FORT WORTH, Texas – If timing is everything in college football, TCU knows this well.
With the stacked BCS-busting roster from the Mountain West days – including NFLers Andy Dalton, Jeremy Kerley, Josh Boyce, Marshall Newhouse, Jerry Hughes. Daryl Washington – maybe TCU would have had a Big 12 title in one of its first two years in the league.
Those teams were loaded with seniors. Last year's TCU squad had 10, not all of whom were factors. There were major depth problems on the offensive line.
Couple the youth with what quarterback Casey Pachall recently labeled as “zero leadership” in the TCU locker room and TCU has hit turbulence in year two in the Big 12, losing several close games on the way to a 4-8 finish.
Make no mistake, no excuses are coming out of TCU's camp. In fact, this happens to be a chance for Patterson to take TCU back to its roots as a proverbial underdog.
Nobody's picking TCU to win the league next year, and that's just fine with Patterson, who this spring is retooling an offense that needs to catch up with the rest of the league.
“I'm not going to say that much positive,” Patterson said. “We need to go back and earn what people talk about. We don't need to talk about anything. If they pick us sixth, that's fine with me...Potential doesn't count for much. You are by what you do on the field.”
What kept TCU bowl-eligible in 11 of the last 13 years – including eight seasons of 10 or more wins – is balance, Patterson said.
When the Horned Frogs went 5-6 in 2004, they had a top offense but were among the worst in pass defense.
Last season, the worst in Patterson's impressive tenure, TCU had the Big 12's second-best defense and the second-worst offense.
That's why Patterson is taking a hard look at where players fit best this spring, already moving running back Jordan Moore to wide receiver. Trevone Boykin, the Frogs' human Swiss Army knife as a quarterback/receiver/running back, is taking quarterback reps but might be best suited at receiver. He's OK with that. Playing receiver is fun, he says, and it might be his best path to the NFL.
Patterson will rely on former Houston OC Doug Meacham and Texas Tech quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie to add flair to his offense – and to get him more plays.
TCU was last in the Big 12 with 822 offensive plays last year, according to cfbstats.com. Maybe 100 more and the Frogs win a few of those four conference games they lost by three points or less.
Good coaches adapt when necessary. Patterson knows you can't win solely with defense and ball control – at least not in this league.
“We've got to score points,” Patterson said. “You have to have players on both sides of the ball.”
Meacham and Cumbie both had success with freshman quarterbacks last year, so if sophomore Tyler Matthews, redshirt freshman Zach Allen or two incoming freshman quarterbacks impress in the fall, Boykin could slide into a playmaking role.
Boykin, a junior, was the only player in the nation lat year to record a 100-yard rushing game, a 100-yard receiving game and a 200-yard passing game.
“If they put me in with other ways to get me the ball, that's cool,” Boykin said. “I'm an overall team player.”
Boykin considers himself a team leader, and he shouldn't be alone – many were thrust into that role last year without much preparation. They can take it now.
In that way, he agrees with Pachall that lack of leadership was a factor in 2013. But it's not like the team had “zero” leaders, he said.
"We respect that guy a lot but our main focus is getting better in the spring so we can go from one of the worst offenses in the Big 12 to one of the best,” Boykin said. “I can say part of the reason we lost more games could have been because of leadership, but we played hard every down and played every game like it was our last.”