|TCU's 2013 schedule|
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
The Horned Frogs had a fairly encouraging major conference debut last season, going 4-5 in the Big 12 and 7-6 overall. Even more encouraging for 2013: Three of those losses came by seven points or fewer, and 15 starters return. That total includes nine from a defense that ranked 16th nationally in yards from scrimmage (323.9 per game) and saw a pair of stars emerge in cornerback Jason Verrett (AP third-team All‑America) and defensive end Devonte Fields (10 sacks and a conference-best 18.5 tackles for loss), the lone unanimous preseason all-conference selection. Also back is quarterback Casey Pachall, who in four wins last September threw for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception. But an October arrest for DWI led to a season-ending suspension and substance-abuse rehab. (Pachall, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI, also failed a drug test earlier in 2012.) He must now beat out sophomore Trevone Boykin, who was erratic as a starter last fall.
The case against
Pachall must return to top form for TCU to keep pace in a conference full of high-powered attacks. Also, Fields is suspended for the Frogs' first two games for an unspecified violation of university and team policies.
A month after opening against LSU in Arlington, Texas, the Frogs visit Oklahoma State and Oklahoma -- tabbed No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the Big 12's preseason media poll -- making for a brutal first half. A closing date with Baylor could play a huge role in end-of-season bowl-invite jockeying.
28.3: TCU's average points per game last season, the third fewest in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs failed to score 20 points in four of their final six games, all losses. TCU also ranked 73rd nationally (and eighth in the conference) in total offense after ranking among the top 30 in the nation in each of the previous four seasons.
LB Marcus Mallet: With the departure of linebacker Kenny Cain, who led the Horned Frogs with 86 tackles in 2012, the 6-foot-1, 227-pound Mallet will be expected to step up. Now a junior, he started twice last fall and made 18 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He turned in his best game against West Virginia, when he made seven tackles in a double-overtime win.
Freshman to watch
RB Kyle Hicks: He may not play right away, but 5-10, 190-pounder represents a future building block for TCU. Hicks originally committed to Texas, but he flipped his pledge to join high school teammate Fields in Fort Worth.
The quarterback competition: Patterson's statements that the battle between Pachall and Boykin is even have been taken with generous portions of salt; one beat writer even vowed to cover TCU's opener nude if Pachall is not the team's starting quarterback against LSU. But given the tumult of Pachall's past 18 months, it seems Patterson is wary of handing over the keys to the offense prematurely. When he has played, Pachall has been accurate, completing 66 percent of his attempts over the past two seasons.
2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)
QB Casey Pachall: 2,776 passing yards, 26 TDs; 70 rushing yards, 2 TDs
RB Waymon James: 1,050 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 140 receiving yards
WR Brandon Carter: 950 receiving yards, 9 TDs; 45 rushing yards
Coach speak: Gary Patterson
SI: Between the conference change and the stadium expansion, it's been a busy few years for you.
GP: It's awesome for me getting the stadium done. So finally, for my first spring in about three or four years, I was able to be just a football coach, which is a big difference.
SI: Some have tabbed you as a sleeper for the Big 12 title. What do you make of that shift in perception?
GP: If somebody picks us low, it's my job to prove them wrong. And if somebody picks us high, it's my job to prove them right. I think that's what head coaches' jobs are.
SI: Is the "new" feeling of the conference gone?
GP: At least we have played everybody once. It takes you two years to play them all at your place once, their place once, so your kids get a feel for playing in those stadiums and how you do things. The good thing was, we won four out of five of our conference games on the road. Usually that's a thing that your kids have to learn the most. That's the biggest deal: How do you find a way to win more at home and keep up the same kind of energy you had going on the road and playing?