Capping the preseason at The Purple Wimple are the TCU Horned Frogs-- and not just because the Wimple is unabashedly biased, but because TCU has the MWC's best chances of running the table and carrying the conference's banner in the post-season. The reasons for excitement about the '09 Frogs are legion.
First, and foremost: few cartel-outsider teams have fielded more talent, experience, and as high a pre-season ranking as have this season's Frogs. (Perhaps only '09 Boise State and '08 BYU are/were similarly situated.) Second, TCU's schedule is pretty good. No Thursday night road games following shortly after a season-defining out-of-conference game; in fact, no weeknight games at all, for the first time in... in over a decade.
Third, east-coast media. The MWC has been an afterthought for the dominant media, in large part because those NY-based chatterers rarely get a chance to see the conference's teams play. When they do, the results have been very nice. Case in point: TCU v. BYU last season, on Thursday, televised on Versus. TCU, unranked going into the game, leveraged that win to a 15th place in the following week's polls. Case in point: Utah approached the Sugar Bowl a heavy underdog, and rode their victory to a 2nd place finish to the season. Thus the importance of TCU's games at Virginia and at Clemson.
Looking more closely at the Frogs, the good news begins in the trenches. On offense, TCU returns the conference's most dominant pair of tackles and more talent at guard than ever in recent memory. (pictured: LT Marshall Newhouse) Very good words have filtered out of camp about the performance of new starter Jake Kirkpatrick at center. On defense, the stand-out performances of the three juniors at DT and RE have quelled fears that the Frogs may not have the horses up front to spread pressure away from all-world DE Jerry Hughes.
Other notable replacements for departed senior stars appear to be performing very well as new starters, Tank Carder and Daryl Washington at LB being most notable. The only question remaining for which Frog fans may yet have reason to grumble is at strong safety, where Colin Jones, Jurrell Thompson, and Malcolm Williams are competing.
TCU replaced its offensive coordinator, promoting two assistants, and brought in Rusty Burns to coach the WRs. These changes herald a higher emphasis on the passing game, for which the Frogs have the personnel to put on a real air show. Junior QB Andy Dalton, starts his third season, working behind the best line he's ever had. He will spread the ball to the conference's deepest corps of wideouts and tight ends. (pictured: WR, KR Jeremy Kerley)
On the ground, Gary Patterson took great pains to stock the proverbial cupboard against the possibility of repeating TCU's dismal showing in the redzone last year against Utah. Joe Turner returns at RB, this season trailed on the three-deep by at least two eye-popping performers in Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. Waiting in the wings are three (yes, three!) game-changing runningbacks, who either will redshirt or sit out for the mandatory transfer year.
Has this coin a flip side? Yes.
When TCU travels to Provo in October, it will take along a over-four-year long losing streak in the state of Utah. The Wimple believes this is a symptom of the Frogs' inability to carry sufficient intensity on the road to overmatch their foes. In conference games, this problem is nearly extinct; in non-conference games it usually doesn't manifest because TCU's OOC opponents tend to be either sugerpuffs or media darlings against which CGP has stoked the underdog mentality very successfully. TCU's success in the fight for the conference title, and as a BCS buster, depends, then, on how much intensity the Frogs muster while travelling. For sure BYU will be red-hot for its tilt with TCU; Air Force may be flying high as well when the Frogs come calling. These are traps into which TCU has never avoided falling for an entire season, at least not since the leather-helmet era. Witness: Utah '08, SMU '05, Southern Miss '03, San Jose State '00.
This year, however, there's simply no excuse. TCU at least matches its opponents man for man in terms of talent and experience. In most cases, it bests them. This is the season where only one loss will feel like too many; where perfection is an attainable goal (apologies to BYU for reminding it of its ill-fated quest; and to TCU for perhaps cursing it with such a description!) If Gary Patterson rouses his team's competitive fires to the uttermost for hostile crowds, TCU will enjoy the most successful season of any MWC team in the conference's short history.