An early look: TCU

While unfamiliar to most Clemson fans, TCU is hardly a stranger to success in college football- especially in recent years.

HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson (64-25 overall, 64-25 at TCU)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 – offense, 4 – defense, 2 – kicker/punter)

KEY PLAYERS: RB Aaron Brown (6-1,196), QB Andy Dalton (6-3,210), WR Jimmy Young (6-1,200), DE Jerry Hughes (6-2,242), LB Daryl Washington (6-3,228), CB Nick Sanders (5-10, 174)

LAST MEETING: TCU 14 Clemson 10 (1964)

POINTSPREAD: Clemson by 3.

While unfamiliar to most Clemson fans, TCU is hardly a stranger to success in college football- especially in recent years.

After finishing the 2008 season 11-3, including a one-point win over No. 9 Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl (which was the second win for TCU over a top 10 team last year), the Horned Frogs have served notice as one of the elite programs outside BCS.

In fact, it could be said at TCU is bordering on becoming an elite level program in general. And this Saturday, the Clemson nation will find out just exactly how good Texas Christian is when the Horned Frogs make the 945 mile journey from Ft. Worth, Tex. to Clemson's Death Valley.

"Our schedule just got a lot tougher," said Dabo Swinney when it was announced TCU would replace Central Michigan on the Tigers' 2009 schedule. "TCU finished in the top 10 in the nation last year. This is a program that has been very good for some time under Gary Patterson. It is a game I know our fans will be excited about because this is one of the top programs in the nation, especially on defense."

Indeed. After posting just three winning seasons in 13 years (1985-97), Gary Patterson has won over 70 percent of his games (87-36) since arriving as TCU's defensive coordinator in 1998.


TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, who recorded three sacks last weekend, will be the most difficult test Clemson's offensive line will have to face this season. (Getty Images)
And while TCU is known to produce one of the stingiest defenses in the nation like Swinney said, keep in mind the Horned Frogs set single season school records for points scored (437) and touchdowns (56) in 2008.

Leading the way will be QB Andy Dalton, the third-leading passer in school history who returns for his third season and is equally as imposing on the ground as he is through the air. After suffering an injury against Oklahoma last year, he still completed 60.9 percent of his passes for an average of 237.3 yards per game with 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 432 yards and eight more scores as well.

The Horned Frogs' leading receiver (Jimmy Young) and rusher (Joseph Turner) are also back in addition to three starters on the offensive line.

Last season TCU finished 12th in the country in rushing (220 yards/game) but just 72nd in passing.

Defensively, TCU's base scheme is a 4-2-5 that some years has been a blitzing machine while others have seen Patterson hardly use blitz packages at all. The player to watch, of course, is All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, who recorded a mind-boggling 15 sacks last season and can be nothing short of a one-man wrecking crew at times.

Just ask Texas State, who suffered through three sacks by the All-American in a 56-21 loss this past weekend.

A pair of fourth-year starters at cornerback return in Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest but questions exist at safety where two of three starters are gone.

Two outstanding linebackers from last year's No. 1-ranked defense are also gone, but most reports out of spring camp have indicated the Horned Frogs' cupboard is far from bare.

Simply put, it's one of the top defenses Clemson will see all season.

THREE WEEKS IN: TCU has roared out of the gates to a 2-0 start, including an impressive 30-14 win at Virginia in its first game of the season. The Horned Frogs actually led the Cavs 30-0 midway through the fourth quarter before Virginia added two late meaningless touchdowns to make the score appear much closer than it actually was.

TCU also defeated Texas State this past weekend.

Joseph Turner ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries and Jerry Hughes had three sacks in the win over the FCS school.

DID YOU KNOW? This will be just the second time in the last 20 years that a non-conference team ranked in the top 10 in the nation the previous year will play Clemson in Death Valley. The only other time took place in 2003 when Georgia came to Clemson after finishing third in the final polls in 2002.

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