Gary Patterson will be entering his 17th season as the Horned Frogs head coach. And, like all coaches stay at schools any length time, he has done a lot of winning. In the three-year run up to joining the Big 12, Patterson guided his teams to two BCS Bowls and an 11-win season in 2011. However, outside of a couple of years with quarterback Trevone Boykin under center, TCU has struggled since joining the conference. In Boykin’s junior and senior years, the Horned Frogs averaged 11.5 wins a season, but in the other three years since joining the Big 12, they average just 5.6 wins a season.
Is this the year the Horned Frogs find success once again? Well, that may rest on QB Kenny Hill’s arm, but Texas Christian is considered one of the dark horse candidates to win the Big 12 in 2017. There are reasons for optimism. The defense should be better and so should the offense. But, does the schedule setup for success? Let’s look.
2017 TCU Football Schedule
SEP 2 – Jackson State
SEP 9 – at Arkansas
SEP 16 – SMU
SEP 23 – at Oklahoma State
OCT 7 – West Virginia
OCT 14 – at Kansas State
OCT 21 – Kansas
OCT 28 – at Iowa State
NOV 4 – Texas
NOV 11 – at Oklahoma
NOV 18 – at Texas Tech
NOV 25 – Baylor
After an 11 win campaign with a banged up defense in 2015, TCU was one of the favorites to win the conference last season. Instead, what was supposed to be a stellar defense oftentimes fell flat in 2016. For TCU to truly be a threat to win the conference the defense must be improved. In other words, they need to play closer to the team that stomped Baylor last year, than the team that got suffocated by Kansas State.
The great news is that can be accomplished. TCU returns Kyle Hicks, a former blue chip recruit who posted over 1,000 rushing yards last year. Having a great running back to relieve the pressure off of Hill can only be a good thing. Speaking of Hill, while he threw for 3,208 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, he also threw 13 interceptions and only completed 61 percent of his passes. He has to get smarter with the ball.
Breaking down the schedule, TCU plays a sneaky fun non-conference slate. While Jackson State is a snoozer and a half, it gets better after that. Much better. The Frogs fell to Arkansas last year in double overtime. They will look to avenge that loss in week two this season.
What makes this matchup so fun is the contrast of styles between these two teams. Bret Bielema would probably outlaw the forward pass and non-tight end formations if he could. While TCU has fully embraced the up-tempo spread of the Big 12. When Patterson and Bielema go at it, these games tend to be full of drama, going all the way back to Bielema’s time with Wisconsin. Make sure you have the popcorn on hand for this one, because the pads are going to pop.
The non-conference slate concludes with a home match against former Southwestern Conference foe and in-state rival, SMU. This rivalry game is over 100 years old. It also includes a fantastic trophy, the Iron Skillet! TCU and SMU have met 96 times, including the 1935 Rose Bowl in a contest described as the “Game of the Century”. I don’t think anyone will be calling it that this year, but nonetheless, it should be fun.
Opening conference play is a brutal start. First, TCU travels to Stillwater to face conference favorite Oklahoma State and the Paddle People. This game will give a pretty idea of exactly where this TCU squad might finish the year. After that, they get a week to rest before West Virginia comes to town. While the Purple faithful get to stay in Ft. Worth, West Virginia is another dark horse candidate for the conference. And just in case those two games back-to-back were not hard enough, they travel to Kansas State the very next week. Who is another conference favorite.
Every year, you can look to a portion of the schedule that will make or break a season. For TCU, it is those three games.
Which leads to the true trap game of the year, Kansas. In one of the stranger mysteries of the universe, Kansas has gone toe-to-toe with TCU almost every year since TCU joined the Big 12. Last year TCU snuck off with the win only because of a missed field goal! If TCU doesn’t regroup after that three-game gauntlet, it could be a disaster for them.
Breaking down the rest of the schedule, four of the five games remaining are “should wins”. TCU simply has more talent than Iowa State. Texas is just an utter wildcard. On paper, they should be competing at an almost Alabama-like level. Instead, the boys in burnt orange have been stuck on the lower mediocrity level for a while now. Texas Tech… well picture last year’s 5-7 squad without QB Patrick Mahomes. The defense should be better, but still, that is pretty bad. The Baylor game comes at the end of the regular season, but it won’t be the scoreboard breaking affair it once was. The Horned Frog’s depth, and Baylor’s depletion of it, should be the deciding factor in this game, even if it is a rivalry.
The one bump in the road in the second half of the season is a trip to Norman. Oklahoma looks pretty loaded. TCU seems to play the Sooners tough every year, and they definitely aren’t intimidated by the Big 12 blue blood. That is a good trait to have for a team that has to go on the road to Memorial Stadium. This should be a good game to watch.
This Texas Christian squad can go either way. The schedule has its challenges. However, while they have to improve in key areas and fix the sloppy play that plagued them last season, they have the talent to overcome it. That is what makes this team a dark horse.