TCU entered the season as the No. 2-ranked team in the AP preseason poll and a squad with high expectations and hopes to earn a College Football Playoff berth.
Yet the Horned Frogs' title dreams were handcuffed before Big 12 play even began with defensive end James McFarland, cornerback Ranthony Texada and linebacker Sammy Douglas among the defenders lost for the season before the conference opener.
The result was a hard-fought journey to 10 wins that was riddled with injuries and setbacks but underscored the “no excuses” environment head coach Gary Patterson has created. As TCU turns the page to next season, here are some reasons TCU will -- or will not -- make the playoff.
Why TCU will make the playoff
The Horned Frogs' defense finished third in the Big 12 at 1.72 points allowed per drive and second at 5.16 yards allowed per play. And Patterson’s crew managed those numbers with a unit that featured just nine upperclassmen on its two-deep heading into the Valero Alamo Bowl. Injuries forced TCU to turn to inexperienced, but talented, players on defense in 2015. Ty Summers, Montrel Wilson, Julius Lewis and Nick Orr are just a few of the freshmen and sophomores who stepped up when called upon.
They’ll return in 2016 as experienced defenders, ready to further cement a spot atop the Big 12 defensive rankings and, as some of the veterans return to the lineup, Patterson should have plenty of options as he looks to build a dominant defense that can be the foundation of a title run.
Offensively, Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill looks like the favorite to replace Trevone Boykin at quarterback and could be a great fit in the Horned Frogs' offense. Replacing Josh Doctson could be just as difficult, but TCU has recruited well at the receiver spot and should have enough overall talent to replace Doctson’s production. And the running back position is stocked with talent, particularly Kyle Hicks and Shaun Nixon. Co-offensive coordinators Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie should have enough talent to create another explosive offense that could help turn playoff dreams into reality.
Why TCU will not make the playoff
Boykin and Doctson are elite talents who will be impossible to replace. There’s a reason Patterson repeatedly told everyone to enjoy their excellence while they were in Horned Frogs uniforms during the past season. Both guys took over games at various times in 2015, serving as the main reason TCU was able to overcome the rash of early-season injuries on defense.
If the offense struggles at all, there’s a chance TCU won’t be able to simply count on its defense to shoulder the burden and consistently win conference games. Big 12 offenses are extremely difficult to shut down -- particularly without help from the other side of the ball -- even for a defense as experienced and dominant as the Horned Frogs’ could become.
The margin of error for Hill (or whoever wins the quarterback job) and the talented young receivers is small, particularly with Arkansas and Oklahoma on the schedule before the second week of October. The newcomers on offense will have to hit the ground running if TCU hopes to make a playoff push.