The Horned Frogs try to recoup after last years very high expectations, and will fly under the radar to the casual fan but that is the way TCU likes it so they can pounce on unexpected opponents.
There’s no talk of being a BCS buster like there was last off-season. There’s no real consideration for the Mountain West title with BYU the prohibitive favorite. There’s no buzz after an extremely disappointing 8-5 season. That might be just like TCU likes it.
After 22-3 in its first two seasons after moving over from Conference USA, TCU appeared to be the Mountain West’s dominant program. It can get back to that point in a hurry by doing what worked in the first place: tough defense, consistent offense, and more tough defense.
The defense has the potential to be fantastic and the offense could be far better with experience at quarterback and a healthy Aaron Brown to hand off to. But more than anything else, the team needs its swagger and its us-against-the-world attitude it had when it entered the league.
The Horned Frogs should be able to sneak up on everyone; no one in the Mountain West thrives on being disrespected like they do. This is when they’ll be the most dangerous.
What to watch for on offense: The line to make up for plenty of problems. The front five is loaded with veterans with four returning starters and a decent player in Preston Phillips ready to step in at left guard. There's a great mix of all-star talent, dependable all-around blockers, and decent depth. If the running backs are healthy, the ground game should be dominant.
What to watch for on defense: More of the same. After finishing 15th in the nation in total defense, the production should be fantastic again as long as the ends can crank out consistent production in the backfield. The back seven in the 4-2-5 alignment will be a brick wall. New Mexico likely has the league's best cornerback tandem, but Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders aren't far behind. It's possible LBs Jason Phillips and Robert Henson, along with SS Stephen Hodge, will all be first team all-stars.
The team will be far better if … the passing is more efficient. QB Andy Dalton will get plenty of time behind the veteran line and he has a great young receiving corps to get excited about. Now he has to connect on a consistent basis. One of the league's least efficient passing attacks needs to get just a little bit better for the offense to him. The running game will be there, and now there needs to be a complement for it.
The Schedule: It's not too bad, but the Horned Frogs have to be good on the road and can't slip in non-conference play against SMU with the Oklahoma game coming the week after. Winning the season opener at New Mexico is a must and play Utah on the road won't be a picnic and the trip to Colorado State could be a beartrap coming just five days before the showdown against BYU. The other major battle, at Utah, also comes mid-week being played five days after a trip to UNLV. On the plus side, there will be 16 days between the Ute game and the season ender against Air Force. The key will be surviving 11 straight weeks before getting a week off in mid-November.