2016 season preview: TCU Horned Frogs
The TCU Horned Frogs are another Big 12 team that started off 2015 hot, but faltered slightly down the line. After beginning the season 8-0, the Frogs lost to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in a three-week span and finished the regular season 10-2. They then played in one of the most exciting bowl games of the season, erasing a 31-0 halftime deficit against Oregon to win the Valero Alamo Bowl 47-41 in triple overtime.
They come into 2016 without their two biggest stars from last year in QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson, but hopes are still high for this Horned Frogs squad.
The Horned Frogs offense will definitely miss Boykin and Doctson but it may not be the gigantic drop off that people think. Transfer QB Kenny Hill is the likely starter, and he showed that he can play at a high-level when he graded out at +13.6 in just eight games in 2014. TCU also sees the return of RB Kyle Hicks to the offense. Hicks played limited snaps last season but when he did play he showed he could be impressive. He only had 55 carries but he managed to gain 261 yards, including 152 of them after first contact. His elusive rating of 89.4 (thanks to 23 missed tackles forced on 68 touches) would’ve ranked eighth in the country if he qualified. The Frogs also see the return of some solid offensive linemen, led by T Joseph Noteboom and his +10.5 grade last season.
If TCU is to have a big season this year, it’ll be because of their defense. This is a unit that is going to have 12 returning players that graded above +1.0 last season. Up front they’re led by OLB James McFarland, who missed all last season but graded out at +34.2 in 2014. They’ve got a strong inside linebacking trio of Travin Howard, Ty Summers and Montrel Wilson, all of whom graded above +2.0 last season — Summers actually has the 12th-highest coverage grade among returning linebackers in the entire country at +4.7.
The biggest strength of this team is their secondary. They bring back five players who graded above +5.6 last year. In a conference powered by high-octane offenses, having a strong secondary like TCU’s is the recipe for success.
Look no further than the TCU secondary to find their biggest star. Safety Denzel Johnson was the 11th highest-graded safety in the NCAA last season at +17.2. He had positive grades in all three aspects of defense (run defense, pass rush, pass coverage). His 47 solo stops tied were the most on the team, which is quite impressive for a safety. His run stop percentage of 5.8 ranked in the top 20 last season. He’s also one of the surest tackling safeties in college football, having missed just six tackles on 84 attempts last season. He’s the leader of this TCU defense and if they are to be successful this season, it’ll start with Johnson.
Breakout player to watch
It’s easy to look back at last season and remember WR Josh Doctson and WR Kolby Listenbee and think that they were the only two receivers that this team really had. But do not sleep on returning WR KaVontae Turpin, who should be thrust into a starting role this season. Turpin is a tiny slot receiver but he was very impressive last season. He caught just 46 catches last year but gained 655 yards, including a ridiculous 541 of those after the catch — the fourth-best yards after catch per reception rate (11.8) in the country. He’s got incredibly quick feet and once he gets up to speed, there’s nobody that can catch him.
Note the incredible footwork shown by Turpin to beat his man for an easy touchdown in this play:
With their top two receivers from last year gone, this has all the makings of a huge year for Turpin.
TCU is a perennial contender in the Big 12 and there’s no reason to think it’ll be any different this year. While they’ve lost a lot of key pieces, they also get back guys like James McFarland and CB Ranthony Texada. Their defense has all the pieces to once again be one of the best in the conference and their offense has enough that they shouldn’t drop off too much from last season. If they stay healthy, they should be competing for the conference championship right to the end of the season.