Note: Longhorns Country's "Around the Big 12" series will feature stories on all 10 programs in preparation for the 2021 season.
ARLINGTON -- Gary Patterson learned this offseason that perhaps the best way to achieve greatness is by going with a more youthful approach. That played a factor in the hiring of Kenny Hill as TCU’s next quarterback coach.
Hill, who took the Horned Frogs to an 11-win season and a spot in the Big 12 championship, immediately served as a graduate assistant. Three years later, Patterson saw the connection between him and Max Duggan towards the end of the season.
Hill now will be tasked to help Duggan do what he never could in winning the Big 12 title. If he does, the Horned Frogs are well in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.
"Kenny is always a guy that had that "It" factor as far as personality and all of that," Patterson said Wednesday at Big 12 media days. "And that's one of the key issues in recruiting and everything else that goes along with being one of those nine or ten full-time assistants."
Take nothing away from the sixth-place finish in 2020 for the Frogs, they showed potential to contend. They pulled off the upset over No. 9 Texas in Week 3. They closed out the year with the come-from-behind win over No. 15 Oklahoma State.
Of course, that's one-half of the story. Losses to West Virginia and Kansas State show there's room for growth. Patterson though has a new saying entering the year.
“'(I) Won’t Back Down’ is what I chose for this year because we’ve gotta get back to being TCU,” Patterson said. “Make it personal.”
As personal as it could be, it'll be about the man under center. Duggan showed growth in his first season as a starter, but can he live up to the TCU culture.
Hill is one of the many gunslingers to dawn the purple jerseys at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Before him, was Trevone Boykin. Before that was golden boy Andy Dalton, who took a then-Mountain West club to a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Perhaps that when into the hire of Hill full-time? Duggan needs a mentor. Hill needs a protege.
"He brings that energy and he brings that juice to the quarterback room that we're all looking for," Duggan said of his new QB coach. "He's been there when the bullets are flying at quarterback, so he helps you feel a bit more comfortable."
Consistency will be the biggest key for Duggan come September. On three different occasions, he threw for over 200 yards and at least one touchdown. In the same amount of starts, he threw at least one interception.
Duggan showed he could move outside the pocket. He finished with 116 times for 526 yards and 10 scores. Going into the season, it's about finding the balance on when to tuck it and when to remain in the pocket for an extra second.
"I need to throw the ball better," Duggan said. "That's something I need to work on, that's what we needed on the offense last year."
That's true, but having consistency at wide receiver helps. Last year, the Horned Frogs didn't have a pass-catcher record more than 500 yards. Only freshman Quentin Johnson passed the 400-yard mark, and he had a mere 22 catches.
An extended offseason will always play into that, and Patterson gets that.
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"For them to be able to decide, and I had no control over that, for 80 to 90 percent of them wanting to stay in the summer, because they knew they were going to be here in June, I thought that was a big step for them to understand what the mindset was about going forward in the season," Patterson said. "We'll see how that all turns out."
Duggan wasn't the only offensive star to be bolstered by a relaxed offseason. Five-tool running back Zach Evans was limited in his success for his first season away from North Shore High School in Houston.
Last year, he rushed for 415 yards and four scores on 7.7 yards per carry. Patterson expected those numbers to double with the schedule heading back to 12 games. The is expected for Johnson as the new No. 1.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs lose three key contributors. Garret Wallow now fights for reps with the Texans. Jim Thorpe Award winner Trevon Moehrig will be starting as Las Vegas' free safety. A'Darius Washington is hopeful to make the Ravens final 53.
Patterson seemed cool when asked about replacing the talent. Last season, it was the defensive line that was young and the secondary stepped up. Time to reverse it.
"All our front comes back and that really helps," Patterson said. "I can set our practices up to raise those safeties and that linebacker position.
"Depth always helps you stay healthy."
Wallow will be replaced by Dee Winters, who Patterson believes had a stronger finish the campaign. In the secondary, veterans TJ Carter and Nook Bradford well get the first crack.
In the history of Horned Frog football, TCU would be a College Football Playoff representative if the new agreement was underway. In 2014, they finished No. 6. In 2015, they finished No. 7. Of course, no one will forget about the 2017 season and a No. 9 finish.
Since then, things have changed. The Frogs are have gone 18-17 overall and 12-15 in conference play in the past three years. No longer viewed as the team to beat, but rather the opponent that could ruin the chance for someone else in the postseason.
Patterson isn't giving up. He won't back down in a pivotal year. The level of competition will still be at an all-time high.
Instead of accepting its fate, TCU is embracing being the underdog. And perhaps they're far from it with a quarterback willing to change his approach, and a young coach ready to prove he belongs.
"We know how to win games," Patterson said.
CONTINUE READING: Around The Big 12: Oklahoma Looks To Keep 'Second Home' Title In 2021
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