Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 Retrospective

The season is now relegated to the past tense; the Frogs have put up their pads and helmets. Before turning our attention to the next contests, the Wimple offers this perusal of the '08 season.

In April, the Wimple correctly fingered Oklahoma and Utah as the toughest matches for the Frogs; both proved the only red marks on an otherwise remarkable season-- and the latter only by the rottenest luck of all. The Frogs' defense racked up the best ranking in the nation, and the offense improved substantially over its '07 incarnation, setting a new school record for points. The complete package garnered TCU's highest AP final ranking in generations: 7th.

But at Oklahoma and Utah, points were not plentiful. Turnovers proved the culprit in Norman, and in Utah, a more general offensive malaise. While Joe Turner's tough running was absent in Salt Lake City, the Wimple wonders why Luke Shivers or Chris Smith was not tasked to tote the rock near the endzone in that fateful fourth quarter. Shivers performed that very deed admirably at other times this season; Smith was infrequently entrusted with the same.

Gary Patterson often credited superior senior leadership when asked to point out the source of this team's success. The rollcall of those seniors is a list of fantastic Frogs indeed: Matt Panfil, Giles Montgomery, James Vess, Cody Moore, Walter Bryant, Blake Schlueter, Justin Watts, and of course the more lauded Phillips, Henson, Coleman, Hodge, Brown, etc. Replacing these leaders will be a primary concern in 2009-- but that's fodder for a future post.

This year's Frogs went a long way toward pushing TCU into the top of the conference. Plainly Utah was destined for a higher position, but the Frogs are at least as likely as the Utes to move upward next season. This is a tremendous legacy for the '08 team, and if the '09 team lives up to its potential, its more remarkable story must begin with this year's successes.

Last, while generally occuring under the surface, the 2008 recruiting by TCU's coaches and players may prove to be their greatest legacy of all. Even ESPN is noticing. The future Frogs ($) that will sign on February 4 (some of whom are already enrolled) are substantially more talented than any previous class since the bad old days when TCU paid for bluechip recruits, and then paid for those payments with the walking death penalty.

Looking now to the Mountain West, the conference had a banner year. Troy Calhoun far exceeded my expectations with his very young squad at Air Force; Steve Fairchild made remarkable hay with his CSU Rams, as did Mike Sanford at UNLV, and of course Kyle Whittingham at Utah. The MWC both assembled a great pile of football capital, and cashed in on it in grandest style, with Utah's riveting crushing of Alabama in New Orleans, and to a lesser extent, TCU's and CSU's beating WAC teams in bowls. Wyoming and San Diego State disappointed-- the latter all the more when it fired Chuck Long, whose successor will reap the rewards of Long's very good work with the Aztec program.

In sum, the conference continues its rise. In 2008, it not only firmly planted itself as the best of the non-cartel conferences, but spent a year in considerably better limelight than the Big East, and even the ACC for stretches.

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