Why TCU can win the playoff: High-octane offense also boasts experience
EDITOR'S NOTE: FOX Sports college football columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman think a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy this season. This week, they'll make a case for each of those squads.
TCU HORNED FROGS
1. What we like: If not for a blown 21-point fourth quarter lead against Baylor, TCU may well have won last year's playoff. The Frogs looked as powerful as anyone not named Ohio State come postseason, throttling a top-10 Ole Miss team 42-3 in the Peach Bowl. A year later, TCU somehow returns 10 starters, including Heisman frontrunner Trevone Boykin, from the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (46.5 points per game). With 98 combined starts among their offensive linemen, skilled receivers like Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, and veteran tailback Aaron Green, the Horned Frogs' offense should be prolific yet again.
But Gary Patterson's team also bucks the Air Raid norm in its ability to win with defense. TCU finished sixth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.66) and 13th in sacks (39). The Frogs present a dubious challenge for opponents. The only way to beat them may be in a shootout, but Baylor was the lone team last year that proved capable of doing it.
2. What concerns us: TCU lost several of its most distinguished members of last year's defense, most notably safety Sam Carter, linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, and cornerback Kevin White. Free safety Chris Hackett also turned pro. Patterson has a long history of successfully reloading on defense, but this is the Big 12, not the Mountain West or Conference USA, and even a slight drop-off could leave the Horned Frogs exposed on the inevitable two or three Saturdays when their offense isn't clicking.
There's also the elephant TCU fans won't dare consider: What if Boykin gets hurt? The Frogs' unexpected rise from 4-8 in 2013 to 12-1 in '14 correlated directly with the former receiver's dramatic transformation and mastery of co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie's offense. TCU's national championship hopes in '15 rest heavily on Boykin's shoulders.
3. What would the committee think? Obviously, TCU has reason for caution after last year's experience, when it inexplicably fell from No. 3 in the penultimate rankings to No. 6 in the only set that mattered, despite winning its final game 55-3. But a perfect storm of circumstances collided to exclude the 11-1 Big 12 co-champs from the field. A similar performance this year would likely be good enough — provided it does not tie for first again with a team it lost to.
TCU opens at Minnesota, a respectable non-conference foe it vanquished last season. The Big 12 should once again provide at least two or three ranked opponents. And this year's Baylor clash comes Nov. 27 in Forth Worth.