There’s only one more sleep left until the TCU Horned Frogs to return to Amon G. Carter Stadium to kick off the 2016 season, taking on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in Saturday night’s opener.
Several college football pundits have picked the Frogs to surprise the nation and win the Big 12 title, possibly even advancing to the College Football Playoff. On Saturday night, we will get a first glimpse of what exactly this team is made of as head coach Gary Patterson and the Frogs take the field. Here’s what you need to know entering week 1.
THE SERIES: Saturday’s game will mark the first time in history that TCU and SDSU have battled it out on the gridiron. While it will be just the fifth time that TCU has played their week 1 contest in Fort Worth in the Patterson era, the Frogs have won their last 14 home openers. That’s the fifth longest active streak of such in the nation. It will also be the sixth straight season that TCU has faced an FCS opponent in their home opener, but the Jackrabbits shouldn’t be taken as lightly as previous opponents. An FCS playoff regular, South Dakota State enters the season ranked No. 8 in the STATS FCS Poll and is facing an FBS opponent in week 1 for the third straight year. Last season they prevailed when they defeated Kansas 41-38 for their first win against an FBS opponent in program history. Of course, Kansas finished the season winless, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that SDSU is a quality FCS team. They return two quarterbacks in the forms of Taryn Christion and Zach Lujan, and junior wide receiver Jake Wieneke has posted back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
WHAT A WIN MEANS FOR TCU: The Frogs obviously enter as the overwhelming favorites in this contest, but a quality win for TCU would still be critical in boosting team-confidence as the Frogs enter a stretch that will see them face Arkansas, Iowa State, SMU and Oklahoma in order. Saturday above all else is a chance for starting quarterback Kenny Hill to prove that he can still play at the level he demonstrated against South Carolina in his debut with Texas A&M two years ago. If Hill is able to lead the Frogs offense to a dominant performance and blowout home-win to open the year, nerves will be calmed in the Fort.
WHAT A WIN MEANS FOR SDSU: With the program on the rise over the past few years, an upset win against the No. 13 team in the nation would give South Dakota State its second win against a Big 12 school in as many years, and it may even open up the path for the Jackrabbits to transcend into the ranks of FBS schools. For the time being, it would undoubtedly shoot the Jackrabbits to one of the top two spots in the STATS FCS Poll and make them a favorite to carry home an FCS Championship this season.
TCU players to watch on offense and defense
QB.) Kenny Hill – The “Trill” era officially begins for TCU on Saturday night, as former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill is set to make his debut as the starter for the Horned Frogs. While the race for starting quarterback job went down to the wire between Hill and Foster Sawyer over the offseason, Patterson said Hill won the job because of his ability to “get himself out of problems and use the running game effectively.” While Hill certainly didn’t blow us out of water in TCU’s Spring Game last April, that doesn’t change the fact that he is the same man that shattered Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M passing record when he threw for 511 yards against the Aggies in a 52-28 victory over No. 8 South Carolina in August 2014. If Hill can resemble that type of performance in any capacity on Saturday and effectively utilizes a stacked Horned Frog receiver corps, sky is the limit for TCU in 2016. On the other hand, if Hill struggles to keep up the precedent that Trevone Boykin set over the past two seasons, TCU will have serious questions to answer as they move forward to face a tough Arkansas team next week.
DE.) Josh Carraway – One of the more experienced returners on defense, defensive end Josh Carraway enters 2016 as a Preseason All-Big 12 player and has been put on the watch list for five different trophies/awards. Carrway led the Frogs last season with nine sacks and three fumble recoveries, earning him first team All-Big 12 honors. With his previous experience and dominance, look for Carraway to lead the charge as TCU’s defense returns with many players who missed the majority of the 2015 season due to injury. If he is able to repeatedly get to Christion with ease on Saturday, it could be a long night for the Jackrabbits and a great one for the Frogs.
REASONS TO BE CONCERNED: Aside from the obvious fact that South Dakota State plays a notch above your average FCS team and is returning many starters, the scariest thing for TCU fans is the level of uncertainty in this game. Unlike last year when TCU brought back many key pieces of the puzzle from 2015, the Frogs largely have a brand new look in 2016. While the defense is expected to be stronger than last season with players like Ranthony Texada, James McFarland and Sammy Douglas returning from season ending injuries, it still will have been an entire year for the latter two since they stepped foot in an NCAA football contest. Could they pick right back up where they left off? Sure, but they could also be a bit rusty.
The offense may be the bigger concern though. The days of Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson and Aaron Green are gone, and even with talented players such as Kenny Hill and wide-receivers John Diarse and Taj Williams now joining the offense, these are players whom we have never seen take the field in a TCU jersey during a regular season game. If they all play to their potential and keep of the precedent that last year’s trio set, it will be all systems go for the Frogs. In a worst case scenario though, Hill could be unable to find his receivers and the Frogs gut out an ugly win, forcing them to find answers fast as they prepare for FBS opponents.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We know that we have to get through them (South Dakota State) to play against the next opponent,” Josh Carraway said when asked about avoiding the trap of underestimating an FCS opponent. “We’ve opened against one (FCS school) the past few years so we’re used to it. Right now our goal is to be 1-0. “
DEAN STRAKA’S PREDICTION: “I’m confident to say that TCU will be 1-0 when Saturday night’s contest comes to an end. Aside from that thought, it’s hard to have an expectation of how exactly the Frogs will get there. If everything goes right, it could be a landslide win, but if this revamped TCU squad struggles to find a groove in its first game, it could be a win that is too close to comfort. I expect the defense to have their work cut for them as the Jackrabbits return their top three rushers, but it’s nothing that the Frogs can’t handle. As for the offense, which is making TCU fans the most nervous of anything, I’m going to go ahead and say that Kenny Hill is dominant in his TCU debut and experiences a rebirth at quarterback. Patterson’s decision to not announce the starter until last week certainly forced Hill and Sawyer to both give it their all over the summer, and that may very well pay dividends on the playing field. TCU wins 48-17.
Josh Harvey, Horned Frog Insider Publisher: 51-14
Rebecca Winn, Horned Frog Insider Staff: 48-7