Nonconference preview: TCU Horned Frogs

Time to continue our team-by-team look at the Big 12's nonconference schedule.

Next up: TCU.

Versus LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Aug. 31

  • Coach: Les Miles, ninth season (85-21)

  • 2012 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

  • Returning starters: eight offensive, five defensive

  • Offensive headliner: Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while completing 58.8 percent of his 352 pass attempts.

  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Anthony Johnson will be depended upon after the departures of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Johnson made 10 tackles for loss and three sacks a year ago.

  • The skinny: For now, leading rusher Jeremy Hill (755 yards in 2012) is suspended indefinitely, but the Frogs will be without reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. LSU is reloading along the defensive line, but just like most games between SEC and Big 12 teams, this game will be decided on the line of scrimmage. TCU is a physical team on both sides of the ball and this is a winnable game, but TCU will be about a touchdown underdog.

Versus Southeastern Louisiana, Sept. 7

  • Coach: Ron Roberts, second season (5-6)

  • 2012 record: 5-6 (5-2 Southland Conference)

  • Offensive headliner: Receiver Tony McCrea led the team in 2012 with 28 catches for 401 yards and a touchdown. He also returned one of his two punt returns for a score.

  • Defensive headliner: Junior linebacker Kaleb Muse was 10th in the Southland and led the Lions with 80 tackles, including five for loss, two sacks and an interception. He also forced two fumbles.

  • The skinny: Southeastern Louisiana was routed by 52 points at Missouri and by 49 at UAB in the only two games it played last season against FBS competition. Doesn't seem like much danger for a very talented TCU team. Only turnovers could make this one interesting.

Versus SMU, Sept. 28

  • Coach: June Jones, sixth season (31-34)

  • 2012 record: 7-6 (5-3 Conference USA)

  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert's debut after transferring from Texas wasn't great, but he racked up 2,932 yards and 15 touchdowns, though he also threw 15 interceptions. His top target should be senior receiver Jeremy Johnson.

  • Defensive headliner: Senior linebacker Randall Joyner is the team's leading returning tackler, with 93 stops a year ago.

  • The skinny: SMU is better than it looked in a rainy blowout loss to Baylor last season, and gave the Frogs lots of trouble in a Dallas downpour last season. It has to replace running game mainstay Zach Line, as well as its top three in tackles for loss from a year ago, highlighted by kick-blocking freak Margus Hunt. SMU is a good team, and if TCU loses the turnover battle or turns in an average performance, this could easily be a loss.

Chances of going 3-0: 34 percent

Wrapping up: TCU will have a lot of the Big 12's reputation hanging on its season opener against LSU, and the Battle for the Iron Skillet is always an emotional game, no matter how far the gap in talent is between the crosstown rivals. The Frogs have a schedule setup that most of the Big 12's best programs should follow, with a clear "A" game against a top-25 opponent, a "B" game against a good team and a "C" game -- an all-but-guaranteed victory. And SMU is actually a major-conference opponent now, too, because the Mustangs will begin playing in the American Athletic Conference this season. A 3-0 record in nonconference play would be enormous for the Frogs, but getting a victory against LSU in Week 1 is the toughest hurdle by far.