Can Trevone Boykin come through for the Horned Frogs in 2015?
TCU just missed out on the College Football Playoff last season, and the Horned Frogs are poised for another run at the national championship in 2015. Quarterback Trevone Boykin was one of the most improved players in the nation last year, and there’s no shortage of skill talent in Fort Worth. Defense is coach Gary Patterson’s strong point, but the secondary and linebacking corps are concerns after a few key personnel departures.
Trevone Boykin set eight school records last year in his first full season as a quarterback, throwing for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns and ranking fourth in the nation in total offense. Imagine him with a year of experience in the Air Raid offense installed last season.
He won’t be the only one who can gain from a year of experience. His top receiver, Josh Doctson, set single-season school records for yards and touchdown catches. Kolby Listenbee emerged as a stretch-the-field vertical receiver. Deanté Gray showcased home-run speed out of the slot.
Running back Aaron Green ran for almost 1,000 yards despite not starting until November. Kyle Hicks, a sophomore the Horned Frogs flipped from Texas two years ago, could be primed for heavier action, and former Nebraska four-star running back Shaun Nixon is back from an ACL injury.
Everyone will operate behind an offensive line that returns four starters with 74 starts among them, including third-year starting center Joey Hunt. Right tackle Hala Vaitai will move to the left side, so not all four returners are in the same spots. But the staff believes another offseason of work in the system will yield benefits for everyone.
Patterson has a reputation for enjoying defensive rebuilds. Well, he has one on his hands this time with the loss of both his linebackers, including leading tackler and All-American senior Paul Dawson, and the team leader in interceptions, safety Chris Hackett, who surprised him with an early entry into the NFL Draft.
Linebackers get a lot of responsibility in the 4-2-5, so Patterson emphasized athleticism and awareness with early enrollees Mike Freeze and Alec Dunham.
For the secondary, the Horned Frogs are looking for speed and height at Hackett’s spot, and 6-foot-2 senior Kenny Iloka got the first shot. At cornerback, the Frogs will be young with another early enrollee, four-star Louisiana freshman DeShawn Raymond, but incumbent Ranthony Texada started all 13 games as a freshman a year ago. Patterson may hedge his bet at corner with a look at receivers Gray and Cameron Echols-Luper.
Defensive tackle Davion Pierson, whose 31 starts are the most on the team, leads the unit least affected by graduation. Nebraska transfer Aaron Curry has big-game experience but hasn’t played in a year.
Placekicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry both enter their fourth seasons. Oberkrom, who won the pressure-packed West Virginia road game on a last-second kick, is the nation’s active leader with 58 field goals and third in Big 12 history in percentage made over 40 yards. Perry ranked eighth in the nation with 45.3 percent of his punts downed inside the 20. TCU allowed minus-9 yards in punt returns all year. Echols-Luper returned a punt for a TD at Kansas.
This is a very good team, with experience and playmaking at the offensive skill positions, and a reliable history of defense under Patterson. But the Horned Frogs have their sights set on being more than very good. Last season convinced them they could go undefeated even in the Big 12 and be a playoff team. But first, the Horned Frogs will have to win on the road. They left Texas only twice last season before the bowl game. This year, it will be five times, including a late-season trip to Norman before the final showdown against Baylor. Performing in hostile environments and managing expectations may be the toughest challenges of all.
More from Athlon Sports: