For the first time since joining the Big 12, TCU is the heavy favorite to win the conference. The media’s prediction isn’t unheralded, as the Frogs tied for the Big 12 Championship before a dominant performance in the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss.
But like other Big 12 contenders, this year’s Horned Frogs lost some of last year’s standouts and will now have to play with the dreaded bulls eye on their backs as this year’s pick to win the Big 12 title.
On Monday, TCU’s head coach Gary Patterson and his players James McFarland, Derrick Kindred, Joey Hunt and Heisman Trophy favorite Trevone Boykin spoke at Big 12 Media Days about what to expect from this year’s Horned Frogs and what they have been doing to make sure to continues last year’s success.
Perhaps the biggest change from 2014 to the upcoming season is TCU’s defensive personnel.
The Frogs lost six starters on defense, particularly at the defensive back and linebacker positions.
In 2014, TCU’s defense ranked eighth in the country in scoring defense and led the nation in interceptions with 26 interceptions. But players who will no longer take the field at Amon G. Carter Stadium snagged half of those interceptions. And the linebacker corps that was led by Big 12 Player of the Year Paul Dawson will be comprised of first time starters.
Though this year’s defense will be less experienced, Patterson said they will be faster.
“Our starting linebackers last year ran 5 flat, 4.8. It was the slowest group we’ve ever had at TCU,” Patterson said. “The five top linebackers this year average a 4.5-something when we ran at the end of spring. Defensively, not just linebacker-wise, we have a chance to be more athletic than we were a year ago.”
Senior defensive back Derrick Kindred agreed with his coach’s evaluation of the defense, even with all the new starters.
“Yeah, I feel like we’re more faster, more stronger. It’s just all about how we prepare each and every week–throughout the week in the film room,” Kindred said. “You know everybody is playing better than they were last year. A lot of people were growing up and the game is starting the slow down for them.”
While the Frogs’ secondary has to deal with attrition, TCU’s defensive line loses just one starter, Chucky Hunter.
With the defensive front stacked with impact veteran players such as Mike Tuaua, Davion Pierson, Chris Bradley, Terrell Lathan and James McFarland, the Frogs could have one of the best pass rushes in the nation.
With TCU’s youth at linebacker, having a defensive line that could both pressure quarterbacks and stuff running backs can help take the pressure off the secondary. But, defensive end James McFarland said the defensive line’s goal isn’t to help the secondary because of the new linebacker corps.
“Yeah, well, not necessarily because we have some younger linebackers but that’s what expected of us.” McFarland said. “That’s the expectations we have for ourselves and out coaching staff has for us. This year we’re looking to increase the amount of sacks we get, increase the havoc we cause because that’s our nature.”
The offense may very well be the biggest story of the season for the Horned Frogs. With the majority of key players from last season returning, the high flying offense is expected to drive the Horned Frogs in 2015.
Led by early Heisman Trophy hopeful Trevone Boykin, the squad will be put to the test this year with a new target on their backs.
“The preseason hype is awesome but it’s not where you start,” Boykin said. “It’s where you finish.”
Media crews swarmed around the Horned Frogs’ senior quarterback during his press conference on Monday. After starting in place of an injured Casey Pachall for a good chunk of the 2013 season, Boykin had his break out season in 2014, in which he helped lead the Frogs to a Big 12 Championship and Peach Bowl victory.
Boykin said the biggest change this year is that the offense will be expected to perform at an increasingly high level.
“We are now a veteran offense,” Boykin said. “Some of the mistakes we made last year were first year mistakes which we can no longer do. Last year we had about 100 penalty yards within the first half against Minnesota, and that’s something we just can’t do now.”
Boykin said that with changing preseason expectations comes a new perspective for the team.
“Our motto has changed from prove them wrong to prove them right,” Boykin said. “Last year coming off a 4-8 season they told us what we didn’t have and what we couldn’t do. We knew we had a ton of talent. It was all about the mindset.”
With TCU’s recent rise to the pinnacle of the college football world, Boykin attributed the success to last year’s addition of new coordinators such as Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.
