Could TCU be the Big 12's surprise squad?

TCU had a rough debut during its first two seasons in the Big 12.

In its initial seasons in the conference, the Horned Frogs went 11-14. During its previous five years, the Horned Frogs went 55-10 playing in the Mountain West Conference.

Although TCU’s defense appeared to take a step backward in 2013, Gary Patterson’s program is built around one of the best defenses in the conference. A closer look at the numbers during TCU’s first two seasons in the Big 12 makes it clear the Horned Frogs could be the surprise of the league in 2014 if their new offense finds its footing and starts holding up its end of the bargain.

With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, let’s take a look at the performance of TCU’s offense and defense during its first couple of seasons in the Big 12 and what those numbers could mean for 2014:

  • TCU’s offense hasn’t been very productive or efficient. The Horned Frogs averaged 1.76 points per drive, ranking eighth in the Big 12 ahead of Iowa State and Kansas. The Big 12 average was 2.29. If new offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie can increase that number to the league average, it probably means more TCU victories.

  • Only Oklahoma State’s defense has had a better points per drive allowed average during the past two seasons. OSU has allowed 1.47 points per drive while TCU has allowed 1.52 points per drive. The conference average was 1.93. Even though TCU finished eighth in the Big 12 in points allowed last season at 25.1 points per game, this stat underscores the reality that the Horned Frogs struggles on offense played a big role in the number of points their defense gave up. TCU’s 1.51 points allowed per drive ranked third in the conference in 2013.

  • Only 20.7 percent of TCU’s drives have ended in touchdowns. Only Kansas (14.3 percent) has been worse during the past two years. The league average was 28.8 percent.

  • During its first two seasons in the Big 12, TCU has allowed 33.9 percent of possible yardage to be gained against its defense, easily the best percentage in the Big 12. Their record would make you think the Horned Frogs have struggled to slow down the Big 12’s explosive offenses, but that hasn’t been a major problem for Patterson’s squad.

  • TCU has been sloppy with the ball. The Horned Frogs offense turned the ball over on 13.6 percent of their drives. Only Texas Tech (14.6) has been worse. This stat is particularly telling with the top three teams in this category (Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State) combining for 58 wins in the past two seasons. The new offense, first and foremost, needs to take better care of the ball.

  • Patterson’s defense is built to be disruptive and it has been, with 39.7 percent of offensive plays run against them going for zero or negative yardage.

  • TCU’s 5.28 yards per play ranks eighth in the Big 12 and its 3.72 yards per carry is the worst average in the Big 12. The league averages were 5.94 yards per play and 4.5 yards per carry. The Horned Frogs have a solid stable of running backs so more commitment to the running game and an improved offensive front could do wonders for the team's success.

  • TCU’s 4.67 yards per play allowed is the best in the conference during that span. The league average was 5.54. The Horned Frogs have given up plenty of yards in several games but their actual defense per play is second to none.

  • The Horned Frog offense has converted just 32.8 percent of its third down attempts. Only Kansas has been worse (30.1) and the league average was 41.1 percent.

  • Opponents have gone three-and-out against TCU’s defense 99 times in the past two years. The league average is 80. The Horned Frogs haven’t allowed a first down on 39.4 percent of opponent’s drives, also tops in the Big 12.

  • Getting drives off to a good start has been a problem with 127 of 353 TCU drives ended without a first down or touchdown. The new offense could help improve this number, particularly with its focus on getting a lot of different playmakers involved, thus making it harder to focus on stopping one or two key players.

  • Opponents have completed just 52.5 percent of their passes against TCU’s defense, best in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs have more than held their own in their first two years in a league known for explosive passing offenses.

TCU’s new offense has been the offseason storyline in Fort Worth, Texas, but the rest of the Big 12 should be taking notice as well. Meacham and Cumbie have been tasked with getting the Horned Frogs’ offense on track. If they’re successful installing an efficient and explosive offense that takes care of the football, the Horned Frogs could make a run at the Big 12 title because TCU’s defense has been second to none during its first two seasons in the conference.