SCOUTING REPORT In his 14 years in Fort Worth, Gary Patterson has helped navigate TCU's climb up college football's conference ladder. He began as Dennis Franchione's defensive coordinator in the WAC, then shepherded the program into Conference USA in his first full year as head coach in 2001 before shifting to the Mountain West four years later. Now, after spurning the Big East, TCU has landed in the Big 12, the powerful league that left it behind when it formed 18 years ago. "People say, ?Now you don't have to have a chip on your shoulder,'" Patterson said. "Yeah, we do. We're still in a situation where there's people saying, 'Well, now they can't do this.'"If offensive line coach Eddie Williamson can work his usual magic with three first-year starters, doubters will find little to question about a Frogs offense that includes standout quarterback Casey Pachall, speedy All-MWC receiver Josh Boyce and two 700-yard running backs. Such weaponry will be needed to keep pace with the country's highest scoring conference. Said Patterson, "You've gotta learn how to make people kick field goals."That task falls to the defense, normally a Herculean strength of Patterson's teams. The defense has ranked No. 1 nationally in four of his 11 seasons as head coach, but it gave up 90 total points in the team's two losses last season. This year's unit, anchored by All-America candidate Stansly Maponga at end and Kenny Cain at strongside linebacker, will be revamped not only because four starters graduated, but also because of the campus drug bust that led to the dismissal of three likely first-teamers. The secondary will now feature four new starters alongside returnee Jason Verrett in Patterson's usual 4-2-5 scheme, and sophomores will move permanently into the top spots at tackle (Jon Lewis and David Johnson). "We'll see how they grow up," said Patterson.The defensive lineup is young (Cain and end Ross Forrest are the only starting seniors), but Patterson is optimistic. "We think we're more talented than we were a year ago," he said. "But I don't know what that means because [we're] going into a different conference."That talent means that as his team runs one of the country's toughest gauntlets, it has a chance to prove that it belongs.
THE BIG IF After an uncharacteristically uneven season, can corner Jason Verrett and TCU's defense play the Patterson way?
TELLING NUMBER 36 -- Career wins for the current TCU senior class -- including bowls -- tied with Alabama's for the second-most in the nation, behind Boise State's.
KEY RETURNEES Josh Boyce, WR, Sr. -- He was two yards shy of TCU's second-ever 1,000-yard season last year. Now the speedster, who had four of the team's seven longest plays from scrimmage, needs three more receiving touchdowns to own the school's all-time mark.
Stansly Maponga, DE, Jr. -- One of six players in the country to rank in the top 10 in forced fumbles (five) and top 25 in sacks (nine) last year, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Maponga should be one of the most disruptive defensive ends in all of college football.
Casey Pachall, QB, Jr. -- Pachall (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) had little trouble replacing Andy Dalton and breaking his records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and yardage (2,921) in 2011, Pachall's first year as a starter. With most of his passing options returning, he should be among the top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
Kenny Cain, LB, Sr. -- A second-team all-conference selection as a junior, Cain led TCU in tackles (72) despite sitting out two games with an ankle injury. Now he's the lone experienced upperclassman in a depleted linebacking corps.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Brandon Carter, WR, So. -- His four-catch, 120-yard, two-touchdown performance at Boise State and his four-catch, 80-yard effort against UNLV two games later accounted for more than half of Carter's freshman production. Those could be harbingers of things to come for the 5-foot-11, 161-pounder, a shifty target who will continue developing in the slot and will resume punt return duties after averaging 13.7 yards per attempt in 2011.
