On the surface, things seemed to start out great for the Frogs. The season began on Labor Day with a victory at Tulane, and was followed up by home victories over Navy and Vanderbilt.
TCU's Offense is fueled by Freshman Robert Merrill (AP)
But then the injury bug hit. Sophomore quarterback Tye Gunn separated his shoulder in practice before the Vanderbilt game, and then on Saturday, senior running back Ricky Madison's season ended abruptly with an ACL injury. The Frogs then traveled to Arizona, where redshirt-freshman Robert Merrill not only made his first career start, but also got his first carry. He did not disappoint as he gathered 148 yards on 31 carries. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Hassell also made his debut as a starter, completing 50% of his passes for 246 yards. Near the end of the first half in Tucson, TCU suffered its toughest blow of the year, losing All-America safety Marvin Godbolt to another ACL injury. He had 4 interceptions in the 14 quarters he participated in.
TCU's Freshman QB leads the young guns (AP)
Coach Gary Patterson was forced to make many changes on the run. A few redshirts were pulled, and he had to play more youth in the secondary than he wanted to. The inexperience with the defensive backs has definitely shown itself at times, but the young players seem to be catching on to Patterson's complex 4-2-5 scheme more and more each week.
The Frogs have been tough against the run all year long. Running backs have had very little success against TCU.
Mobile quarterbacks have posed a bit of a threat scrambling out of the pocket, as Kevin Kolb of Houston and Stefan LeFors each had success escaping the TCU rush. In fact, TCU has not allowed a rusher over 70 yards since Kolb six weeks ago.
TCU's Bo Schobel applies the pain to Tulane. (AP)
Special teams have been a strongpoint for TCU this year. Senior place-kicker Nick Browne has made more pressure kicks than anyone in the nation. He is 27-32 on field goals, and a perfect 34-34 on extra points. With five wins by only a
field goal, it is easy to see that Browne has been the MVP of the Frogs thus far. Michael Wynn has done a great job on kickoffs, and really put his abilities on display with a successful dribble on-side kick at Southern Miss followed just a few minutes later by a pooch on-side recovered by TCU on the fly.
TCU took a 10-0 record into Hattiesburg, MS on November 20, but they definitely did not bring there "A-game."
TCU's Lonta Hobbs breaks free against Louisville. (AP)
Despite out-gaining Southern Miss by 151 yards, the Frogs found themselves trailing 31-6 entering the 4th quarter due to four turnovers and some costly penalties. TCU went on an incredible 22-0 run over a 4:30 span during the middle of the quarter to cut the lead to three with almost 7 minutes left. The Frogs could not hold Southern Miss out of the end zone on the ensuing possession, and ended up dropping the game by a final margin of 40-28. TCU ended the season with a disappointing 17-10 victory over winless SMU to finish 11-1.
Now on to the upcoming Fort Worth Bowl: This game should be an incredible one, and I expect it to be a high scoring affair. Look for TCU to come out running the ball with running backs Robert Merrill (1,081, 5.6 ypc) yards and Lonta Hobbs (542 yards, 3.7 ypc), and the mix in some play action with quarterback Brandon Hassell (57.5% completions) and WR Reggie Harrell, who just set the single-season receiving record with 905 yards.
TCU's Jeremy Modkins is 2nd in tackles.(AP)
On the defensive side of the ball, the anchor is DE Bo Schobel, who set another school record with 16.0 sacks.
Linebacker Marvin Patterson (97 tackles) and safety Jeremy Modkins are the two leading tacklers.
Cornerback Mark Walker (5 interceptions) anchors the secondary. TCU likes to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and put the corners on an island on the outside. This usually accounts for some turnovers, but also makes the Frogs susceptible to the big play.
The coaches, team, and fans all anxiously await the inaugural Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl. Athletic Director Eric Hyman and company received much criticism for the way he handled things over the past week; but TCU really had little choice. The rumors that TCU was "scared to play a quality team" such as Miami (Ohio) in the GMAC Bowl were put to rest with the selection of the Broncos as their opponent. The thought of anyone related to the university not being able to attend the game in Mobile because of finals going on in Fort Worth, along with many other factors made the choice a "no-brainer" for TCU. A lot will be on the line in Fort Worth, as the winner will walk away as the best "mid-major" team in America.