Yahoo Sports' 2018 Top 25: No. 16 TCU

Yahoo Sports
TCU’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/college-football/players/275124/" data-ylk="slk:Shawn Robinson">Shawn Robinson</a> (R) is set to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2018. He started against Texas Tech in 2017. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson, File)
TCU’s Shawn Robinson (R) is set to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2018. He started against Texas Tech in 2017. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson, File)

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. And yes, it’s a team from the SEC.

Previously: No. 25 South Carolina, No. 24 Utah, No. 23 West Virginia, No. 22 Central Florida, No. 21 Texas, No. 20 USC, No. 19 Florida State, No. 18 Oregon, No. 17 Mississippi State

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No. 16 TCU

2017 record: 11-3 (7-2)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense

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Welcome to the Shawn Robinson era

After a disappointing six-win output in 2016, TCU bounced back with 11 wins in 2017. The Horned Frogs combined for 11 wins in their first two Big 12 seasons. Now the program has won at least 11 games in three of its last four seasons.

Don’t expect TCU to stray from the upper echelon of the conference in 2018, but the season’s potential largely lies on the shoulders of sophomore Shawn Robinson, who is expected to take over as the starting quarterback.

Robinson quickly moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Kenny Hill last fall, and when Hill was injured, he became the first true freshman to start at QB for head coach Gary Patterson.

In limited action, Robinson wasn’t overly impressive as a passer (13/27, 184 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT) but he did well enough — largely thanks to the defense — to beat Texas Tech in his start. He did run the ball well that day, gaining 84 yards on 10 carries.

In Patterson’s eyes, Robinson getting that start under his belt is a big deal, especially in terms of the preparation it takes to be a quarterback in the Big 12. His progression from year one to two will be aided by the talent at skill positions, led by RB Darius Anderson and receivers Jalen Reagor and KaVontae Turpin.

This scoring connection from Robinson-to-Reagor could be a sign of things to come:

TCU’s defense should be the Big 12’s best

TCU had the Big 12’s best defense in 2017. And even though three of its top four tacklers and best corner have departed, it should be the best again.

Patterson’s calling card has always been defense. Even though the Horned Frogs are never among the elite in recruiting rankings, Patterson identifies talent extremely well. Better yet, he develops it. That’s how you can afford to lose Mat Boesen (11.5 sacks) at defensive end, Travin Howard (108 tackles) at linebacker and Ranthony Texada (14 PBU) at corner.

At end, UL-Monroe transfer Ben Banogu is back after winning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year. At linebacker, Ty Summers (271 career tackles) will have Jawuan Johnson, a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois who had 98 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, four sacks and a team-leading five interceptions last fall, joining the mix in Patterson’s 4-2-5 scheme.

The secondary is pretty deep, too, with corners Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis, plus safeties Ridwan Issahaku, Innis Gaines and Niko Small all seeing significant action throughout their careers.

The schedule is tough, but favorable

TCU got a favorable draw with its 2018 conference schedule. The Horned Frogs have five home Big 12 games and four road games, and two of those road games are at Kansas and Baylor, the conference’s two worst teams in 2017. The other two road games — Texas and West Virginia — will be tough.

The Texas game is the Big 12 opener on the heels of a marquee non-conference game vs. Ohio State in Arlington. Provided the Robinson-led Horned Frogs take care of Southern and SMU in Weeks 1 and 2, the Ohio State game could end up being the top game of Week 3, even moreso than USC-Texas and LSU-Auburn.

Impact player: KaVontae Turpin, WR

When Turpin stays on the field, he can be one of the most impactful players in the Big 12. Turpin, a 5-foot-9, 157-pound speedster, dealt with a serious injury in 2016 but bounced back with a team-leading 41 catches, plus two rushing TDs and two return TDs in 2017.

Turpin established himself as a big-play receiver in 2015 with eight touchdowns and 14.4 yards per catch, but had only one score and a 9.6-yard average last fall. But he established career highs in the return game, averaging 30.8 yards on kickoffs and 16.3 yards on punt returns.

With Reagor establishing himself as a go-to target late in the year, there should be more room for Turpin to make big plays on offense.

Game to watch: Oct. 20 vs. Oklahoma

The Horned Frogs got two shots at the Sooners last fall, but lost both times. Neither game was all that close either. In November, OU won 38-20, scoring all of its points in the first half. In the rematch in the Big 12 title game, TCU kept things close in the first half and trailed by just a touchdown at the break. The second half was a different story with the Sooners pitching a shutout in an eventual 41-17 win.

This time with the game in Fort Worth, perhaps the Horned Frogs can exact some revenge.

Best-case scenario

Early-season wins over Ohio State and Texas would put TCU in the College Football Playoff mix. An upset win over Oklahoma would make the Horned Frogs a favorite to supplant the Sooners as Big 12 champions.

Worst-case scenario

If Robinson doesn’t establish a rhythm early in the year, those Ohio State and Texas games could mean a 2-2 start. With Oklahoma, West Virginia and Oklahoma State still on the schedule, the season could end up having four or five losses.

Prediction

We have TCU as the second-best Big 12 team with a 10-win regular season (losses to Ohio State and Oklahoma). The Horned Frogs will keep things close with the Sooners this year, but just don’t have the talent to knock OU off the top of the conference standings.

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