No team had a more drastic turnaround last year than TCU, which went from 4–8 in 2013 to knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff. With 10 returning offensive starters, including QB Trevone Boykin, the Horned Frogs now have their sights set on busting the door down in 2015.
How the Horned Frogs beat you: There’s no hiding the Horned Frogs’ intent: Let Boykin, a Heisman candidate, spread the field and pick the defense apart, either with his pinpoint accuracy or his fleet feet. It sounds simple—until you’re up against it. Last season, as a junior, Boykin ranked seventh nationally with 58 completions of at least 20 yards (17 of which went to WR Josh Doctson) and finished 10th in the country with 32 rushes of 10 yards or more. “He can move around, he can extend plays,” says offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. “He has done a good job of not just being an athletic guy running around but developing into a pocket quarterback as well.”
How you beat the Horned Frogs: With Boykin behind center and nine returners flanking him, slowing TCU down will be no easy feat. It can, however, be stopped when it matters most. Despite finishing second in the country in points per game (46.5) last season, TCU struggled at times to punch the ball in from the red zone. The team ranked just 65th nationally with a red zone TD rate of 62 percent. Kansas gave up 463 yards in a near upset, but in five red zone attempts, TCU mustered only one touchdown, allowing the Jayhawks to hang around into the fourth quarter.
How the Horned Frogs beat you: As part of the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have topped the conference each season in yards-per-carry defense. In 2014, they allowed just 2.8 yards per run. And they’ve done it with a 4-2-5 scheme, which means they have five defensive backs on the field to also combat the pass. Such a stout run defense often puts opponents in third-and-long, which is why the Horned Frogs also finished second nationally in third-down defense in ’14. TCU lost two key linebackers, including All-American Paul Dawson, but veteran returning defensive tackle Davion Pierson—and coach Gary Patterson’s track record—makes it likely the run defense won’t dip much.
How you beat the Horned Frogs: Despite leading the league in total defense, TCU surrendered 20 plays of 40 yards or more last season—almost more than Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma combined. Given the team’s aggressive approach and commitment to stopping the run, the place to attack TCU is down the field. That’s exactly what Baylor did in its 61-58 comeback win last October, as QB Bryce Petty completed passes of 67, 66 and 47 yards (twice). Even against a prolific passing offense like Baylor’s, TCU isn’t afraid to put its cornerbacks on an island. But that can also make them vulnerable deep.