Leading up to Week 1 season openers, SDS’ Brad Crawford breaks down the opponents battling SEC squads and what makes them click in marquee out-of-conference matchups.
TODAY: TCU (vs. LSU, Aug. 31, 9 p.m., ESPN)
WEDNESDAY: Washington State (at Auburn, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
THURSDAY: North Carolina (at South Carolina, Aug. 29, 6 p.m., ESPN)
FRIDAY: Clemson (vs. Georgia, Aug. 31, 8 p.m., ABC)
SATURDAY: Virginia Tech (vs. Alabama, Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
SUNDAY: Oklahoma State (vs. Mississippi St., Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
TCU HORNED FROGS
Opens Aug. 31 vs. LSU (at Arlington, Tx)
THE SKINNY: The Horned Frogs underachieved by their own upgraded standards in 2012, sputtering to a 7-6 campaign after a promising 4-0 start. Veteran coach Gary Patterson wasn’t happy after his program finished in a tie for fifth in the Big XII with four home losses against league opponents. TCU lost its mojo and is looking to get the momentum back it picked up during its recent BCS takeover seasons in 2009 and 2010.
KEY PLAYER: Casey Pachall, QB, Sr. — Pachall’s the Big XII equivalent to former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, a dual-threat passer equipped with all the proper tools to be successful who’s held back by issues off the field. It got so bad as a junior, Pachall left the team in October — after being arrested on the suspicion of drunken driving — to enter a rehabilitation facility four games into his junior season (with 10 TDs and a 4-0 record) to receive help. If he can keep it together in his final campaign, expect sophomore-style numbers from the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder. He set school records that season for passing yards (2,921), completions (228) and completion percentage (.665) and is a near program-best 15-2 as a starter. Should Pachall let previous transgressions reappear (as happened to Garcia his senior season), sophomore Trevone Boykin gets the nod under center, a viable backup with plenty of experience. He started nine games last season and threw for 2,054 yards and 15 touchdowns. While those numbers didn’t translate to many victories, the Horned Frogs’ offense had a reliable option in the backfield.
WHAT TO WATCH: TCU’s defense — Eight starters are back off the Big XII’s top defense in 2012, led by four solid athletes in the secondary and a terror at the line of scrimmage. The Horned Frogs picked off a conference-leading 21 passes last season due in large part to the pressure applied by 6-foot-4 monster Devonte Fields. Who can forget the freshman season engineered by the Big XII’s defensive player of the year? He jumps out on tape up front, a freshman pass rusher with awesome size and strength who blossomed into one of college football’s lead disruptors to the tune of 18.5 tackles for loss. He’s had another year in the weight room, a few more film sessions and plenty of off-season workouts to become even more dominant. The problem? He’s suspended for the LSU game, leaving the Horned Frogs without their best player against the Tigers’ offense. After Fields, senior corner Jason Verrett’s the guy Les Miles will need to keep an eye on. He swiped six interceptions last season in the Horned Frogs’ 4-2-5 alignment.
FINAL SAY: TCU should eclipse last season’s win total in Patterson’s 14th season, but the opener against the Tigers is the Horned Frogs’ toughest matchup in 2013. With some of the SEC’s best ends and linebackers, LSU’s front seven licks its chops against programs heavy on the zone read. The Tigers’ offense — a blend of brutal downhill schemes and play-action — leaves defenses battered and bruised. From 2008 to 2011, TCU won 47 of 52 games. The Horned Frogs could be on the cusp of another such streak, but the Big XII slate is much more challenging than the likes of the Mountain West and a non-league contest with one of the SEC West’s best in the opener is treacherous terrain.
Photo Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports