Every college football season brings a new sense of excitement as players come and go. But as old hurdles may vanish, new ones arise both locally and nationally.
When it comes TCU football’s outlook for 2018, there’s a lot to smile about — especially considering the Horned Frogs only have two out-of-state road trips and will no longer have to face the unsolvable mystery that was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield each of the past three years. But none of that negates a daunting match up with Ohio State in Week 3 and an always tricky trek to Morgantown in November to face a West Virginia team led by a potential-Heisman candidate in quarterback Will Grier. And locally, an unproven offensive line (at least in the public’s eyes) has generated a storm of questions on just how effective the Horned Frogs can be when it comes to moving the ball downfield.
TCU has more than enough talent to be right in the middle of the playoff discussion for yet another season. A more modest win total — say 8 victories — isn’t unfathomable either. But regardless of where the Horned Frogs stand come December, it’s important to have a reasonable idea of how big or little of a dogfight each game should be for Gary Patterson & Co.
Here all 12 of TCU’s regular-season contests, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
Southern (Sept. 1)
“Warm-up” games against an FCS school are usually fun for the FBS school, and you could argue that 9 of the 10 teams in the Big 12 automatically receive one by virtue of conference-play given the state of Kansas football. Just like Jackson State a year ago, expect the Horned Frogs to pile up the points against their Week 1 SWAC opponent at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Kansas (Oct. 27)
I don’t blame you if you’re a little weary of me putting the match up with the Jayhawks way down here on the list given TCU’s past two trips to Lawrence have been far too close for comfort. But after witnessing the Horned Frogs’ record-setting demolition of Kansas a year ago in Fort Worth, it’s hard to see TCU struggling against a Jayhawks team that could arguably be worse than a year ago. Expect this one to resemble more of 2017 than 2016/2014.
SMU (Sept. 7)
SMU has a weird tendency to keep things close with TCU way further into the game than they probably should, but the Horned Frogs have defeated the Mustangs by double-digits in five straight meetings. That included a 33-3 victory the last time TCU visited Dallas, which also just happened to be a Friday night game. Combine recent history with the departure of head coach Chad Morris and standout wide receiver Courtland Sutton, this one shouldn’t be much of a challenge.
Texas Tech (Oct. 11)
I was tempted to put Baylor right here, but the Bears are poised to take a step forward after a miserable 2017 season — not to mention the Horned Frogs will have to travel to Waco for that late-season contest. Alas, TCU’s Thursday night contest vs. Texas Tech gets the No. 9 spot. The Horned Frogs are coming off a bye entering this one, so they’ll be rested, and they may very well feed off the extra energy that comes from a mid-week match up. Texas Tech could boast a much-improved defense in 2018, but that doesn’t say a ton when you’re Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders’ offense is set to regress after losing the quarterback-receiver duo of Nic Shimonek and Keke Coutee which led the charge a year ago. Advantage TCU.
Baylor (Nov. 17)
As touched on, rivalry games can always be unpredictable. We saw that first hand last year when Baylor took a 9-0 lead over TCU out of the gate in Fort Worth and hung in through halftime before the Horned Frogs pulled away for a 45-22 win. Though Baylor coach Matt Rhule admitted at Big 12 Media Days that his team is still “learning how to win games,” Charlie Brewer only comes back stronger and more experienced after earning Big 12 Co-Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors last season, and the addition of Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd could give Baylor an extra boost in the backfield. The Horned Frogs should win this one, but the Bears were in too many close contests last year to be overlooked this time around.
Kansas State (Nov. 3)
With the dual-quarterback duo of Alex Delton and Sylar Thompson set to take a step forward after impressive debuts in 2017, it’s very much possible that Bill Snyder and Kansas State could make some unexpected noise in the Big 12 this fall. But we saw the Horned Frogs take care of business with relative ease last October in Manhattan, and both Snyder and Delton won’t have nearly the same supporting cast on offense that they did a year ago. Factor in home-field advantage, and the Horned Frogs should take care of business to kick of the month of November.
