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TCU trio will be counted on to carry Horned Frogs' title hopes

It seems like every time TCU takes the field on game day, it loses another key member of the squad that was the preseason favorite in the Big 12.

Yet every time TCU has taken the field in 2015, it has left with another win.

As the calendar turns from September to October, Gary Patterson’s program has lost its top pass-rusher (James McFarland), top coverman (Ranthony Texada) and several other critical players to injury -- with Patterson estimating his defense was playing without nine starters during the Horned Frogs’ 55-52 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.

“I’ve got to give this group credit,” Patterson said. “I mean, they just keep finding a way to win. Because most people would say, you know, you weren't supposed to.”

The veteran coach realized a while ago this season was going to have an NCAA tournament feel -- survive and advance -- as he leaned more and more on projected backups to become key players on his defense.

“It’s all about having faith,” said safety Derrick Kindred, one of the few starters on defense from last season’s 12-1 squad who remains healthy and productive on this year’s team. “Coach P does a great job of growing guys up into their roles. Coach P has a lot of faith, which we should, too. It doesn’t matter who is in, just know your role and get the job done.”

Before Aaron Green came out of nowhere to save the day against Texas Tech, it looked like TCU’s luck had run out. But Green’s improbable, last-second touchdown catch was a subtle reminder why it would be unwise to count the reigning Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl champions out of the College Football Playoff race.

While there are plenty of new names on defense, the names on offense are familiar -- the same ones found on preseason All-Big 12 lists.

Trevone Boykin is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, receiver Josh Doctson solidifies his reputation as an unstoppable force on the perimeter with each outing and Green is the perfect complement to provide balance to the offense. TCU has 26 offensive touchdowns this season, with that trio playing a role in 84.6 percent (22) of those scores.

The offense hasn’t been injury-free. Receiver Kolby Listenbee missed the game against the Red Raiders, dynamic receiver/returner Deante Gray isn’t expected to return any time soon and sophomore receiver Emanuel Porter was injured Saturday. All three were projected as key targets for Boykin heading into 2015.

“It really just brings us tighter together,” Boykin said of all the injuries. “It's like the next man up. One guy goes down, the other just has to step up. We're not asking them to jump over a building, we're not asking them to do anything impossible really, just really just go out there and make routine reads, communicate, be you. You don't have to be bigger than yourself, just go out and try and make plays.”

As much as TCU has leaned on Boykin, Green and Doctson to shoulder the load through the first third of the season, the Horned Frogs will continue to ask their stars to spur their championship push during the next two months. The offense is being asked to win games, and those three have become the most important trio in the entire conference.

Even though last season is in the past, Boykin uses the Horned Frogs’ lone loss of 2014 as a driving force to help during trying times.

“You can just go back to last year, and the coaches hate talking about last year and everybody else does, but I mean, just seeing what happened to us in the Baylor game and finishing was our main thing,” Boykin said of his team’s ability to find ways to win this September. “We really just never wanted that feeling again, and since that day we've been on the grind, we've been pushing each other, trying to make each other the best players [we can] and this is just the result.”

As the TCU trio approaches the remainder of the regular season, Doctson’s approach Saturday is the blueprint. With Gray, Listenbee and Porter sidelined, the senior finished with 18 receptions for 267 yards and three touchdowns, almost single-handedly replacing those missing pieces in the last-second win.

“I just knew that I’ve got to go,” Doctson said. “I knew I had to be in every series, whether I’m tired or not. If I wanted to be 4-0, at the end of the day, I have to do my part.”