The countdown to TCU football’s 2018 season is now less than two months, and the Horned Frogs are shaping up to be a force in the Big 12 conference for yet another year.
The defense, a trademark of the Gary Patterson era, is set to return to the field as one of the best units in the conference. Although the offensive line is essentially starting from scratch, TCU has the depth at quarterback, receiver and in the backfield to keep up with almost any conference opponent on the scoreboard. If the Horned Frogs hit all of their notes on cue, another trip to the Big 12 Championship Game is well in reach.
That doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk to arriving at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 1.
If we’ve learned anything over the past few seasons, there’s a good dose of parity in the Big 12. Almost any team, save Kansas, can put up big numbers on any given day. One Saturday of showing up less than 100 percent focused, and even a game that looks lopsided on paper can turn into a dogfight.
The Horned Frogs have learned that plenty of times before. Otherwise Patterson wouldn’t live by the mantra of “one game at a time.”
So could any opponent that TCU should defeat give the Horned Frogs some unexpected hurdles in 2018? Here are the three biggest potential trap games for Patterson & Co. this fall.
Texas Tech – Thursday, Oct. 11; Fort Worth, Texas
Thursday night games can always cause for weird things to happen on the football field. The Horned Frogs are fairly lucky as they encounter a bye week prior to their Thursday night home game vs. Texas Tech, so there won’t be the otherwise typical sense of fresh bruises or expedited preparations. But the Red Raiders are a team with a pesky habit of being close in contests which they shouldn’t necessarily be.
Texas Tech will be without 2017 starting quarterback Nic Shimonek and wide receiver Keke Coutee, the latter who caught for 10 touchdowns and more than 1,400 yards last fall. Junior McLane Carter could very well get the nod to start under center, and though he may not be Patrick Mahomes or Graham Harrell, he was able to establish a tempo during the Red Raiders’ spring game in Frisco, Texas with an average of 7.4 yards per pass. For all the woes Texas Tech has had on defense in recent years, people forget that the Red Raiders’ 140 forced turnovers since 2013 are tied for the most among all FBS programs.
Considering Texas Tech’s historical ability to put up points and the fact that coach Kliff Kingsbury will be on the hot seat this fall, TCU simply cannot enter this one expecting the result to be another 82-27 rout as fans at Amon G. Carter Stadium were treated to four years ago. And did I mention that Texas Tech has a winning record in Fort Worth since TCU joined the Big 12? The Horned Frogs can’t let off the gas in this one.
Kansas State – Saturday, Nov. 3; Fort Worth, Texas
TCU throttled a top-10 Kansas State at home in 2014, and Kansas State throttled an out-of-contention TCU team the last time the Wildcats paid a visit to Fort Worth in 2016. The November meeting in Fort Worth between the two purple programs appears to favor the Horned Frogs, but never underestimate Bill Snyder.
What makes Kansas State a potential trap? Look no further than the dual-threat quarterback duo of Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson, both of whom caused problems for two of the Big 12’s top programs in 2017. Delton helped the Wildcats take a double-digit halftime lead of eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma last October before the Sooners eventually rallied for a win, while Thompson led Kansas State to an upset of No. 13 Oklahoma State in his first start last November – the team’s first win in Stillwater, Okla. since 1999. TCU did handle Delton with relative ease in his debut last October with a 26-6 victory, but both quarterbacks will return stronger and more experienced in 2018.
When TCU visited unranked Kansas State in Oct. 2015 as the No. 2 team in the country, the Horned Frogs were forced to overcome an 18-point deficit before escaping Manhattan, Kan. with a 52-45 victory. Going down by that many points at home is unlikely, but the players who were present for that game won’t want to relive that experience against another middle of the pack Wildcats squad. Hopefully that will be enough motivation to come out for this one prepared.
Baylor – Saturday, Nov. 17; Waco, Texas
Baylor looks harmless from a glance. The Bears are coming off a 1-11 season and have been outscored by the Horned Frogs 107-44 in the last two meetings, including a 62-22 rout in Waco, Texas two years ago. And yet that’s no excuse to not be on guard entering a rivalry game.
Keep in mind that Baylor shot out to 9-0 lead within minutes of play during the 2017 contest and only trailed by two points at the half before the Horned Frogs pulled away in the final 30 minutes. Big 12 co-offensive freshman of the year Charlie Brewer will be back at quarterback in 2018, and he’ll only be better. Coach Matt Rhule and the Bears may not have the firepower to contend in the Big 12 just yet, but it would make Baylor’s season to defeat their arch-rival in front of a home crowd. Should TCU be in the playoff picture at this point, the stakes will only be that much higher. If the Horned Frogs don’t get the bear traps ready and the crowd gets amped up early, they might be the ones getting trapped.
Oklahoma State – Saturday, Nov. 24; Fort Worth, Texas
A rebuild is set to take place for coach Mike Gundy after Oklahoma State lost all-time leading passer Mason Rudolph and all-time leading receiver James Washington following the 2017 campaign. TCU should capitalize on that in its regular season finale after upsetting a more formidable Cowboys team in Stillwater last September.
Nonetheless, a lot can happen between now and Thanksgiving weekend. Could Gundy reel off another 10-win season coming off three straight campaigns of such? Could Spencer Sanders, the 2017 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year, make a splash at quarterback as a freshman if given the chance? There’s a lot of hypotheticals to be had, but Oklahoma State can’t be written off…..at least not just yet. And after all, we’ve seen teams inexplicably stumble in the final week of the season too many times before. If TCU doesn’t enter this one with the same execution and motivation as they did against a top 10 Oklahoma State squad last year, all bets could be off.