“Meacham and Cumbie added a swag we didn’t have before,” Boykin said. “Last year we pretty much had the same team as 2013, but we’ve brought in what they told us. People have talked about how good or bad we could be and we cut off the negativity.”
Boykin also emphasized the importance of playing for each other opposed to trying to single handedly run the show.
“I’m just a small piece of the puzzle; everybody plays a role,” Boykin said. “I’ve been taught to stay humble. It’s the way you have to be, because you are not bigger than the team.”
While TCU’s offense may be one of the top offenses in the nation, center Joey Hunt said he thinks it can improve even more.
“Last year we came into camp and we weren’t really used to the style of offense,” Hunt said. “We kept learning and we got better and better week in and week out. Hopefully we can get an even better grasp of the offense this year.”
Hunt, a senior from El Campo, Texas, is already on watch to win the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top center.
Along the lines of improvement, Boykin said players have already being doing their best to become better on a weekly basis.
“We always watch film on Sunday, and you may see that you made a wrong read or you could have done something that would have put you in a better situation,” Boykin said. “As far as mechanics you try to break bad habits, but we play an offense where you have to get the ball out as quick as possible no matter what.”
Boykin said that when all things come into play, they have to take it to the next level.
While award hype may surround Boykin and Hunt before the season has even begun, the two said that the main focus is on winning football games, not awards.
“I’ve been told to just not think about the trophies just win as many games as you can,” Boykin said. “However it means a lot to be a favorite and to be relevant again. The fact that I’m up there in talks with the Heisman is just unbelievable.”
Hunt said that winning games is the first step to receiving honors.
“We need to focus on winning as a team first,” Hunt said. “If we win as a team, then the player awards will come.”
The schedule for the 2015 Horned Frogs’ season may be one of the most noticeable changes from last year. Of the five ranked teams the Frogs played last year, three of the games were at home. Of the five road games they had, three were played within the state of Texas.
This year however the story is quite different. The Frogs will be playing five of their six away games out of the state, including rather lengthy trips to Minnesota on Sept. 3 and Iowa State on Oct. 17. The only in-state away game they play is against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Sept. 26. West Virginia is the only ranked opponent from last year’s season that they will play at home.
To add to those changes, both the West Virginia and Minnesota games will be played on a Thursday night. The season finale against Baylor will be played on Friday, Nov. 27 in Fort Worth.
Despite the seemingly challenging schedule, Patterson sees an advantageous side to it.
“This year you have to go on the road more but it’s not as grueling in some ways,” Patterson said. “Probably one of the biggest four game schedules we have, and first we have to get by Minnesota, are Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas at home, Manhattan to play Kansas State, and then Ames, Iowa. If we do get by then we get a week and half off to get ready for a Thursday night game against West Virginia.”
Patterson said that making it through the first half of the season could pay dividends for the final weeks.
“With a Thursday night game for West Virginia, you get a few extra days to prepare for Oklahoma State,” Patterson said. “In the end we probably have it better because Baylor and Oklahoma will have to play each other before we play both of them to end year, and before that Baylor will have to play Oklahoma State.”
McFarland said he sees the weeknight games as an honor, as the Frogs will get a much larger national television audience.
“It’s humbling to come from a season where most of our games were in the morning and now to be scheduled when other teams are not playing,” McFarland said. “To have our games show exclusively is just great.”
McFarland said he was not concerned about the weeknight games throwing off the players’ routines.
“From what I’ve heard we have ample time to get ready for Thursday games, and the on the bright side we have more time to prepare for the game the week after the Thursday games,” McFarland said. “It could work out to our advantage but it can also be a disadvantage. We just have to manage our time and ensure that we use it effectively.”
For now though, the team’s focus is on the Golden Gophers in week one.
“We have been preparing for Minnesota since March,” Patterson said. “It’s hard going into a situation where the game is at 8 p.m. It’s state fair week so the town is going to be buzzing. We really have to get ready. We know we’re going to get their best shot.”