2011 Non-Conference Preview: TCU vs. Baylor

The "friday night lights" of September 2nd, 2011 in Waco, TX will not only kickoff the 2011 season for the TCU Horned Frogs and the Baylor Bears but it could also signify the last chapter to be written in their bitter rivalry for many years to come.  Texas' version of the "holy war" currently sits at a painstakingly close 50-49-7 in favor of the Frogs.  Although since starting the series back up in 2006 after being dormant since 1996 the Frogs are a flawless 3-0 over the Bears with a combined score of 89 to 17.  Unfortunately those three games would mean nothing in the "what have you done for me lately" world of college football fandom if Baylor was able to declare "scoreboard!" in 2011 and beyond.  With no future series in the books for the future and an apparent lack of interest on Baylor's part this rivalry looks like it could die on the vine.

Baylor came into the 2010 matchup with as much swagger as they had shown in many years.  Baylor quarterback phenom Robert Griffin III's (RG3) knee was finally healthy and the then 2-0 Bears had just dismantled Buffalo and Sam Houston State by a combined score of 68-9.  Now while most people dismissed those beatdowns as a product of their much inferior competition RG3 was not one of them stating this before the TCU game, "Buffalo was a step up from Sam Houston, and TCU will be a step up from Buffalo."  Uhhhh... riiiiight, well in that case watch out for that 3rd step RG3, because it's a DOOZY! That weekend TCU handed the Baylor Bears their worst margin of defeat of the entire 2010 season with a final score of 45-10. The scoreboard doesn't actually do justice to how badly the Frogs embarrassed the Bears in Fort Worth that day, but since I don't want to spend too much more time waxing poetic about that glorious mid-September flogging I will let this .gif do the talking for me.


Tcubaylor_gif_medium
If a picture is worth 1,000 words then this .gif is worth 1,000,000

After the game RG3 was quoted as saying,"It's just embarrassing. I've never been more embarrassed in my life. ... None of us wanted to come out here and have a showcase like this." Even after all that Baylor'sprodigal son RG3 could not resist the temptation to put his foot in his mouth one more time by getting in front of a microphone after a confidence boosting 55-7 win over "powerhouse" Big 12 team Kansas and declaring that the loss to TCU "was a fluke."  Of course that comment threw some fuel on the fire of a rivalry that needed none and rest assured the comment will be prominently displayed in the TCU lockerroom throughout the Summer leading up to the September 2nd season opener and possible rivalry closer.

With this game still just under 3 months away and only spring ball in the books so far it would be foolhardy for me to give a comprehensive breakdown of the teams as much can change between now and after two-a-days so I will just give you the broad strokes of this matchup as I see them so far.

The strength of the Baylor team in 2011 will undoubtedly be it's offense.  RG3 (Jr.) is an explosive dual-threat who has been plastered on the Preseason All-American lists of just about every college football preview mag in the country and rightfully so, when he is "on" he is a marvel to watch.  RG3 will have plenty of talent to throw to in what is in my opinion one of the better receiving cores in the county highlighted by talented speedsters Josh Gordon(Jr.) and Kendall Wright (Sr.). TheBears also return 4 starters on what was an impressive offensive line in 2010, though replacing 2011 NFL first-round draftee Danny Watkins at left tackle will be no easy feat for Cyril Richardson(So.).  The big question mark for this offense is going to be who can replace graduated workhorse RB Jay Finley who eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing in 2010 while netting 6.2 yards per carry.  Jared Salubi (Jr.) and Terrance Ganaway (Sr.) are the likely successors to Finley but neither did much to seperate themselves during spring ball and if someone hasn't stepped up by September the running game could be the crutch of this offense.

Though the strength of TCU's defense in 2011 will lie in the front 6, the TCUdefensive line will have their hands full matching up with the Baylor's offensive line in what should be one of the best matchups in the game.  If TCU defensive ends Stansly Maponga (RS So.) & Braylon Broughton (Sr.) can't rattle RG3 in the pocket early and often the Frogs could be in for a long day if there is time for RG3 to move and allow his receivers to get separation deep.  I see the TCU linebacker tandem of Tank Carder (Sr.) and Tanner Brock (Jr.) shutting down the run game fairly easily and both are more than capable of spying on RG3 when needed.  The pivotal matchup will be how TCU's inexperienced defensive backfield is able to run with the Baylor wideouts and if they get flustered by RG3 and the threat he poses with his legs.

On the other side of the ball both teams are starting over in a sense as both units hold more questions than answers.  After being the defensive equivalent of a wet paper towel in 2010 Baylor coach Art Briles made a change at defensive coordinator, Scott Norwood was out and Phil Bennett was in.  Bennett was the former DC at Pitt and has an impressive track record but will one offseason be enough time for him to turn around Baylor's defense?  Only one thing is for certain, he can't do any worse than Norwood did.  It appears Bennett and Patterson are kindred spirits of sorts as Bennett has moved linebackers to end, safeties to linebackers, and even former quarterback Brody Trahan (So.) is slotted as a starter at outside linebacker, all in an effort to get as much speed on the field as humanly possible.  The defensive line looks to be the most seasoned unit on the defense and should be a strength.  Ahmad Dixon, a highly regarded safety recruit in 2010 who spurned offers from the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, and Alabama instead opting to play in his hometown of Waco, TX for Baylor will certainly be a player to watch.  Dixon will play a hybrid LB/SS in 2011 which should play to his strengths and allow his star to shine bright in Bennett's modified 4-2-5 defense.

TCU's Casey Pachall (RS So.) faces the tall task of replacing living legend Andy Dalton at QB and he will do so with a relatively green offensive line and receiving core playing their first two games on the road. The strength of the offensive line looks to be in the interior, led by sole returning starter Kyle Dooley at guard.  The major question mark on the line is if James Dunbar (RS So.) can step up at left tackle, which is not a question you want to have when breaking in a new QB.  At receiver look for Pachall to lean on Josh Boyce (RS So.) early and often (much like Dalton did with Young in '08) until he can gain a repor with the rest of his young but extremely talented wideouts. The strength of this TCU team should be the run game thanks to a stable of backs as deep as any in the country headlined by Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker, & Waymon James.  Those 3 should split the bulk of the carries but 4th and 5th stringers Dwight Smith & Aundre Dean have as much if not more raw talent than the front 3 so if one were to falter or get dinged don't expect the TCU run game to miss a beat. 

Early Prediction: TCU 24, Baylor 17.  Baylor will string together a few scores on the back of some long passes but RG3 will struggle agaisnt the 4-2-5 without a consistent running game to take some of the heat off of him.  On offense I think TCU is going to be slow and steady, wearing down a Baylor defense that simply won't have had enough time for a full transformation under Bennett's tutelage and piling on late in the game.

Other Bold Early Predicitons:

-BYU over Texas
-Boise State over Georgia
-Air Force over Notre Dame
-Air Force over Boise State

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