Despite the loss of Big 12 highlight machine Treyvonne Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson, people were giving head coach Gary Patterson the benefit of the doubt. He brought in Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill and many people thought that the team would reload and once again contend for the Big 12 title. Early losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma were close and TCU started 4-2. After that, TCU turned inconsistent. Wins over Kansas (by 1) and Baylor (by 40) were mixed in with losses to WVU (by 24), Texas Tech (by 3), Oklahoma State (by 25) and Kansas State (by 24). In fact TCU’s best win was over “ranked” Baylor who hadn’t done enough to lose their ranking at that point.
Who did they lose?
The short answer is not many. TCU returns 92% of their offense and 77% of their defense from 2016. The biggest losses are along the defensive line where three players graduated: Josh Carraway, Aaron Curry and James McFarland. Carraway, an All Big 12 defender totaled 49 tackles and 5 quarterback hurries last year. Curry led all TCU defensive linemen with 50 tackles and McFarland led all linemen with 4 pass breakups and 6 quarterback hurries.
Who do they return?
The good news for the Horned Frogs is they return basically their entire offense. Quarterback Kenny Hill returns, so does KaVontae Turpin. In fact, 92% of the offense returns from 2016, which is 5th in the nation in returning offensive production. Kenny Hill threw for over 3200 yards and 17 touchdowns in an up and down season at TCU. He also added 600 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. 1,000 yard running back Kyle Hicks returns to pair with Hill in the backfield.
Defensively, Texas Christian “only” returns 77% of last year’s production. Second team All Big 12 safety Nick Orr returns. Orr led TCU with 4 interceptions while adding 86 tackles. Also returning is First Team All Big 12 linebacker Travin Howard. Howard led the Horned Frogs (and Big 12) with 130 tackles, including 72 solo stops. Howard became the first Frog to post back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons since 2003-2004 for Gary Patterson. Howard will pair with Ty Summers, who was second on the team with 121 tackles in 2016.
Why should West Virginia be worried?
All of that returning production generally means a much improved team. TCU was 51st in points allowed per game last year at 26.9 per game. S&P+ projects that their returning defensive production should reduce that to 24.7 points per game. That would have been good for 37th last year right behind West Virginia, who won 10 games. Their returning offensive production should be worth about 3.3 points per game, which would improve their 2016 production of 28.7 to 32 points. 32 PPG would have been 40th last year, the same as Kansas State who won 9 games.
Why should West Virginia not be worried?
College football pundits often have short memories but they tend to lag about 3-4 years behind. Most people still remember TCU as the darlings of the Big 12 thanks to Treyvonne Boykin. Boykin is not here anymore and Kenny Hill has enough data under his belt to produce a trend. Hill is a hot September player and cools off with the weather. HIll’s QBR in September is 142.1 but in October it drops to 124.3. The same thing happened in 2014 when Hill posted a gaudy 183.2 QBR in September while at Texas A&M but saw that drop to 127.5 in October.
Combined with Hill’s reduction in production will be the loss of co-offensive coordinator Doug Meachum. Meachum left to take on the role of OC at Kansas. Meachum, along with Sonny Cumbie, is credited with the resurgence in TCU offense after joining the Big 12.
Key player for TCU
It is going to come down to Kenny Hill. West Virginia has handled the TCU defense well in years past. Kenny Hill will need to be better than his 18/31, 148 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception performance from 2016 in order to beat the Mountaineers. The good news for Hill is that he will have seen Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 scheme before. The bad news is that the game is being played in October, which is when his production tends to drop off.
Key player for West Virginia
Safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White. The best safeties in the Big 12 are going to need to be at their best against Hill and the diverse TCU Air Raid. White and Henry will be the most exerienced players in back-end of the 3-3-5 and will be relied upon to get inexperienced players into position. White and Henry will need to capitalize on any Hill mistake to give West Virginia extra possessions.