After 23 wins the previous two seasons, TCU fell hard in 2016, winning just six games — their second-lowest total in five Big 12 seasons.
While four of their seven losses came by eight points or fewer — including two three-point double-overtime defeats — they also lost three games by at least 24 points and their offense failed to top 10 points three times. A minus-four turnover margin (90th nationally) played a major role in their disappointing season.
Head Coach: Gary Patterson (18th year, 149-54 overall)
Last year marked the third time in Gary Patterson's career that he suffered a win decline of at least four wins from the year before.
The first time resulted in an immediate rebound from five victories to 11 (2004 to 2005). The second time, he didn't engineer the one-year turnaround — 11 wins in 2011 to seven in 2012 and four in 2013 — but he did lead a two-year turnaround, delivering a 12-win season and flirtation with the College Football Playoff in 2014.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Kenny Hill, RB Kyle Hicks, WR Taj Williams, WR John Diarse, WR KaVontae Turpin, WR Shaun Nixon, OT Joseph Noteboom, G Matt Prior, C Austin Schlottman
The most shocking move of TCU's offseason came when co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham voluntarily left for the coordinator post at Kansas, leaving behind the comfy confines of a perennial winner for a program stuck in one of the worst offensive ruts in college football history. Running backs coach Curtis Luper now joins Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators.
And the pair will have a lot to work with, namely senior quarterback Kenny Hill. Don't let Hill's pedestrian stats — 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions — fool you; the Texas A&M transfer had a solid year that was hurt by countless drops and other mistakes by his receivers.
And those mistakes carried into the spring, when the offense routinely struggled.
“We’ve got to catch the ball a lot better if we’re going to win any ballgames,” Patterson said after the spring game. “As I say, you can’t just blame it on quarterbacks.
Most of those receivers are back and they'll work in the same high-volume air raid offense despite the departure of Meacham. However, no receiver caught more than 40 passes last year, with Taj Williams leading the group with 39 — running back Kyle Hicks (47) had the most receptions on the team. Speed demon Kavonte Turpin returns from injury and is also one of the best return men in the nation. And Shaun Nixon, who missed all of 2016 with an injury, will take most of his snaps as at receiver but he's a capable runner that allows TCU to use two-back flexibility.
Hicks represents the other half of the two-back attack. Nixon's injury set the stage for Hicks' monster junior season. The all-purpose back had 14 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 total yards.
DT Chris Bradley, DE Mat Boesen, LB Travin Howard, LB Ty Summers, CB Ranthony Texada, S Nick Orr, S Niko Small
After allowing 40 or more points in three of their first five games — including 41 against South Dakota State — TCU's defense tightened, not yielding more than 34 the rest of the season. They held Texas Tech to 27 in an overtime loss in late October.
Neither Travin Howard (below) nor Ty Summers are flashy playmakers at linebacker but they're reliable tackling machines, combining for 251 tackles last year.
“If we asked Travin to go play noseguard today, he’d step in there and go play nose guard the best he could and wouldn’t have a question about it,” defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow said in December.
The defensive line is getting retooled following the departures of their primary pass rushers, but they still return Chris Bradley, a slightly undersized (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) but strong and quick defensive tackle, and end Mat Boesen. Boesen had eight tackles for loss and five sacks in his first season after transferring from Boise State in 2015.
The secondary is plastered with experience, led by three upperclassmen in Niko Small, Nick Orr and Ranthony Texada. At 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, Small might be just that — small — for his safety position, but he's a good tackler and will pop the stuffing out of big receivers. All three players have earned the praises of the staff this offseason.
“You can tell he’s more mature,” Patterson said of the senior Texada. “He’s stronger. He understands what’s going on. Sometimes when you have to sit out, you learn those kind of things. It helps you in some ways.”
Notable Player Losses
DT Aaron Curry, DE Josh Carraway, S Denzel Johnson
The Frogs' three biggest losses came on defense with the departures of seniors Aaron Curry, Josh Carraway and Denzel Johnson.
The most disruptive players on a unit that ranked second in the Big 12 in yards allowed (425 per game), the trio combined for 31 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. No other player had more than eight tackles for loss. Johnson also ranked third on the team with six defended passes.
Notable Player Additions
QB Shawn Robinson, DE Ben Banogu, DE Isaiah Chambers, DE Ross Blacklock
Very few new faces appeared on TCU's post-spring depth chart — at least outside the defensive line.
The most notable addition is UL-Monroe transfer Ben Banogu, a junior end from McKinney, Texas, who recorded five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 13 starts for the Warhawks in 2015. He and redshirt freshmen Isaiah Chambers and Ross Blacklock will make an immediate impact.
Also, four-star dual-threat quarterback Shawn Robinson is their long-term replacement for Kenny Hill. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from DeSoto is an electrifying talent that will take over in 2018.
TCU and Arkansas will play the second half of their home-and-home series in Fayetteville on Sept. 9. The Razorbacks won a thriller — the old Southwest Conference rivals' first meeting since 1991 — last year, 41-38. A week later they host Courtland Sutton and a much-improved SMU team to finish the non-conference slate.
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