When TCU heads north to kick off the season against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, they will be the highest ranked team to ever enter the confines of the TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. But they won’t be in for a gimme.
The Frogs are being thrown into a difficult playing environment right from the start, and it may be the theme of their road schedule this fall. If the Frogs have any playoff aspirations, they will have to survive in the backyards of several teams with a history of winning at home.
After being dominated 30-7 by TCU last season in Fort Worth, it’s the Gophers turn to host the Frogs. Despite last season’s lopsided affair, don’t count the Gophers out. They are not the same team we saw TCU play last season.
Minnesota proved that they had potential last season by putting up fights in nearly every contest they played. The Gophers showed that, if they bring their A-game, they can win games against powerhouse opponents.
Last season the Gophers boasted one of the better running defenses in the nation. With an entire offseason to develop their potentially talented roster, Minnesota could pose a threat to unsuspecting teams this season.
Combine an improved team with the electric atmosphere expected in Minneapolis, and the Frogs could have their work cut out for them. The city happens to host the Minnesota State Fair this week, which brings in thousands of visitors to Minneapolis from across the country each year. The fans and players will be at full force.
The next bump in the road the Frogs may face is on Sept. 26, when the team travels to Lubbock, Texas to face Texas Tech. While we all remember last year’s massacre of the Red Raiders in Fort Worth when TCU blew them out by a score of 82-27 (a game in which TCU ran out of touchdown fireworks for the season), Tech shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Frogs haven’t won in Lubbock since 1991. During their trip to Lubbock in 2013, TCU fell to the Red Raiders by a score of 20-10.
Lubbock has a history of hosting shocking games, too. In 1995, a 1-2 Texas Tech team made headlines when they upset No. 8 Texas A&M, ending a whopping 29 game win streak for the Aggies.
In 2008, the Red Raiders once again stunned the nation when they defeated No. 1 University of Texas, propelled by a last second touchdown. That game made the difference in Oklahoma getting the nod to play in the Big 12 championship over Texas, despite Texas beating Oklahoma earlier in the season.
Crazy things happen in West Texas. The Frogs need to be prepared for anything.
Once the Frogs get through Lubbock, the next potential test they will face on the road is Oklahoma State on Nov. 7. The Frogs have had a rough time in Stillwater, losing to the Cowboys in both 2012 and 2013.
Not only is Boone-Pickens Stadium in Stillwater a historically hostile environment for visitors, but we should expect an improved Oklahoma State offense this season. While the Cowboys only won six games last season after a 5-1 start, the team was reinvigorated when freshman Mason Rudolph took over as starting quarterback in the last two games on the regular season.
Rudolph led the Cowboys to a thrilling 38-35 overtime victory over Oklahoma in Norman, and then to a 30-22 victory over Washington in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Now having had a full offseason to develop, Rudolph has the potential to have a breakout year and act as a surprise weapon for the Cowboys this season. Some experts predict the Cowboys to be the surprise team of 2015. If Rudolph’s passing game is on key, Oklahoma State can put up a formidable fight.
Finally, there’s Oklahoma. The Frogs’ trip to Norman, Oklahoma on Nov. 21 will be their final away game of the season, and maybe the biggest test of all on the road this year.
While the No. 18 Sooners are coming off their worst season in over a decade, Oklahoma has historically been one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to defending their home turf.
The Sooners have lost only seven games in Norman over the last ten years. That included five consecutive undefeated seasons at home from 2006 to 2010. The bright side for TCU fans is that three of those seven losses last season and one of the other four came at the hands of the Frogs themselves.
Oklahoma, however, is expected to come back a stronger team this season, especially on offense. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard will be back on the field after missing three of the last four games last season. The Sooners also landed Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who will replace Trevor Knight as starting quarterback this season.
Combine Mayfield and Shepard with sophomore running back Samaje Perine, who set the NCAA single game rushing record with 408 yards against Kansas last season, and the Sooners have a dangerous offensive trio. Head coach Bob Stoops knows how to create a winning formula, too.
If the Sooners are really out to get anyone this season, it’s TCU. The events from last October at Amon G. Carter Stadium are far too fresh, when the then No. 4 Sooners were upset by the unranked Frogs. By November, depending on how they are faring, getting revenge at TCU may be all that matters.
The Frogs are more than capable of getting through these potential ‘trap’ games. If they make the most of their “air-raid” style offense, and the athleticism of the defense trumps its inexperience, TCU can embarrass any team in its own backyard.
If the Frogs do make it unscathed on this season on the road, all they will have left is a game against rival Baylor Bears at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Black Friday. If both teams are undefeated at that point, it could be the most anticipated game in college football this fall.
As their mantra has been all offseason, the Frogs need to take it one game at a time. No longer are they the hunters.
They are now the hunted.