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Team countdown: No. 22 TCU

TCU coach Gary Patterson said during the Big 12 Media Days event that his players "understand how to win." Now, they have to do it consistently on a bigger stage.

TCU, which is 36-3 in the past three seasons, has moved from the Mountain West to the Big 12. The Horned Frogs have played in two BCS games in the past three seasons, including a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin after the 2010 season. But getting to the BCS out of the Big 12 is going to be vastly more difficult.

This season's team looks strong offensively, but the defense has some issues, which is somewhat surprising for a program that made its reputation on shutting down opponents.

The particulars

Last season: 11-3 overall, 8-0 in Mountain West (1st in league)
Coach: Gary Patterson (109-30, 12th season)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (4) – WR Josh Boyce, G Blaize Foltz, C James Fry, QB Casey Pachall. Defense (5) – LB Kenny Cain, E Ross Forrest, T David Johnson, E Stansly Maponga, CB Jason Verrett. Special teams (0) – None.
Fast fact: TCU has won 119 games this century; that is sixth-most nationally and second-most in its state, four behind Texas.

[Related: Penn State faced four-year "death penalty"" had it not agreed to sanctions]

Offense

For all the talk about how TCU wins with defense, the Horned Frogs have had a high-powered offense of late. One aspect worth watching: Co-coordinator Justin Fuente, who called the plays, left to become coach at Memphis. Jarrett Anderson will call plays this season; he is the running backs coach and had been co-coordinator with Fuente.

A huge plus for Anderson is the return of QB Casey Pachall, an athletic junior who played at a high level last season, his first as the starter. He threw for 2,921 yards and 25 TDs last season, and set school single-season records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and passing yards. In a league known for prolific quarterbacks, Pachall will fit right in.

There's a deep group at tailback, headed by Matthew Tucker and Waymon James. They combined for 1,577 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Senior Aundre Dean, who began his career at UCLA, is a solid third option.

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Josh Boyce is a deep threat who averaged 16.4 yards per catch last season. (AP)

Junior WR Josh Boyce will be one of the best in the nation at his position. He is heading into his third season as a starter and had 61 catches for 998 yards (16.4 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns last season; he was 2 yards shy of becoming the second 1,000-yard receiver in school history. Boyce played high school ball with former Baylor QB Robert Griffin. Senior Skye Dawson and sophomore Brandon Carter should be effective complements, and hopes are high that redshirt freshman LaDarius Brown can produce, too. Brown, a former four-star recruit, is both big (6 feet 4/220 pounds) and fast.

The line generally has been a strength, but there is some concern this fall. Senior G Blaize Foltz was an All-Mountain West performer last season and should be one of the best at his position in the Big 12. Senior C James Fry is the other returning starter. Foltz and Fry were reserves as redshirt freshmen and sophomores, then became starters as juniors. That is the same track for G James Wooldridge, who has a high ceiling as a run blocker. The new starting tackles are expected to be junior James Dunbar and sophomore Tayo Fabuluje. Dunbar was a mild disappointment last season as a reserve, but has a ton of potential. Fabuluje was born in Nigeria and went to high school in the Dallas area; he originally signed with BYU but transferred after his freshman season in 2010. Depth is iffy at tackle.

Defense

TCU wasn't its usual stout self on defense last season, ranking 32nd nationally after allowing 347.4 yards per game. It was the first time since 2004 that TCU didn't rank in the top 25 in total defense and the first time since 2007 that the Horned Frogs didn't lead the nation in the category.

Bear in mind the recent defensive numbers have been molded in games against Mountain West and Conference USA opponents; the caliber of opposing offenses obviously climbs this season.

TCU uses a 4-2-5 set. New Big 12 rival Texas Tech used that scheme with disastrous effects last season with former TCU safeties coach Chad Glasgow as coordinator. The Red Raiders fired Glasgow (now back at TCU) and scrapped the 4-2-5, but Patterson professes not to be worried. When it was pointed out to him at Big 12 Media Days how the 4-2-5 scheme failed miserably in Lubbock, Patterson smiled and noted that the personnel was different and that he had not been calling the shots with the Red Raiders' defense.

