FORT WORTH, Texas -- Casey Pachall will attract more attention than anyone on the TCU roster, whether he starts Saturday night at quarterback or not in the season opener against LSU. The primetime game at Cowboys Stadium presents an ideal opportunity for the wayward quarterback to rewrite his story.
Pachall left school after four games a year ago to receive substance abuse treatment, then was allowed to return. He is a terrific passer who sees the field well and avoids mistakes, which the Horned Frogs made far too often last season when they committed 29 turnovers. Expect Pachall to start over Trevone Boykin, although coach Gary Patterson will not officially name a starter until game time.
"I think both of them can win games," said Patterson, who named both quarterbacks as captains going into the LSU game.
Patterson is 77-13 at TCU and raised the program to new levels. But last season, a 7-6 drop in the Horned Frogs' first year in the Big 12, hit Patterson where it hurt. There were off-field issues, including Pachall's departure from the team, and new challenges. Patterson said it's those evolving targets that keep his juices flowing.
Entering Saturday night, Patterson plans to keep his own team and LSU coaches guessing about who'll be behind center when the TCU offense trots onto the turf at newly christened AT&T Stadium.
"We really feel like we have a third (quarterback) ... Tyler (Matthews) has played unbelievable. He's vastly improved from a year ago and from the spring. He worked hard this summer on his throwing motion. He got bigger and stronger," Patterson said.
LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers are prepared for almost anything from the TCU offense.
"I think both are athletic and I think both can throw," Miles said. "It's the same offense, it just might be a different skill set. They can both pass, but maybe just a little bit different view of some of the things that they do, that's all."
If Pachall starts as expected, and exhibits the same zip and accuracy on his throws, TCU figures to mount the kind of attack that could challenge for a Big 12 title after returning most of the starters off the league's top defense in 2012.
In addition, the athletic Boykin figures to still be a threat for the Frogs somewhere, since he was moved to running back last year just before Pachall left school. Patterson stressed that the quarterback shouldn't be the player to win or lose any game. Against LSU's talented but remodeled front seven, the focus for Patterson in preparation has been on line play.
"Everybody in the Big 12 has good skill players," the TCU coach said. "Who has the best fronts? Can you run the football? And can the defensive line rush the passer? Everybody has good skill players. Where do you make the difference? It's got to be there, the front people."
Miles isn't sharing any information regarding running back Jeremy Hill, the team's leading returning rusher who was suspended for most of the offseason for violating probation by being involved in a bar fight near campus. Hill avoided jail when a Baton Rouge judge sentenced him to extended probation and community service. Miles immediately reinstated him but has not announced if Hill will be held out of any games, but there are indications that he will be sidelined for at least part of the opener.
TCU could manage quite well up front. The Horned Frogs return three of their four starters along the defensive line, though Devonte Fields, the defensive freshman of the year last season in the Big 12, must miss the first two games serving a disciplinary suspension.
Fields' absence particularly hurts in the opener against SEC stalwart LSU on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
As much as the spotlight will be thrust there on TCU's starting quarterback, Patterson knows that his defense must sparkle by holding opponents to field goals rather than touchdowns.
"If we would have done that it two or three ballgames instead of winning seven games we would have won 10 games," Patterson said. "Less big plays. Tackle better. You've got to stop the run.
TCU PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Casey Pachall will attract more attention than anyone on the TCU roster, whether he starts at quarterback or not in the season opener against LSU. Pachall left school after four games a year ago to receive substance abuse treatment, then was allowed to return. He is a terrific passer who sees the field well and avoids mistakes, which the Horned Frogs made far too often last season when they committed 29 turnovers. Expect Pachall to start over Trevone Boykin, although coach Gary Patterson will not officially name a starter until game time.
--RB Waymon James was lost for the season because of a knee injury he sustained in the second game last season. James was coming off a 875-yard season in 2011. He carried 17 times last year for a 9.9-yard average. James approaches 500 pounds in the bench press and 700 pounds in the squat. B.J. Catalon stepped up as a freshman and gained experience, while Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and incoming recruit Kyle Hicks add depth.
--CB Jason Verrett earned All-American honors last season when he led the Big 12 with six interceptions and 22 breakups, yet is only one of several playmakers in a solid TCU secondary. Verrett considered leaving TCU after struggling in his very first game, yet is now one of the nation's top lockdown corners.
LSU PLAYERS TO WATCH
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Zach Mettenberger was inconsistent as a first-time starter last season, but did play better down the stretch. Cameron, who doubles as quarterbacks coach, has worked with the strong-armed senior on his mechanics, decision-making and accuracy. Miles has praised Mettenberger for how he has adapted to Cameron's call for a faster tempo in practice (leading to more no-huddle plays in games) and more demonstrative leadership. If Mettenberger provides a more consistent and versatile threat from the passing game, the Tigers could have their most difficult-to-defend offense in years.
--RB Alfred Blue emerged from a crowded and talented backfield to be the starter going into last season and seemed poised for a standout year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the third game. He was held out of contact work in the spring, but was full-go in preseason camp. Miles said he looks like the same back he was before the injury and Cameron's affinity for passing to running backs could make Blue an even more important weapon.
--DE Jermauria Rasco was held out of contact work until the third and final preseason scrimmage as a precaution after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Rasco is being counted on to be an impact edge rusher after serving as an understudy to Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before they left for the NFL after last season. Rasco appears to have the ability to be another impact end, but he's taking on far greater responsibility than he's had before.
--MLB D.J. Welter missed all of last regular season while being academically ineligible before returning for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was inserted as the No. 1 middle linebacker in the spring with the security of knowing senior Lamin Barrow could slide over from the weak side if Welter wasn't up to taking the spot last manned by leading tackler Kevin Minter. Barrow has stayed put as Welter had a solid spring and one of the most eye-opening preseason camps. He's not as physical as Minter, but appears to be instinctive and athletic enough to make the plays.
SERIES HISTORY: TCU is 2-5-1 against LSU.
The last meeting was in 1968, a 10-7 defeat for the Horned Frogs. TCU's first postseason appearance resulted in a 3-2 victory over LSU in the 1936 Sugar Bowl. TCU quarterback Sammy Baugh accounted for the longest gain, a 44-yard run.