TCU season preview

Today, we break down TCU, which figures to be one of the contenders for the Big 12 crown:


Coach: Gary Patterson (116-36 overall, 13 seasons; 116-36 at TCU, 13 seasons)

2012 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)

Key losses: WR Josh Boyce, OG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain

Key returnees: QB Casey Pachall, RB Waymon James, WR Brandon Carter, DE Devonte Fields, DT Chucky Hunter, CB Jason Verrett, S Sam Carter

Newcomer to watch: With leading receiver Josh Boyce having skipped his senior year for the NFL, TCU will need receivers to step in and produce. One of those could be Ja’Juan Story, a transfer from Florida. Story was formerly rated the No. 6 receiver recruit coming out of high school.

Biggest games in 2013: The month of October will determine whether TCU is a contender or pretender for the Big 12 crown. The Horned Frogs travel to Oklahoma on Oct. 5, go to Oklahoma State two weeks later, then on Oct. 26 play host to Texas. By then TCU could be in the driver’s seat -- or out of the race altogether. Oh, and the Horned Frogs have that season opener against LSU in Arlington, Texas.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Even though top-returning tackler Joel Hasley left the team in the preseason, TCU’s defense figures to be the Big 12’s best. Especially when All-American defensive end candidate Devonte Fields returns from a two-game suspension to begin the season.

TCU, however, doesn’t win the Big 12 title unless prodigal quarterback Casey Pachall returns to form. Pachall left school last year four games into the season to seek treatment for substance abuse. When he left, Pachall had 10 touchdowns passes to just one pick. If he can rediscover that kind of groove, TCU will be formidable.

Forecast: In just its second season in the Big 12, TCU has its sights set on winning the conference. And the Horned Frogs have the defense to do it.

TCU was the only Big 12 team to rank in the top 35 nationally in total defense. The Horned Frogs were 16th. Even without Hasley, they return eight defensive starters, including Fields, who is the overwhelming favorite to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors after winning the Associated Press’ award as a true freshman last year.

Fields will be surrounded by experience and talent in coach Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5 scheme, too. TCU’s top four defensive tackles are back, and the secondary is loaded. Cornerback Jason Verrett is also an All-American candidate in a secondary that returns all five starters, including standout safety Sam Carter.

All that said, TCU was stout on defense last season, too. And the Horned Frogs finished just 7-6. Whether they emerge as a true contender this season hinges heavily on how improved the offense can be with the return of Pachall and running back Waymon James, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury. James led the Horned Frogs in rushing in 2011 and was averaging 9.9 yards per carry in 2012 before injuring the knee the second game of the season. By the end of the month, TCU had lost Pachall, too, causing the offense to be wildly inconsistent the rest of the season.

If Pachall, James and a host of up-and-coming receivers like Brandon Carter can turn the Horned Frogs into a consistent offensive force, TCU just might be the team to beat in a wide open Big 12.

It won’t take long for the Horned Frogs to find out about their offense. TCU opens with a showdown against LSU in Cowboys Stadium. But if the Horned Frogs can win -- and move the ball consistently -- the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.