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TCU Football Preview: Why The Horned Frogs Can Win The National Title

Editor’s note: This is the 14th in a 15-part series in which we preview college football’s top teams. We’ll be counting down from 15 to one, with the final team, released on Sept. 3 – the day college football starts – serving as our national title pick.

2. TCU Horned Frogs

In 2013, saddled with a poor offense and some real bad luck, Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs sputtered to a disappointing 4-8 season in their second Big 12 campaign. The team had a talented defense, and lost four games (at No. 11 Oklahoma, vs. West Virginia, at Kansas State, at No. 9 Baylor) by three or fewer points each. There were indicators all over the place that TCU would have a nice bounce back season in 2014. No one could have predicted the 12-1 record or a share of the Big 12 title.

Of course, many TCU fans have reason to be a bit annoyed by how things transpired at the end of 2014. TCU fell from the ranks of the College Football Playoff elite to inclusion in the Peach Bowl, despite bashing Iowa State 55-3. Unfortunately, that was seen as a standard performance against the Cyclones, while Ohio State captured a Big Ten title with a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin on the same day. Luckily for the Horned Frog faithful, TCU returns about as much talent as any team not named Ohio State. Don't expect Patterson's team to wallow too much after the slights of 2014.

">August 5, 2015

Where They're At In The Rankings

The ScheduleSept. 3 at MinnesotaSept. 12 vs. Stephen F. AustinSept. 19 vs. SMUSept. 26 at Texas TechOct. 3 vs. TexasOct. 10 at Kansas StateOct. 17 at Iowa StateOct. 29 vs. West VirginiaNov. 7 at Oklahoma StateNov. 14 vs. KansasNov. 21 at No. 19 OklahomaNov. 27 vs. No. 4 BaylorKey GamesOct. 10 at Kansas StateFew teams are as consistently well-coached as the Wildcats, and trips to Manhattan can be rough for even the toughest teams. Last season TCU handled Kansas State in Fort Worth 41-20 in early November. While Kansas State loses a decent amount from yet another very good Bill Snyder squad, we wouldn't be shocked to see this one played very close. Last year, KSU's only home loss came by six to SEC power Auburn. TCU generally did a pretty good job of handling competition in 2014, but the Horned Frogs were definitely more vulnerable on the road. Aside from blowing the game at Baylor late, TCU also snuck by West Virginia, 31-30, and was given a serious game by woeful Kansas, winning 34-30. Patterson's team can't play that way at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Nov. 21 at No. OklahomaTCU's impressive 37-33 win at then-Big 12 favorite Oklahoma really set the wheels in motion for the rest of the dominant 2014 campaign. Oklahoma has lower expectations this season, and is a bit of a mystery, when compared to schools like TCU and Baylor. The Sooners are supremely talented as always, and have one of the best backs in the nation in Samaje Perine, but will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Bob Stoops also has a new offensive coordinator, former ECU coach Lincoln Riley, directing the attack. Baylor figures to be TCU's main rival for a Big 12 title, but counting out the Sooners off the bat would be a serious mistake.Nov. 27 vs. BaylorThis is not only one of the biggest games in the Big 12 this year, this is a contender for the biggest game in college football. Despite the fact that these two programs swear that they're not rivals, the hatred between the Bears and Horned Frogs is very real and palpable. Last year's 61-58 loss in Waco ultimately cost TCU a College Football Playoff bid, and these two programs may once again be fighting for one of those prized four slots to end the 2015 regular season. If Frog fans are being honest, beating Baylor and retiring all references to '61-58' in the state of Texas is right up there with winning the Big 12 and making a run at a national championship. Luckily, those goals are not mutually exclusive. To break into the playoff, the Horned Frogs almost definitely need to take the Bears down at the end of November.Key PlayersTrevone Boykin, senior quarterbackMany of the questions people had about TCU entering 2014 had to do with the quarterback position. To say that Boykin answered them is a massive understatement. Boykin is not the most efficient passer, but he raised his completion percentage from 59.7 to 61.2, and more impressively, his yards per attempt from a very pedestrian 6.81 to a solid 7.93. Boykin threw for 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 2014 to go with 3,901 passing yards, and added 707 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Boykin is surrounded by speed at every skill position, but he is often charged with making a play himself, and he is about as good at that as any quarterback in college football. Boykin has a legitimate chance to join TCU great Davey O'Brien in the exclusive fraternity of Heisman winners.

">September 2, 2015

Josh Doctson, senior wide receiver

Like Baylor, TCU litters the field with experienced, lightning fast skill position players. While four of the top five receivers from last year's group return for the Horned Frogs, they're led by senior Josh Doctson, who hauled in 66 passes for 1,022 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Boykin is clearly most comfortable with Doctson, who also led the team by a decent margin with a 22.9 percent target rate, according to SB Nation's Bill Connelly. While Boykin was very adept at spreading the ball around to guys like Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray, who both return, Doctson is the main target down in the red zone. He hauled in a team-leading 11 touchdown passes in 2014. We expect more of the same in '15.

James McFarland, senior defensive end

While the offense is pretty well intact, TCU loses a good amount from the back seven of Patterson's vaunted 4-2-5 defense. The Frogs will have to make up for some of that pass defense prowess with a great pass rush, and they have the pieces to make that happen. The defensive line returns 27 sacks and 51.5 tackles for loss from 2014, led by defensive end Jame McFarland, who recorded 35 tackles (12 for loss), and a team leading seven sacks. He is also one of two returning Frogs linemen to force three fumbles last season, along with Mike Tuaua. TCU has one of the most disruptive fronts in college football, and they will have to be even more so in 2015, with an entirely new linebacking corps and rebuilt secondary.

Why They Can Win The National Title

TCU was a few committee votes from having the chance to play for a title last season. On numerous occasions, perhaps most notably the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss, TCU looked like the best team in the country. In that game, the Horned Frogs had their way with a Rebels team that beat Alabama, dropping 42 points on what many considered the country's top defense. Somehow, the 42-3 final score almost seems too close based on how things went.

The Horned Frogs have one of the best coaches in college football in Gary Patterson, who should be able to lead a solid rebuild of a nasty defense. Offensively, TCU is as dynamic as anyone, with a gamebreaking talent at quarterback, a very solid running game led by Aaron Green, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2014, and a slew of receivers that rival what Art Briles has at his disposal in Waco. TCU also has a manageable schedule, but not one so easy that it should really hurt the program's chances to make the playoff. Opening on the road at Minnesota gives TCU a solid non-conference game to open things up, but not one that should really scare fans too much. With Oklahoma and Baylor games to end the season, TCU has a chance to make a huge impression on the selection committee down the stretch. 

Ohio State is a rightul favorite to take home a championship, but as we've seen across many sports, repeating in incredibly hard. Should the Buckeyes falter, no one should be surprised if Patterson's team is the one to take advantage.

Yesterday: No. 3 Alabama; up tomorrow: No. 1 ???