Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at TCU , who began practice over the weekend.
Spring Practice Question: Do the Horned Frogs have the offensive firepower to slam the door in the Mountain West's face on their way out?
Remember how when NBA legends like Julius Erving would announce their retirement, their final season would be a long series of tearful goodbyes as the legend-in-question would be showered at each road venue with gifts and well-wishes? And you know how this is TCU's final season in the Mountain West, the conference it's won three times and helped shape into a national power on the cusp of an automatic BCS bid? Yeah, that season is going to be the complete opposite of that NBA thing.
Because the Mountain West has done all it can to skip the bouquets and send the Horned Frogs off to the Big East with a giant kick in the pants. Not only did the league unilaterally force TCU to forgo their biggest home game of the year in exchange for a brutal road game at Boise State, they ignored the Frogs' choice for a bye week in favor of giving them weeks off before New Mexico and UNLV ... two miserable teams the Frogs could have swept in a doubleheader the week after going to Boise if they had to. It's safe to say there's nothing the MWC wants more than to see TCU flail their way out of a league that spent the year proving it didn't need them; it's equally safe to say there's nothing Gary Patterson would like more than to say good-bye with the raised middle finger of a third straight conference championship.
But entering spring practice, the odds look much longer than they did in either 2009 or 2010. While part of that is the enhanced schedule -- even the Frogs' undefeated showdowns with Utah the past two seasons won't present nearly the challenge of taking on the Broncos on the blue turf -- the much larger part is facing down that schedule with so much lost on offense. Eight starters are gone from the unit that helped bring home a Rose Bowl title, a group headlined by four-year quarterback starter and career 10,000-yard passer Andy Dalton.
But the losses go much deeper than that. The Frogs' second-, third- and fourth-leading receivers are all departed, including top go-to possession wideout Jeremy Kerley and the reliable Jimmy Young. Bookend 6'6" tackles Marcus Cannon and Zach Roth have both graduated. In the interior of the line, the Frogs must replace 300-pound guard Josh Vernon and 308-pound All-American center Jake Kirkpatrick, only the 2010 Rimington Trophy winner.
The good news for TCU is that particularly at the skill positions, they seem positioned to weather the storm. Quarterbacking heir-to-the-throne Casey Pachall was one of Patterson's most highly-regarded recruits, has drawn rave reviews in practice, and should be more than ready as a redshirt sophomore. The tailback tag-team of juniors Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker -- who combined for 1,787 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns in 2010 -- returns intact. Top receiver Josh Boyce is back after a breakout redshirt freshman season that saw him average an eye-popping 19 yards per reception.
But there's only so much all that skill-position talent can do if the four new starters up front aren't up to the task. Spring camp should give Patterson and the TCU fans an excellent chance to gauge their progress across from one of the perennially best-coached defensive fronts in the country (not to mention Tank Carder). If the line shows potential, Pachall lives up to the hype, and some member of the Frog receiving corps steps up to provide some measure of balance across from Boyce, it won't be too early to start dreaming about yet another BCS season.
But if not? Boise's going to start licking their chops (to say nothing of teams like BYU, San Diego State, Baylor, etc.), and the MWC bigwigs can start their dreaming about having the last laugh.