Today at No. 12: TCU
Coach: Gary Patterson (149-54, entering 17th season; 149-54 overall)
2016 record: 6-7, 4-5 in Big 12 Conference, finished fifth in league
Look back: TCU experienced back-to-back seasons of prosperity, registering double-digit win seasons in 2014 and 2015. But after losing longtime QB Trevone Boykin to graduation, the Horned Frogs struggled with turnovers. The team dropped a thrilling double-overtime game to Arkansas in the second week of the season and nearly upset Oklahoma in early October. The second half of the season wasn’t much better, with TCU dropping five of its final seven games.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 7
Key losses: WR Daniel Walsh, WR Deanté Gray, OL Aviante Collins, DE James McFarland, DT Aaron Curry, DT Josh Carraway,
Top returnees: QB Kenny Hill, RB Kyle Hicks, WR Taj Williams, DT Chris Bradley, LB Travin Howard, CB Ranthony Texada, S Niko Small, S Nick Orr
Strengths: Co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham toko a job at Kansas, but fellow offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie is sticking with the Horned Frogs. Cumbie has helped the offense put up big numbers since 2013 and has ingredients for a bounce-back season.
QB Kenny Hill is trying to put the memory of a league-worst 13 interceptions behind him heading into 2017. He’ll benefit from having RB Kyle Hicks back after the junior rushed for 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The team’s top two receivers: Taj Williams (702 yards) and John Diarse (442 yards) return to provide stability. Orr was a ball hawk, earning second team All-Big 12 honors after registering four interceptions for the team in 2016. He’ll get help from Niko Small, Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney.
Weaknesses: Seven different players made starts on the offensive line last season as the unit struggled to protect the quarterback. The 31 sacks allowed in 2016 was the most given up by the Horned Frogs in more than a decade.
First team all-conference LB Travin Howard (130 tackles) remains a dominant force in the middle of the defense for the Horned Frogs. His play was exceptional last season and he’ll need to elevate his game in 2017, especially with the four new starters in the mix on the front line and in the middle of the defense.
Outlook: Gary Patterson knows his offense must improve. “What we need to do to move the football. If that’s running it, then you run it. If it’s throwing it, being able to be more of a vertical game, then be more of a vertical game,” he said during Big 12 media day in July. Consistency, especially at the quarterback position, will take this team far — especially with a schedule that features tough road contests at Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
Patterson has rarely endured extending losing streaks at TCU and should be able to get his team back on track.