As expected before the season began, the Horned Frogs have earned themselves a trip to a bowl-game this postseason, but it won’t be a New-Years-Six or playoff game that many TCU fans hoped to see their team be a part of this December.
Instead, the 6-6 Horned Frogs are heading to Memphis for a matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, with the scheduled to be played at 11 a.m. on Dec. 30. As Gary Patterson’s Frogs go up against Kirby Smart and his 7-5 Bulldog squad, it will mark the closing chapter of a 2016 TCU Football season that began with high hopes and a preseason No. 13 ranking, but ended with the Frogs recording just their third non-winning record in the Patterson era. Alas, it’s time to reflect on TCU Football’s shockingly sour season and what to expect as the team prepares for its Tennessee road trip.
While the Frogs lost a considerable amount of talent last offseason, notably the quarterback-receiver duo of Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson, that didn’t keep several pundits from predicting TCU to make yet another run at a Big 12 title and beyond. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit even had the Frogs as one of his preseason picks to crack the College Football playoff. Fast-forward to December, and the Frogs are 6-6 and unranked, with the Big 12 missing out on playoff for the second time in three years. Here’s what did in the Frogs this fall.
Before I say anything else, I’ll acknowledge that it’s easy to become spoiled when you get to enjoy Trevone Boykin as your starting quarterback for two seasons. Many teams would die to have Hill as their starter, and he has certainly proven that he has the potential in him. But beyond week one against South Dakota State and perhaps the 62-22 victory against Baylor, it just didn’t show. While he recorded over 3,000 passing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on the season, Hill also threw 13 interceptions, and there were far too many times where the TCU offense completely hit a wall in their own backyard under his leadership at quarterback. From the dismal second and third quarters against Oklahoma and the Texas Tech meltdown that saw him get benched to the Kansas scare and the mere six points against Oklahoma State, it just doesn’t cut it. Patterson made it clear after Saturday’s 30-6 loss against K-State that he doesn’t tolerate “average”, so it will be interesting to see how the quarterback situation changes over the offseason, especially with the arrival of four-star quarterback commit Shawn Robinson next season.
The early-season defense
There’s not much more to be said than that the Frogs’ defense surrendered 41 points to each of their first two opponents, with both games being played at home and one against an FCS school. By week five, the Frogs had allowed a total of 157 points, with their lone shining performance being a three point outing against SMU in Dallas. Certainly the defense had some proud moments even in the losses, keeping TCU in the game against Arkansas until the end and forcing a fumble on the very first play against Oklahoma. Nonetheless, when the secondary can’t stop Arkansas from driving down the field to tie the ballgame in the final minute and allows Oklahoma to go on a 42-3 scoring run, you know there’s a lot of work to be done. Eventually Patterson did get the unit back to itself, and he should be commended for that. Unfortunately, that was when the offense decided to go into a shell.
Protecting the Carter
Entering the season, TCU hadn’t lost a home game since November 30, 2013, completing back-to-back undefeated seasons when playing at the Carter. That streak came to an end in week two when the Frogs blew a late lead against Arkansas before losing the contest in overtime, and a 41-20 victory at home against Iowa State the following week proved to be their last of such season. The Frogs went on to lose four straight at home over a two and a half month span, finishing with an uncharacteristic 2-5 record at Amon G. Carter Stadium in 2016. Considering the Frogs went 4-1 on the road, that’s a gut-punch, and possibly the difference between the Frogs being Big 12 champs and sitting at 6-6.
Gary Patterson has repeatedly said that his teams (and any team for that matter) tend to handle “defeat better than success.” Sure enough he was right once again. The pressure of a preseason No .13 ranking and back-to-back 10+ win seasons proved too much for a revamped TCU team to handle, as never managed to get more than two games above .500 on the year. It’s not the first time we’ve seen such a scenario, as the Frogs entered the 2013 season ranked in the top 25 only to finish unranked at 4-8. And what happened the following season? The Frogs went from unranked to a 11-1 finish at No. 3, just a 21-pt fourth quarter lead away from a shot at a national title. If history tells us anything, then maybe the Frogs are bound for another memorable season in 2017.
While there was a lot of gloom surrounding TCU this season by recent standards, don’t be fooled into thinking that the sky is falling in Fort Worth. From major defensive strides to individual players showing some incredible potential for the future, there is light and the end of the tunnel. Here are some of the happier talking points as we evaluate the season.
TCU is loaded with running backs
If we learned anything this season, it’s that the running game is bright for TCU. With former workhorse Aaron Green gone to graduation, Kyle Hicks solidified himself as the Frogs go-to man when it comes to moving the ball on the ground, entering the TCU record books with his five-touchdown performance against Baylor in November. Hicks finished the regular-season with 954 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching for 396 yards with two touchdowns to bring his total to 14 on the season. With Hicks set to return in 2016 alongside freshmen Sewo Olonilua and Darius Anderson, both who showed potential late in the season, in addition to an injured Shaun Nixon, it’s safe to say the Frogs have plenty of options when it comes to moving the ball on the ground.
The defense grew up in the second half
It’s easy to be critical of the entire team given the Frogs suffered their two worst home losses in the Patterson era over the final three weeks of the season, but give credit to the TCU defense for stepping up their game in the second half. Considering that Texas Tech boasted one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football this season, it was a major statement for the Frogs to hold the Red Raiders to a mere 17 points in regulation just a week after quarterback Patrick Mahomes shattered FBS records when threw for more than 800 yards in a 66-59 loss. Likewise, holding Baylor and Texas to 22 and nine points on the road, respectively, is no easy task. Let’s also not forget that while TCU was blown out at home by Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the Frogs only trailed 10-6 at halftime in each contest before things fell apart in the second half.
This team is still young
This is one of those good, bad and the ugly situations. When you have young roster like TCU did this season (only 7 senior starters), growing pains are inevitable. Mistakes will happen, some more costly than others, and the win total is bound to go down. But that’s also the good news – that this team still has plenty of time to develop. While these Frogs weren’t playing at the level many fans have become accustomed to, that doesn’t change the fact that TCU could have just as easily been a 9-3 team this season if a few bounces went there way (notably blocked kicks against Texas Tech and Arkansas). If the Frogs did in fact finish 9-3, we’d be talking more about how remarkable it was that this team nearly reached double digit wins with so many young players rather than grumbling about a .500 season. Patterson noted earlier in the season that “there’s a big difference between senior/junior bodies and freshmen/sophomore bodies.” If those sophomore and freshmen bodies can at least put up a fight as it stands in the majority of games, then the future is certainly brighter than it may seem.
Up next: Georgia
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The Frogs return to the Liberty Bowl for the first time since 2002 to face the Georgia Bulldogs, and if you want some Horned Frog trivia, that last trip marked Gary Patterson’s first bowl-win as head coach, with TCU beating Colorado State 17-3. Like the Frogs, the Bulldogs had a disappointing season themselves, entering the year with high hopes at No. 18 and as favorites to win the SEC east before finishing 7-5 in the team’s first year under head coach Kirby Smart. Nonetheless, the Dawgs have won four of their last five games, including an upset win over No. 8 Auburn just less than a month ago. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, the No. 2 rated quarterback of his recruiting class, finished the season with 2,226 passing yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Meanwhile, running back Nick Chubb, who burst onto the scene two years ago with a 1,547 season and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, tallied 988 and 7 touchdowns during the regular season as he returned from a season-ending knee injury suffered in 2015.