Were the TCU Horned Frogs happy just playing in a BCS game?
Ecstatic would be a better word.
But don't mistake that with satisfied. The Fiesta Bowl trip simply raised the bar, and the expectations, for a program that now has even higher hopes.
"My talk five years ago was getting to a BCS game," head coach Gary Patterson told CBS Sports. "Now my whole talk is getting a chance to play for the national championship."
The journey from Fiesta Bowl defeat to a shot at playing for a national championship starts this spring with a program trying to replace very little in terms of numbers, but plenty in terms of talent.
A pair of expected NFL draftees that anchored TCU's elite defense during the 2009 season -- defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington -- likely can't be replaced, but the defense as a whole isn't anticipating much of a drop off.
Whereas the goal in years past has been to develop the front line players capable of making a BCS run, Patterson has banked several consecutive solid recruiting classes and now has the luxury many top-level programs have. He pretty much knows his starters (16 of 22 return) by spring ball and can focus on establishing the depth needed to endure whatever the season may throw at him.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: TCU for years has hung its hat on a strong defense centered around a pestering pass rush. With the loss of three star defenders -- LB Daryl Washington, CB Rafael Priest and, most damaging to the pass rushing efforts, DE Jerry Hughes -- the focus before the opening game will be trying to find out who, if anyone, can get to the quarterback with any sort of consistency.
While the likely successor, at least in terms of becoming the team's defensive leader, appears destined to be LB Tank Carder, finding a pass rusher will be another question. The reliance on the pass rush may be turned down a notch as there isn't a returning defensive lineman who had more than 2.5 sacks in 2009. Hughes had 11.5.
Nine of 11 starters return on offense and the only real concern is finding a replacement for offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, who, like Hughes and Washington, is expected to be in the NFL Draft. For the most part, the spring will be mostly about repetition and very little about adding many new wrinkles or new faces.
BUILDING BLOCKS: TCU's offense spent much of the 2009 season winning over critics and rebranding the Horned Frogs as a team that had offensive balance to go with its defensive might.
Gary Patterson will still make sure his team has a hard-nosed, pressure-happy defense, but the foundation for the immediate future seems to be QB Andy Dalton, who already has most of the major passing records in the program's history.
Dalton has a pair of running backs -- sophomores Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley -- that should ensure the Horned Frogs' rushing attack (3,114 yards in 2009) won't skip a beat. The pair combined for more than 1,300 rushing yards a year ago.
On defense, LB Tank Carder returns after a breakthrough 2009 season, his first as a starter, in which he had 89 tackles. With Daryl Washington gone to the NFL, the linebacking corps, if not the entire defense, appear to be in Carder's capable hands.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's harder to handle success than it is failure. Will this football team come out with the same hunger? Will it win ballgames? Will it play well on the road?" -- TCU head coach Gary Patterson, as told to CBS Sports.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The stakes are as high as ever for TCU in 2010. A trip to its first BCS bowl game didn't satisfy anyone. It is a doubtful a non-conference schedule that includes Tennessee Tech, Baylor, SMU and Oregon State (to open the 2010 season in Cowboys Stadium) will wow the national voters enough to help the Horned Frogs creep up the BCS rankings. But the team is expected to start the season ranked higher than at any time in recent memory, so a run at the top isn't impossible. There certainly aren't many holes to fill on a team that was setting records on both sides of the ball in 2009.
RB Ethan Grant -- Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley are only sophomores, but TCU used a three-headed running back rotation last season, and there is no reason to think Grant can't join them and be the guy to fill out the committee this season. He averaged 9.4 yards per carry during his senior season of his school.
DB Tavaras Battle-Smith -- It appears the departures of Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders at the cornerback spots will be manned by Jason Teague and Greg McCoy, who both played plenty in the Fiesta Bowl. Still, Battle-Smith is a speedster who can cover well enough to make an impact in 2010 -- if not on special teams, maybe as a nickel-type back.
ATH Curtis Carter -- With TCU looking to build depth rather than find newcomers to fill starting holes, Carter might not make an immediate impact, but it's hard to imagine he won't find his way into the rotation as a return man when senior Jeremy Kerley, one of the nation's best return men, needs a breather or is asked to focus more on offense. Carter's versatility is exactly what TCU seems to like out of all of its skill position players.
--RT Marcus Cannon has received praise throughout the offseason and likely will find his name on some preseason All-American teams. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper ranked Cannon as the nation's third-rated tackle for the 2011 class. Cannon, who also competes in the shot put for the Horned Frogs track-and-field team, is a workout warrior who is a big part of the TCU rushing attack.
--UCLA transfer Aundre Dean, who came to TCU as a running back, has been tossed into a crowded rotation at safety. With head coach Gary Patterson's success at converting running backs into top-notch defenders, Dean has reason for optimism, but being one of five seniors playing the position makes breaking into the starting rotation a tall order.
Previous Report: 04/17/2010