During stretches throughout Gary Patterson’s 21-year head-coaching stint at TCU, the Horned Frogs have been one of the top football programs in the country.
TCU was 48-13 from 2002-06, and that included a 5-6 campaign in 2004. In three seasons from 2009-11 the Horned Frogs went 26-3, including a perfect 13-0 mark in 2010. Across the 2014 and 2015 seasons, TCU was 23-3 and the Frogs went 11-3 in 2017.
All told, TCU has won double-digit games 11 times under Patterson, but instead of trying to continue momentum, the Horned Frogs will enter 2021 largely trying to rediscover it.
That’s because TCU is just 18-17 since the beginning of 2018. It’s not that the Horned Frogs haven’t been competitive, they have, but it’s just not the level of success the to which the program has grown accustomed under Patterson.
The Frogs have an important piece to build around in that pursuit as junior quarterback Max Duggan is back for his third season. Duggan led a rush-heavy offense a year ago with 526 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while also throwing for 1,795 yards and 10 scores.
While running back Darwin Barlow transferred to USC, the team will bring back plenty of experience in the backfield after leading the Big 12 in rushing (214.7 yards per game) last season in sophomores Zach Evans and Kendre Miller.
Evans (54 rushes, 415 yards, seven touchdowns) and Miller (54 carries, 388 yards, two touchdowns) each averaged over 7 yards a carry and, along with senior Emari Demarcado (46 carries, 199 yards), figure to make up one of the more formidable stables of backs in the conference.
The team’s leading four receivers from 2020 — senior Taye Barber (31 catches, 318 yards, two touchdowns), sophomore Quentin Johnston (22 receptions, 487 yards, two touchdowns), sophomore Blair Conwright (17 grabs, 207 yards, one score) and senior Derius Davis (15 catches, 209 yards, one TD) — all return to help the passing attack. Davis is also a preseason All-American as a punt returner after averaging 14.5 yards and taking two returns to the end zone last year.
Aptly named tight end Pro Wells is gone, having signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals, and second-team All-Big 12 lineman TJ Storment transferred to Texas Tech. Lineman Austin Myers also departed for Memphis.
Obinna Eze, however, came in from Memphis to join sophomore Andrew Coker, who has made 11 starts across his first seasons.
Patterson’s teams have historically been buoyed by their defense. Last season, the Horned Frogs’ streak of three straight years atop the Big 12’s total defense list was broken by West Virginia.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what the Horned Frogs return defensively this year. Junior defensive Ochaun Mathis is among the nation’s best and finished second in the league last season with nine sacks to go with 14 tackles for loss. On the other side, sophomore Khari Coleman piled up 15 tackles for loss, giving the Frogs one of the most formidable sets of edge rushers to be found anywhere.
The team’s top tackler, linebacker Garret Wallow, is gone, as is third-leading tackler Trevon Moehrig, a safety. Those two positions are important as TCU plays a 4-2-5 alignment, putting a much bigger emphasis on depth in the defensive backfield.
The loss of Moehrig as well as Ar’Darius Washington presents some questions on the back end, but the Horned Frogs have answers as well. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson led the Big 12 with 13 pass breakups and will return for his junior season at cornerback, with senior safety TJ Carter transferring in from, where else, Memphis after picking off seven passes with the Tigers. Junior safety Nook Bradford also emerged last season, making 44 stops to finish fifth on the team.
Junior Dee Winters made 65 tackles to finish second on the team and had 9.5 for loss and he will likely fill one of the two linebacker spots, while senior defensive tackle Corey Bethley is back after missing the team’s final six games with an injury.
The Mountaineers have won six of the teams’ 10 matchups since 2012 and each of the last three, including a 24-6 conquest in Morgantown last October.