TOP RECRUIT Devonte Fields, DE, Fr. -- The four-star recruit and Under Armor All-America can learn plenty from watching Maponga and Ross Forrest. But don't expect the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder to be a mere bystander. He has the quickness and motor to see the field sooner rather than later.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT They didn't think the kid would make it in big-time college football. "Too small" was the prognosis delivered to Roger Foltz by Big 12 coaches who thought his son Blaize, then a junior at Rose Hill High in central Kansas, couldn't cut it in their conference. They'd stop by the school, where Roger is a counselor, to glad-hand and say how much they liked the highlight reel he'd sent of Blaize bulldozing kids across the Sunflower State. But when they'd do the old eyeball test, not even a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder could pass as having potential for the Big 12's mammoth offensive lines. It fell to the father to break the news to the son. "All these people believe you're a great player," Roger told Blaize. "You are a great player. We're gonna keep working, and we can't worry about that stuff. It's out of our hands."Surely there are sad versions of this tale scattered across the country, but just a glance at Blaize Foltz in 2012 suggests a happier ending. Now 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, the kid has become a beast of a right guard, anchoring the line for a team that ended the season ranked 14th nationally in 2011 -- higher than all but two Big 12 schools. As a junior, he was the lone non-senior on the first-team All-Mountain West offensive line.Foltz got there because of what was in his and his father's hands: how much time and effort he could put into becoming the biggest and best lineman possible. Roger, an offensive lineman at Wake Forest in the 1980s and Rose Hill's offensive line coach, had first seen his oldest son as a potential protégé when he grew six inches between the eighth and 10th grades. And considering the family history -- Roger had been a late bloomer and one great-uncle stood at 6-foot-9 -- Roger knew his son's body was an unfinished product. As a freshman at Rose Hill, Blaize played offensive line and linebacker (he switched to the defensive line as a sophomore), picking up his new responsibilities quickly after years spent serving as his father's ball boy and listening to him bark orders in the coach's box during games. In the spring Blaize played baseball and followed up practice with tutoring sessions from Roger on things such as the importance of a blocker's first three steps and how to use his inside leg to prevent a defender from rushing past. He heeded his father's central advice: "Be a bruiser."But bruisers must be built, so Roger drew from his own experience and the advice of friends who played in the NFL to implement a regimented, high-protein diet for his 190-pound freshman son. He kept turkey sandwiches in the faculty lounge at school and used the blender there to mix protein shakes, which Blaize augmented with 2 a.m. peanut butter sandwiches. "He got on that program and followed it to the letter," Roger said. The result -- 100 pounds and his choice of a handful of FBS schools later -- was Rose Hill's first-ever Division I scholarship athlete.Blaize redshirted his freshman year at TCU, but he made two starts for an injured teammate in 2009 before tearing his ACL five games into his junior year. He was back -- and even stronger -- for spring ball last season. Now he's a senior weight-room leader, shouting out lines from Tommy Boy between monstrous bench presses of 580 pounds and squats of 800. He has to fight to keep his weight down, eating fish and avoiding Whataburger and Dr Pepper. And beginning this fall, he's a Big 12 guard after all, the significance of which is not lost on a player who has long fed off his doubters. "A lot of people told me I can't do stuff," Foltz said. "I just kind of use it as my fuel." It's driven him to the top.
COACH Q&A SI: Outside of football, how has TCU grown while you've been there? GP: I think the whole university's trying to win a national championship. When you go from 4,000 applications to almost 20,000 in 15 years -- for only 1,800 students -- you're getting a little bit accomplished as far as people understanding who TCU is. My job in all that is to try to win football games. SI: How does the move to the Big 12 help that? GP: We've got a chance to be the destination place in the Big 12. You can watch the Rangers on a Wednesday, play great golf, go shopping at the Galleria, then watch the TCU game on Saturday and the Cowboys on Sunday. The [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex is just a great place. SI: Did you get any input into the new uniforms? GP: I just saw them on my desk one morning. My nose has been down; I've got enough going on. I just know we won't let them step out of the tunnel with anything other than purple, white or black. SI: You're one victory away from becoming TCU's all-time wins leader. Are you looking forward to that? GP: It's a great honor. But with us going into the Big 12 and everything else, to me it's kind of overshadowed. Hopefully we can break that record in the first game against Grambling. But there's just so much left for us to do. This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' Big 12 Preview.
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