Better know a nonconference opponent: TCU

SEC fans, how much do you know about some of your nonconference opponents? If you haven’t studied up yet, we’re doing a series this week that will look at some of the marquee nonconference games involving SEC teams in 2016 and the opponents that they will face.

Next up is TCU, who has an early showdown with Arkansas.

Opponent: Arkansas.

Date of matchup: Saturday, Sept. 10.

Star players: DE Josh Carraway, LB Travin Howard, DB Denzel Johnson.

Offseason storyline: Life after Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson begins. Honestly, the Horned Frogs lost more than just those two – they also lost their leading rusher, Aaron Green; safety Derrick Kindred, who led the team in interceptions; as well as two all-conference offensive linemen and one all-conference defensive lineman, among others – but Boykin and Doctson were the one-two punch few teams could match. Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer are battling for the starting quarterback job; if Hill, a former Texas A&M quarterback, wins, it’ll be interesting. Hill experienced some highs as a starter for the Aggies – including leading them to an overtime win over Arkansas – before he was benched midway through 2014 and ultimately transferred to TCU.

With turmoil at Baylor clouding the picture for the Bears, TCU might be the next-best bet to challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown. TCU's Gary Patterson, a veteran coach who has won consistently in Fort Worth, knows how to get the most out of his team, as last year’s 11-2 record showed despite the team being hit with numerous key injuries. The benefit from going through such a season is it increased the depth for 2016; a lot of faces forced into action in 2015 gained some valuable experience.

Defensively, the Horned Frogs have seven starters back, led by Carraway (nine sacks, third in the Big 12 in 2015), Howard (team-high 105 tackles) and Johnson (13.5 tackles for loss). The starting experience returning on offense is a little thinner, but the quarterback will have some intriguing options to throw to, like diminutive but quick receiver KaVontae Turpin and transfers John Diarse (via LSU), Ryan Parker (via juco) and Taj Williams (via juco) who could be instant-impact additions. Add them to Turpin and Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart – all three of whom contributed as freshmen – and you have a corps that could develop into a good one despite losing Doctson and Kolby Listenbee.

What's at stake for Arkansas? Getting off to a better start than Arkansas did in 2015 (1-3 in September) is important. This is Bret Bielema’s fourth season and the Razorbacks are making steady improvements but enter their first season post-Brandon Allen and post-Alex Collins, both of whom helped engineer a productive offense. A win against a quality nonconference opponent like TCU would be a huge confidence boost for new starting quarterback Austin Allen.

That said, a loss here is not devastating. TCU is a good team, this is a road game for the Hogs and since it’s a nonconference game, it has no bearing on Arkansas’ ability to challenge for the SEC West title, which is what the program continues to work toward. If anything, this game could serve as a good barometer to indicate whether the Hogs (a) need some work and development as they try to replenish the production void left by Brandon Allen, Collins, Hunter Henry and three starting offensive linemen or (b) are to the point where they won’t miss a beat from those losses and declare that they’re ready to be taken seriously as contenders in the division.

Looking at the schedule, a win over TCU could set the stage for a potential 5-0 Arkansas start ahead of its home game against Alabama on Oct. 8. A loss probably means fans should temper expectations for this group, and that it’s probably another year away from making a division title legitimate run.

Also, this is an additional game in the state of Texas (Arkansas plays Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington) and it’s a way for Bielema’s program to continue to further its brand to Lone Star State recruits, something he definitely wants to continue doing.