Last season, the Horned Frog football team raised its expectations with a second-straight one-loss season and an appearance in its first Bowl Championship Series game.
This summer, the team piled up individual and team accolades, culminating in a No. 6 preseason ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 8212; the highest preseason ranking in the history of the program, according to TCU Athletics Media Relations.
Head football coach Gary Patterson has led the Frogs to an 85-28 record in his nine seasons at the helm. He attributed his success to the strength of the program, rather than the strength of one season’s team.
“What we’ve tried to be is not be a good football team every once in a while 8212; we want to be a good program,” Patterson said. “That’s what good programs do 8212; the next guy steps up and finds a way.”
Senior quarterback Andy Dalton, who is on the watch lists for several major quarterback awards, will lead an offense that returns nine starters. He said that although the individual recognition is nice, winning as a team is his first priority.
“Our ultimate goal is to finish undefeated, win the conference and see where we go,” Dalton, the preseason Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, said. “We know we can’t get there unless we take it one game at a time.”
Dalton is not the only Horned Frog to earn a preseason award, as players at almost every position were recognized by publications across the country. With all but one offensive starter returning, Dalton has more veteran players this year than in his three previous years as the starting quarterback.
“We’ve got a great opportunity. We’ve got a lot of potential,” Dalton said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so we’re excited to get started.”
A pair of seniors who will protect Dalton on the offensive line are on watch lists for awards: senior offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and senior center Jake Kirkpatrick are both on the Outland Trophy Watch List, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman. Kirkpatrick is a consensus preseason First-Team All-American, while Cannon is listed as a Second-Team and Third-Team All-American by various publications.
Senior return specialist Jeremy Kerley is also a consensus preseason First-Team All-American and is the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year in the MWC after a 2009 season in which he broke loose for a pair of punt returns for touchdowns, both of which made ESPN SportsCenter’s nightly Top-10 plays segment.
“We know we walk around with a bull’s-eye on our back,” Kerley said. “That’s kind of the great thing about it you know, just being a target.”
Despite the potential for a high-powered offense this season, Patterson’s trademark is defense and plenty of Horned Frog defenders have earned preseason honors as well. Senior defensive tackles Kelly Griffin and Cory Grant have garnered attention from Sporting News and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football publications. New starting cornerbacks junior Greg McCoy and senior Jason Teague were both recognized by Rivals.com as potential breakout defensive stars.
The top returning tackler and defensive back will be junior linebacker Tank Carder and senior safety Tejay Johnson. Both are members of a defense which has ranked first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense for two straight years. Carder made 89 tackles in 2009, while Johnson was fourth on the team with 59 stops to go with three interceptions.
Carder and Johnson are both on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List, given to the top defensive player in college football, while both were named to watch lists for awards at their respective positions: the Dick Butkus Award for linebackers and the Thorpe Award for defensive backs.