Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2021: 25. TCU Horned Frogs

Max Duggan, TCU

 25. TCU Horned Frogs

A veteran QB and exciting young offensive talent set up TCU as the Big 12's dark horse

2020 Review
After a frustrating 2019 campaign that saw TCU dip to 5-7 and 3-6 in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs displayed steady progress in the shortened 2020 season. After a 1-3 start, which did include an upset of then-No.9 Texas, they won five of their final six games. The offense in particular seemed to hit its stride in the season's second half, eclipsing 30 points in four of the final six. A bowl matchup against old Southwest Conference foe Arkansas was an opportunity to end their season with major momentum, but the game was eventually cancelled.

2021 Outlook
Offense: Once again returning to lead the offense is junior QB Max Duggan. The veteran had his 2020 campaign threatened due to the discovery of a heart condition (unrelated to COVID), but still wound up starting nine of TCU's 10 games. After a run of short-lived signal-callers in Fort Worth, he has provided a sense of stability at the position and enters the 2021 season as one of the best in the league. Duggan still looks to improve as a passer, but led the team in rushing last fall, with 526 yards and ten scores. If injuries once again become a problem, TCU can turn to a pair of talented youngsters in Matthew Downing and Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris. Morris is the son of former Arkansas HC Chad Morris and was a highly touted recruit for the Sooners.

The Horned Frogs are likely to use a committee approach in their backfield throughout 2021, but we'll see if one in particular begins to emerge as the lead guy. Senior Emari Demercado is the veteran in the room, but he has already begun to be passed up by sophomore Zach Evans. . Evans proved to be the more explosive option, coming in at nearly eight yards per carry. He's a former five-star recruit with possibly the craziest recruitment in modern college football history. It's not often you see someone with his talent in the TCU backfield and in fact, he may be the most talented they've had at the position since LaDainian Tomlinson. Don't be surprised if he starts to emerge as the real go-to guy, although Demercado will still play a role. Sophomore Darwin Barlow would likely play a role as well, but he entered the transfer portal in late May. 

Aside from Oklahoma, TCU may boast the most talented group of receivers in the league. That's really saying something, considering the talent that passes through the league at this position group year-in, year-out. It's a nice mix of proven veteran leadership with intriguing some pieces that should enable Duggan to have his best season since arriving on campus. Former Nebraska transfer J.D. Spielman is ready to go after a quiet first season with the Horned Frogs. He was a multiple time All-Big Ten receiver and has speed to burn on the perimeter. Senior Taye Barber is also back after tallying 31 catches for 318 yards in 2020. Both Barber and Spielman are versatile weapons that can be used extremely creatively. Watch out for them on unique routes, but also screens, sweeps, and trick plays. Sophomore Quentin Johnson was a revelation as a true frosh a year ago and ended up leading the team in receiving yardage. He's more of your traditional receiver than either Barber or Spielman but a real deep threat, averaging over 22 yards per reception, utilizing a lengthy frame to extend a massive catch radius.

That trio should lead the way at receiver, but TCU does have some nice depth. Sophomore Blair Conwright got solid experience last year (17 receptions, 207 yards) and junior Marcel Brooks is a name to watch. He was a five-star recruit at linebacker with LSU before transferring to TCU to be closer to home. He struggled to grasp the playbook defensively, but rumors out of spring are that he's making real progress at wide out.

The offensive line will be a unit to watch, as it suffered through significant ups-and-downs last fall. Multiple starters now depart, but guard Wes Harris should return from a season-ending injury. When he's been healthy, Harris has proven to have All-League talent, but the health is a major concern. Veterans like Coy McMillon, the likely starter at center, and Andrew Coker, who could play either tackle spot, will help but growing pains may be anticipated moving forward. 

The Horned Frogs finished with 30.8 points per game during the abbreviated 2020 season, despite injuries at multiple spots and a slow start. With a veteran QB and some intriguing talent, it's likely they could increase those averages, especially if Duggan can take a next step as a passer. The O-Line will be important to monitor, but the talent at the skill positions should be fun to watch and enough to guide the Frogs to Big 12 contention.

Defense: Gary Patterson has long been known as an elite defensive coach. Despite rarely bringing in four or five-star recruits, he's consistently developed top-notch units, whether it be in the Mountain West or Big 12. His 2020 group put up quality numbers across the board, but the '21 group must battle through the losses of several key figures, namely safeties Trevon Moehrig and Ar'Darius Washington, as well as linebacker Garret Wallow.

