Purple spotlight aimed at Casey Pachall

FORT WORTH, Texas -- As the starting quarterback of the defending Rose Bowl champions and the fresh face of a team that has averaged a best-in-the-nation final ranking of No. 5 over the past three seasons, it could be said that TCU quarterback Casey Pachall steps into a most envious situation.

Or, it could be said that the 6-foot-4 sophomore with a sleeve of tattoos decorating his throwing arm holds the toughest job in all the land, trying to keep the little program that could on top of the mountain.

Just listen to TCU coach Gary Patterson.

"We're trying to be a program, not a team," Patterson said. "So, were we just a team when Andy Dalton was the quarterback? Or is the next guy going to be able to step up and be that guy?"

And there it is, the first mention of Andy Dalton, the former four-year starter, the consummate studier, teammate, leader and overall human being. The second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals was a typical Patterson recruit. He was hardly an amazing athlete or an exceptional prospect coming out of high school. He just won -- 13-0 last year, 12-1 in 2009 and 36-3 over the past three seasons.

The shoes Dalton leaves behind for Pachall, a highly touted prospect that spurned The Swamp, the Big House and Touchdown Jesus to play at the under-renovation Amon G. Carter Stadium, are fit for a giant.

Dalton left TCU with just about every school record to his name and with the program at its strongest point in six decades. The old, creaky stadium is undergoing a massive renovation. The Big East and the long-coveted automatic BCS bid await in 2012 and the Frogs -- yes the Frogs the Big 12 doesn't want -- are considered to be the savior of beaten-down Big East football.

TCU is coming off consecutive BCS bowl games, a magnificent 21-19 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and a No. 2 national ranking.

Want to add another layer to the high bar set for Pachall? TCU's record-breaking season-ticket sales are nearing 21,000, or not much more than the Frogs averaged for a home game a decade ago.

Pachall's job is to keep it all going.

First off will be the constant comparisons to the clean-cut redhead, and that will start with one look at Pachall's inked-up arm. The dual-threat quarterback out of Brownwood, one of the legendary Texas high school football factories, said he knows it's coming.

"I can't worry about filling his shoes. That's not what I'm concerned about," Pachall said. "I'm going to do what I have to do to help this team. I'm ready for it."

Patterson wasted little time testing the thickness of his quarterback's skin. At TCU's kickoff luncheon the day before the start of fall camp, Patterson was asked about Pachall's progress.

Patterson didn't even bother to mention the kid's name while sending a message about leadership to his shaggy-haired starter: "You know who has impressed me," Patterson stated, "is the true freshman."

That would be West Mesquite's Trevone Boykin. Redshirt freshman Matt Brown, another highly touted dual-threat quarterback, is in the mix. But this job is Pachall's, and Patterson's quick and pointed criticism reflects that.

"I didn't see what I needed to see in the spring from that standpoint," Patterson said. "I saw being able to own the offense. He owns the offense a lot better than Andy Dalton did when he took over. Will he own the leadership role and be where we want to be?"

There he goes again bringing up Andy Dalton.

"Sometimes the younger generation uses the word, 'I'm a baller,'" Patterson said. "No, that's for playgrounds. That's not in front of 15 million people on TV and 80,000 people in the stadium.

"Andy used to study somewhere between four and seven hours on a Monday, on his own, film, and any other time during the week that he could. They were watching the game on the computer on the way home from the game, he and Jake Kirkpatrick. That's where we want to be. That's a maturity factor of a team."

Along with Dalton, TCU graduated significant players on offense and defense (five offensive and six defensive starters return). Pachall will have four new offensive linemen in front of him, but all have playing experience. And some, including right tackle Jeff Olson, have starts under their belts.

And Pachall -- who missed three mid-August practices with a sore throwing shoulder, although an MRI exam revealed no damage -- will find comfort in a stable of running backs, including juniors Ed Wesley (1,078 yards last season) and Matthew Tucker (709) and sophomore Waymon James (513).

Defensively, sophomore end Stansly Maponga and senior middle linebacker Tank Carder look to lead the Frogs to a fourth consecutive No. 1 ranking in total defense.

The work ahead doesn't start and end with Pachall. But, credit and blame in football always falls at the feet of the quarterback.

What an opportunity for Pachall to follow Dalton and take over a program that now aims to throw away the party-crasher label and establish itself as an elite national power.

It's also quite the challenge.

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.