* Second in a series of stories taking an early look at Cal's 2021 football opponents
GAME 2: CAL AT TCU
Date: Saturday, Sept. 11
TCU 2020 record: 6-4 overall, 5-4/fifth in the Big 12 Conference. TCU was invited to face Arkansas in the Texas Bowl, but the game was canceled. Cal was scheduled to host TCU in 2020, but that game was canceled as the Pac-12 opted for a conference-only schedule during the pandemic last fall.
Series record: TCU leads 1-0. The Horned Frogs beat the Bears 10-7 in overtime in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl at Phoenix in a game that featured nine interceptions.
Horned Frogs coach: Gary Patterson (178-74, 21st season)
Top players: Junior CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (first-team all-Big 12, second team AP All-American); junior DE Ochaun Mathis (second-team all-Big 12, 9.0 sacks, 14.0 tackles for loss in 2020); Junior QB Max Duggan (two-year-starter, 61% completion percentage, 1,795 yards, 10 TDs, 4 int. in 2020, also rushed for 526 yards in 2020); Sophomore RB Zach Evans (415 yards rushing, 7.7 yards per carry in 2020 as a freshman; ran for 100-plus yards in two of last three games); Sophomore WR Quentin Johnston (22 receptions, 22.1 yards per catch in 2020 as a freshman; 100-plus receiving yards in each of the final two games); Junior P Jody Sandy (second-team all-Big 12).
Strengths: TCU ranked only seventh in the Big 12 in total offense last season, but should be much improved with the return of dual-threat quarterback Max Duggan, who led the team in rushing and threw 10 touchdown passes against four interceptions in his second season as a starter. TCU also has a strong running-back corps. RB Zach Evans (7.7 yards per carry) and WR Quentin Johnson (22.1 yards per reception) were big-play threats as freshmen, especially late in the season. The offensive line should be improved. TCU’s defense is almost always among the best in the country under Gary Patterson, and CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is one of the best defensive backs in the country.
Weaknesses: The Horned Frogs lost two of their best two defenders – safety Trevon Moehrig, the Jim Thorpe Award winner who was taken in the second round of the NFL draft, and all-conference linebacker Garret Wallow, who was taken in the fifth round. TCU also lost safety Ar’Darius Washington, so its secondary has some questions. TCU’s defense should be solid but perhaps not as strong as some of its dominating defenses of the past. The Horned Frogs were only fourth in the Big 12 in total defense and fifth in sacks per game in 2020, and they typically are closer to the top. TCU lost offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who left to become Texas’ offensive coordinator. Doug Meacham was promoted to take his place as TCU’s offensive coordinator, but it remains to be seen whether he can continue the offensive improvement brought by Cumbie.
What you should know about TCU: Now entering his 21st season as TCU’s head coach, Gary Paterson is the nation's second-longest-tenured FBS head coach, behind only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. The Horned Frogs have played in bowl games in 16 of his 20 seasons, and it would have been 17 bowls if the Texas Bowl had not been canceled last season. His 178 victories at TCU are the most by an active head coach nationally, and his .706 winning percentage ranks fourth among active FBS coaches (minimum 10 years). TCU is 4-0 versus Pac-12 opponents under Patterson, who has guided the Horned Frogs to seven AP top 10 finishes.
TCU spring football status: The Horned Frogs played their spring game on April 17, and it was open to the public. QB Max Duggan played only two series and did not direct a scoring drive on either, although he reportedly had good command of the offense. Sophomore running back Zach Evans demonstrated his big-play potential with a 75-yard run, although he also suffered a fumble. Wide receiver Taye Barber was targeted a lot and used in multiple ways, suggesting he might be a key part of the Horned Frogs’ offense. A lot of defensive players sat out with injuries, but defensive end Mark Jackson got a lot of snaps and showed he might be productive.
TCU 2021 season projection: TCU is riding some momentum after winning five of its final six games in 2020. Athlon picked TCU to finish third in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma and Iowa State, and the magazine praised QB Max Duggan, who improved significantly from his freshman to sophomore year, and the Horned Frogs’ strong running-back unit. Most pegged the Horned Frogs to finish a slot or two lower in the standings, but nearly all of them see the Horned Frogs as a darkhorse in the conference. A lot depends on the health and efficiency of the offensive line and how well TCU fills the vacancies left in the secondary. TCU opens with a game against FCS team Duquesne, so its game against Cal will be revealing.
Cal-TCU game prediction: TCU 28, Cal 21
Cover photo of TCU coach Gary Patterson by Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports
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