Possibly the most important returnee on TCU's defense is end Ochaun Mathis, who is likely to receive Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year consideration. After a 2.5-sack 2019 season, Mathis took off with a nine-sack year last fall. Much like the rest of the team, he played his best football down the stretch, including a three sack showing against Texas Tech. It's likely Mathis will face a slew of double teams through the 2021 campaign, making it imperative other Horned Frogs make their presence felt in this front seven.

Defensive tackle should be a strength for TCU, as veterans Terrell Cooper and Cory Bethley remain in place. Bethley in particular will be eager to see the field after missing most of 2020 with a knee injury. Also in the mix is UCF transfer Kenny Turnier who put together a solid career during his time in Orlando. We will see how he handles the jump from the AAC to the Big 12, which has really improved on the offensive line in the past half-decade.

Garret Wallow is a massive miss in the linebacker corps. He was a key contributor for multiple seasons on this defense and finished last fall leading the team in tackles, with 90. Sophomore Dee Winters will pick up some of the slack, as he finished right behind Wallow in tackles, totaling 65. Despite playing the middle linebacker role, Winters proved to be awfully disruptive, with 9.5 tackles for loss. It's unclear who will join him in this 4-2-5 defense, taking over for Wallow at outside 'backer. Junior Wyatt Harris is the default starter, although he could be pushed. Perhaps Brooks could still feature at the position, even though he's been taking reps offensively.

Secondary play is always important in the wide-open Big 12 and the Frogs should be in a good spot, even as Moehrig and Washington move on. Junior Tre'vius Hodges-Tomlinson emerged as a real force down the stretch in 2020 and the coaching staff is excited about what he can turn into. He totaled 13 pass deflections last season, which easily led all Frogs, although the key for him will be developing consistency. Senior corner Noah Daniels is likely to start at the other CB spot. Daniels was putting together a dominant 2020 before injuries took the remainder of the year. He's a shutdown defender, allowing only a 27% completion percentage, which ranks first among all Power Five defenders (according to PFF). Sophomore C.J. Ceasar II gained valuable experience with Daniels out and should still feature in the offense.

Nobody will be able to completely replicate Moehrig and Washington's production, but names like La'Kendrick Van Zandt should be able to step into larger roles. Van Zandt was used in a variety of different ways a season ago, as a blitzer, help in run support, and coverage help. With good size and impressive instincts, he's good enough to put together an All-Conference year in 2021. Junior Nook Bradford saw his role grow in the season's second half last fall and is back fighting for a starting job, but there's no clear favorite at the weak safety spot leaving spring. 

Special Teams: Placekicker Griffin Kell returns for his junior season after going 12-17 on field goals and 36-37 on extra points. There's a chance he could be pushed for the starting job, but no clear challenger has yet materialized. In the return game, sophomore Savion Williams is the name to watch. He totaled 312 yards as a kick returner in 2020 and will likely see even more opportunities with Barlow transferred.

Bottom Line: The Big 12 could be in store for a resurgent 2021 season. Oklahoma looks like a true National Title contender, Iowa State could be in the Playoff mix, and Texas has fans once again buying into a new head man in Steve Sarkisian. Even beyond those three, there's several quality teams that could break into the upper echelon of the league, including Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and of course, TCU. The Frogs are the best bet, with a veteran QB at the helm and loads of skill position talent. Duggan doesn't have to be a top-tier QB to get them to where they want to go, and you always trust a Patterson-coached defense, even with a trio of big names moving on. Even with how chaotic the league has been as of late, TCU can fit in nicely as an 8-9 win team with serious upset potential. It would mark solid progress for the program after a couple of "down" years, at least by Patterson standards.

Further Breakdown
Team Projections
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big 12)
Offensive MVP: QB Max Duggan
Defensive MVP: DE Ochaun Mathis
Breakout Player of the Year: RB Zach Evans
Impact Freshman: QB Sam Jackson

Recruiting Breakdown
TCU's 2021 recruiting class wasn't as strong as the last several editions. There are a few gems to consider, including dual-threat QB Sam Jackson and wide out Chase Jackson. Sam Jackson is an elite athlete that will find some way to contribute to this Frog offense, whether it be at QB or another role. He was previously committed to both Purdue and Minnesota. Either Chris Murray or Landyn Watson could develop into the next Patterson-bred star pass rushers. Both are from the state of Texas and have similar builds. The real wild card is German Alexander Hornig, a pro-style quarterback who towers over his competition. He's more of your traditional quarterback than Jackson but his fit in the offense is a question right now.

Five-Year Trend

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.