trajectory, then teams will have problems keeping TCU out of the end zone and out of the playoffs.