Burnt Orange Nation: Sitting at 6-4 after losing your starting quarterback and three starters on defense, as well as running back Ed Wesley, has this season gone about as well as possible, given the circumstances? How are TCU fans feeling about the first Big 12 campaign?
HawkeyedFrog: Losing Ed Wesley wasn't a big deal, because we still had two Doak Walker watchlist running backs in the bruising Matthew Tucker and the all-around sensational Waymon James. Then... James went out for the season in week 2 with a knee injury. Then Tucker had an ankle injury the following week. Suddenly TCU went from having the deepest running back position in the conference (3 700+ yard rushers last season) to relying on fumble-prone freshman BJ Catalon and solid but unspectacular UCLA transfer Aundre Dean, and the results have been less than what we had hoped.
Then the Pachall thing happened, and we suddenly went from having an offense that we thought would carry a young defense through their growing pains to a plainly awful offense, where the only good positional unit is our spectacular wide receivers, to whom Boykin is unable to get the ball to consistently.
Still, the defense has really started to elevate its game and is rounding into what we consider a TCU-level defense, which is the best news possible about this season since we'll be returning ten(!) starters on defense next year. After Pachall went out the goal for the season was to get to six wins and get the extra practices for our exceedingly young team (most freshman played in the nation), so we're happy to be there. Knock off you guys or OU next week and only the Frog fans who dip into Tanner Brock's stash would be disappointed with the season under the circumstances.
BON: Going from the Mountain West to the Big 12 this year, has there been a big transition in terms of how well the Horned Frogs have had to play every week or has the competition level been relatively similar?
HF: Yes, the Big 12 grind has been a real experience for us, as the Frogs never really needed to do much more than show up to play New Mexico -- we lit into them anyway though, because that's the kind of coach that Patterson is. Still, the teams that we're playing for are a lot easier to get up for than Wyoming, so the added intensity and fan excitement has helped some. It's hard to make a fair comparison of the two because of the Purple Haze incident in the offseason that robbed the team of a lot of depth and experience, but the competition level is much better week in and out, indisputably and its great to see that even with a young team with a handicapped offense TCU has been in every game this year.
BON: With the arrival into the Big 12 and the stadium renovations this season, does it feel like TCU has finally made it to the big-time as a football program?
HF: Yes. Yes it does.
You probably want more than that, don't you? I'd probably argue that TCU was already a big-time football program when we made it to our first BCS bowl in 2009, but the 2010 Rose Bowl really cemented the Frogs rebirth as a big time football program, becoming the second football team in Texas to play in all four current BCS bowls and the Cotton Bowl (yes, you guys are the other one).
The fact that the Big East fought to get us (before they got desperate) was a big step for the program, but the validation that the Big 12 considered TCU not just worthy for membership, but people actually talked about us being an upgrade to A&M -- that's a huge endorsement for the TCU program, and one that the fanbase will probably never stop being proud of. Unlike Baylor or Tech, we earned our spot at the big boy table and we'll fight all the harder to keep it as a result.
BON: Asking you to embark on some coaching speculation of your own, what would it take to get Gary Patterson to leave his job there? Would a Texas offer do it? There are those out there who believe that he would be the perfect replacement for Mack Brown. Is that something that TCU fans worry about?
HF: Texas, OU and K-State have been the three jobs that Frog fans have been worried about Patterson leaving the program for in the past, honestly. Patterson passed up Kansas State when it was offered though, and now that TCU is in the Big 12 I don't think that the wildcats would be able to pull Patterson from Fort Worth anymore.
As for the Texas or OU jobs... there's plenty to argue about there, and the discussions are fairly common among TCU fans. On the one hand, those two jobs are top five jobs in the country and just about any coach would want to be a part of their programs, and the recruiting grounds would be similar for him (not like moving to Michigan or USC), and before we joined the Big 12 Patterson would have been a fool not to take the opportunity if it had been offered.
Personally I'm of the opinion that Patterson wouldn't leave TCU though, and my reasons are fairly simple. Texas can pay Patterson a ton of money, but TCU raised 100 million to improve the stadium with a few phone calls -- Texas can pay more if it comes to a bidding war of course, but at some point it would probably be cheaper to just hire Bill Belichick instead -- so the financial incentive to go the the big time isn't as much of a concern for Patterson -- he knows we'll pay him what he wants.
Patterson is also a coach who likes to keep the program private, he's controlling about injury information and isn't the sort of coach who would be happy to do regular sit downs for a TV show -- that would have to change if he were the Texas coach as the Longhorn Network demands a level of information and involvement that Patterson wouldn't like.
Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, Patterson is very comfortable at TCU. He knows if he keeps coaching here he'll coach his last days at Gary Patterson Family Stadium and there will be a big statue of him out front. All of that good will disappears in an instant if he left for a job in the same conference, and he knows that. The media here are used to him, and he's mentioned in interviews that he kept a close eye on his friend and former boss Dennis Franchione as he struggled in the fishbowl environments of Alabama and A&M. The fishbowl effect is much bigger at Texas, which is why in the end I think he'll be TCU's coach for a decade to come. We still do worry about it though.
BON: The last several games have featured some serious struggles for TCU on offense. Are those just growing pains for Trevone Boykin or are there bigger problems on that side of the ball? Maybe with the offensive line and running backs?
HF: I think I answered a lot of this in question one, but I didn't mention much of Trevone Boykin before so I'll get into that here. Boykin has been frustrating for the Frogs this year, because he, like the rest of the team really, has had trouble staying healthy. His mobility was severely limited in the Tech game as his right leg got a big twist when a Tech player rolled through on him and he's not a Pachall-type quarterback who can beat you with just his arm.
When he finally regained his running form against West Virginia the offense improved considerably, and TCU was driving the ball early on K-State...until Boykin landed hard on his throwing shoulder and had to come out of the game for two series. Boykin was not anywhere close to 100% throwing the ball after that, and the fact that TCU scored a touchdown at all after that is a tribute to Frogs O' War official mancrush of 2012 award winner Brandon Carter refusing to settle for anything less than the end zone.
The O-line has improved over the course of the season, but tackles Tayo Fabuluje and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (TCU has the best named tackle group in the nation) have struggled with speed rushers all year, giving Boykin little time to throw what is a pretty good deep ball to our group of insanely talented wide receivers and the running game suffers even further from the lack of consistent downfield throwing. Next year TCU could have one of the best offenses in the conference though as Waymon James returns and is supplemented with a five-star RB transfer from Nebraska, the wide receivers return intact apart from slot man Skye Dawson and either Casey Pachall will return or (preferably) Trevone Boykin will beat him out for the job.
BON: This is a good TCU defense, as usual, despite the losses. Can the Horned Frogs shut down a Texas offense that is running the ball well and is now one of the more explosive groups in the country because of the vertical passing game?
HF: The answer to this question is the same every week and every year for the Frogs: TCU will stop the run and live with being beaten by the pass. If David Ash is really improved from his being pulled against Kansas you'll know early on in this game as the Frogs will have eight in the box and force him to throw consistently to win- that's the Patterson system in a nutshell.
When we beat OU in 2005 we stopped Peterson from running and won the game because the Sooners couldn't throw well, while in 2008 OU won because Bradford was able to beat us through the air consistently. That's how things always are under Patterson, so I don't expect anything different this week.
This year only Joseph Randle ended up getting over 100 yards against the Frogs, but it was on a decidedly below average 3.9 YPC average and TCU's offense was so inept in that game that in the second half the first defender to contact Randle immediately tried to strip the ball rather than wrap up as normal.
TCU's secondary has improved greatly from last season as well, coming in near the top of the league in interceptions, but their improvement is further helped by a fantastic pass rush. Devonte Fields will be a first-team All-Big 12 player and will also likely be AP freshman of the year and his counterpart Stansly Maponga has been almost unblockable since he returned from injury, living in the backfield and hitting Klein repeatedly. I think the Frogs will have a lot of success against Texas defensively, but I wouldn't be shocked if things go poorly if Ash has success early.
BON: As you mentioned in your questions, this is an old SWC rivalry that hasn't seen a head-to-head game since 2007. How does this one go down in your opinion and what are the two biggest keys to a TCU victory?
HF: I think this game will be close throughout as Texas' okay defense holds the bad TCU offense in check much of the day, while the excellent TCU defense does the same to the good Texas offense. Turnovers will be key as always, as if TCU wins the turnover margin or even keeps it even I think they win this game, but TCU has been wonderful at shooting itself in the foot this season so I'm not optimistic there (Fun fact: If the Frogs don't muff a punt this week it will be the first time in three games! Wait, that fact wasn't fun at all. Damn it).
The second key is quarterback play: If Boykin stays upright and injury-free all game the TCU offense will be able to score enough points to win the game... but he hasn't so far. On the other hand, the game will be on David Ash's shoulders as TCU will be bringing pressure from the ends and the middle in attempt to get him to pull a Gilbert (who served up five picks to us earlier this season, if you guys are wondering how he's doing) and TCU's secondary has been excellent at coming down with balls if they can get a hand on it. I expect both quarterbacks will play okay but not great, so the game will be close. Let's say TCU wins 24-17 because I am a terrible homer.
Many thanks to Hawkeyed Frog for his excellent perspective this week.