Iowa State (Sept. 29)
TCU won’t have to put up with an energetic Iowa State crowd amid freezing temperatures this time around as the Horned Frogs host the Cyclones in the final week of September. Alas, the Horned Frogs will still be feeling the wear and tear of back-to-back contests vs. Ohio State and Texas leading into this one, and running back David Montgomery will be back in an Iowa State uniform this fall after leading the nation in missed tackles in 2017. Considering the team only surrendered 14 points in Ames, Iowa a season ago, TCU should be in good shape if the offense doesn’t have a breakdown as it did on the road last October. But you just never know what Matt Campbell may have up his sleeve.
Oklahoma State (Nov. 24)
You may be a tad-bit surprised to see the Pokes this high on the list after losing their top talent from a year ago on offense, but like Patterson, Mike Gundy has routinely been able to field a competitive team regardless of how much star-talent he has to work with on paper. There’s a reason why he’s led Oklahoma State to three consecutive 10-win seasons. Running back Justice Hill cannot be overlooked either after leading the Big 12 with more than 1,400 rushing yards a season ago. While I’d still put my money on TCU winning this one, Thanksgiving weekend can always produce some shocking results in the gridiron. If the Horned Frogs find themselves in the playoff discussion entering at this point in the season, they can’t afford to let off the gas.
Texas (Sept. 22)
No doubt about it, there are a lot of questions surrounding Tom Herman & Co. down on the Forty Acres as the 2018 campaign approaches. But that doesn’t mean Texas won’t improve from a 7-6 mark a year ago, and you better believe the Longhorns will have a little extra motivation entering this Big 12 opener for both squads. This marks the first time TCU plays in Austin outside of Thanksgiving weekend since joining the Big 12, and the Horned Frogs don’t exactly catch a break considering it comes just a week after a marquee non-conference date with the Buckeyes. I’m not saying Texas is “back” just yet, but this game likely won’t be a rout as we’ve so often seen in the series the past few years.
Oklahoma (Oct. 20)
You can all take a deep breath now that Baker Mayfield’s eligibility has concluded, but Oklahoma’s offense still remains among the conference’s elite units. Kyler Murray may not be a connoisseur of the air-raid offense, but the former Texas A&M transfer can run, and the same can be said for running back Rodney Anderson and wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown among others. Combine that with a formidable offensive-line, and it’s not hard to see why the Sooners have been picked to 4-peat in the Big 12. Granted, this is likely the Horned Frogs’ best chance at dethroning the Sooners since they last got the job done in 2014, but they’ll have to fully take advantage of a home crowd and a susceptible Oklahoma defense to emerge victorious. Get ready for a fun one.
2. West Virginia (Nov. 10)
Playing as a visitor at Mountaineer Field in November is typically a fairly-daunting task. The Horned Frogs have been in that exact situation every time they’ve traveled to West Virginia since joining the Big 12, and though they own a 2-1 mark, it’s never been a breeze. It won’t be any different this time around as the Mountaineers get set to boast perhaps the most prolific offense in all of college football. If both teams are contending for the Big 12 title entering this one, expect an electric atmosphere and perhaps another College GameDay visit to this series. Maybe we’ll even see the the game be decided on the final play for the 4th time in 7 meetings. But one thing is for sure, and TCU will have to bring it’s A-game to improve to 3-1 on the road vs. Dana Holgorsen.
1. Ohio State (Sept. 15)
It doesn’t exactly take a whole lot of explaining to get the message across: this is perhaps both the biggest and the most difficult regular-season contest TCU football has ever had on their calendar. Nothing will come easy for the Horned Frogs in this game — at least not when a revamped offensive-line’s first Power 5 match up is against one of the best defenses in the nation. If the growing pains are evident, it could take a miraculous effort on quarterback Shawn Robinson’s part for TCU to walk off the football field with a victory. The Horned Frogs may benefit some from only having to travel a mere 15 miles to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but you can expect a flood of Ohio State fans to descend upon North Texas for this one as they have already done twice in the last three years. Buckle up, because win or lose, a bumpy road is looming in Week 3.