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Stansly Maponga's pass-rush skills will come in handy in the Big 12. (TCU)

The front six looks to be in good shape. E Stansly Maponga had nine sacks last season and should be a big-time threat to every league quarterback. The other end is steady Ross Forrest, who is solid against the run. Touted true freshman Devonte Fields likely will get into the mix at end.

Starting T David Johnson returns. The other starting tackle was supposed to be D.J. Yendrey, but he was one of three projected defensive starters thrown off the team in February after a drug arrest (he was sentenced to probation earlier this month). Sophomores Jon Lewis and Chuck Hunter will vie for his old spot.

Kenny Cain, who led the team with 72 tackles last season, returns at linebacker. Cain was a high school running back at powerhouse River Ridge (La.) John Curtis and has good speed. His running mate was to have been Tanner Brock, but Brock was another one of the booted players (he also was given probation). Sophomore Deryck Gildon, who played a lot last season as a true freshman, was next in line, but he left the team in May for academic reasons. Sophomore Joel Hasley, who had a good spring, now is the likely starter; he made nine tackles last season. There is no proven depth at linebacker.

CB Jason Verrett is the lone returning starter in the secondary. S Devin Johnson would have joined him as a returning starter, but he was another one of the players removed from the team in February (his case remains pending). Verrett is talented and has good speed. The other corner spot should go to sophomore Kevin White, who made three starts last season as a redshirt freshman. The backups are untested but athletic.

TCU starts three safeties, and in a league as pass-happy as the Big 12, that trio is going to be busy. Sophomore Jonathan Anderson looks like a future star; he has excellent size (6-3/208) and a knack for big plays. Sophomore Sam Carter, junior Elisha Olabode and redshirt freshman Chris Hackett are the leading contenders for the other two spots. Hackett had 12 interceptions and four forced fumbles as a high school senior at Tyler (Texas) John Tyler. Carter, a high school quarterback, made one start last season as a redshirt freshman.

[Related: Steve Henson: Matt Barkley's commitment to USC can give Penn State hope]

Special teams

TCU needs a new kicker and a new punter; the players who left had been four-year starters.

The new kicker likely will be true freshman Jaden Oberkrom, who nailed a 60-yard field goal in high school. The punter should be true freshman Ethan Perry, considered one of the nation's top five prep punters last season, or senior Cale Patterson, who hasn't seen game action since signing in 2008.

Brandon Carter is a solid punt returner, and James has the potential to be an excellent kick returner.

The coverage units were adequate last season; they need to be better than that this fall.

Schedule

The schedule is backloaded for the Horned Frogs, who have road games against Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas and home matchups with Kansas State and Oklahoma as their final five games.

Things are easier in the first half of the season. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Horned Frogs start 7-0, though there are games against Virginia (home) and SMU (road) in September and Baylor (road) and Texas Tech (home) in October.

Overview

This doesn't have the appearance of a truly elite TCU team, but this remains a talented group, especially at the offensive skill positions.

It will be interesting to see how Pachall performs with a new play-caller and how Patterson tries to ease the pressure on the rebuilt secondary.

TCU has too many questions to think it can win the Big 12 in its first season, but this team should finish in the top half of the league. This looks like an eight- or nine-win team, though the back part of the schedule looks incredibly daunting.

The recruiting side

Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 50th nationally
The buzz: Patterson made his name in recruiting circles by finding lesser-known talent from Texas and coaching them up to become all-conference and All-America players. The Horned Frogs have gotten away from that approach in recent years as they battled the likes of Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma for top-ranked recruits. But they have returned to form a bit with the class of 2013. Local players such as Bryson Burtnett, Sammy Douglas and Joseph Noteboom were lightly recruited before committing to TCU. – Brian Perroni, Rivals.com

For more on TCU throughout the season, check out PurpleMenace.com

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