FORT WORTH, Texas – To Gary Patterson, the TCU quarterback decision for 2016 is starting to feel a bit like the one he and his staff made in 2014.
There are, at least on paper, obvious parallels. In 2014, the Frogs had to choose between a guy they knew well (Trevone Boykin) and a hyped Texas A&M transfer (Matt Joeckel). This time around, it’s third-year sophomore Foster Sawyer and A&M import Kenny Hill. And just like in 2014, there was no definitive plan exiting spring ball.
“It’s the same thing that happened two years ago,” Patterson told ESPN.com last week. “We didn’t know until a week and a half before the first ballgame that Trevone was going to be our starter. Won’t be much different this year.”
There are some important differences, though, between the competition that helped turn Boykin into the fourth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and the today that’s too close to call.
The easy assumption back then was TCU brought in Joeckel to be the starter, allowing Boykin to move to receiver. But Joeckel had a distinct disadvantage in that race: He didn’t commit to TCU until mid-April and didn’t join the program until the start of June. He had less than three months to learn the new Doug Meacham-Sonny Cumbie offense and prove he was the better option.
Boykin, meanwhile, embraced the challenge of extra competition. He went into fall camp in the best shape of his life, going from 220 pounds to 205 pounds. He got faster. He showed TCU coaches how much he wanted it.
“I think the key is to find the guy that has the swagger, that allows us to move the football, score the points and the guy that's not going to turn the ball over,” Patterson said at Big 12 media days in 2014.
Back then, nobody really knew Boykin was going to ascend to an elite level of play. The Frogs were just hoping they had one guy who could handle the job. As Patterson said at those media days: “I would prefer to win. I don't really care how that whole thing works out.”
The whole thing ultimately got worked out in scrimmages during fall practice. That’s going to be the proving ground again this year. But there’s another distinction between the 2014 and 2016 races that’s worth acknowledging: Unlike Joeckel, Hill is the more experienced candidate.
Boykin already had a meaningful body of work going into 2014. He’d accounted for more than 4,000 total yards and scored 27 touchdowns. He’d already thrown 468 passes in college. Joeckel had 48 career attempts in two seasons at A&M.
Hill has thrown almost 250 passes against SEC defenses. He had a 24-8 TD-to-INT ratio as an Aggie. Sawyer has completed 11 passes in his career and thrown three interceptions. He has been in the system a year longer than Hill, and that helps. But even if Hill’s experience at A&M in 2014 ended badly, it’s still valuable experience.
In 2014, Boykin was motivated in part by the fact TCU brought in another guy to take his job. Foster and Hill have been together for nearly a year now. There’s a familiarity, maybe even a friendship, in this battle.
“We both know what we’re fighting for,” Sawyer told reporters this spring, “but at the same time, we respect each other. It’s definitely a healthy competition.”
Each knows what the other guys brings to the table. And each knows what he must do to win the job and run the show. One specific ask Patterson passed along: He needs a guy who can fling the deep ball the way Boykin did. That’s crucial for the Frogs’ offense.
“That means they need to work on it more,” he said. “Summer is a great time to do that.”
And just like two years ago, when TCU found the QB it needed to win a Big 12 title, August is a great time to make the big decision.
“The guy who the offense plays best with in scrimmages,” Patterson said, “will be the guy who ends up being the starter.”