PROVO — Based on what TCU's football program has accomplished in recent years, it shouldn't have been surprising that when the Big 12 was looking for a team to replace Texas A&M, it selected the Horned Frogs.
TCU, which earned a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin last January to cap a perfect season, has earned national respect with three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a final No. 2 ranking last year.
But as the Frogs (5-2) prepare for their inaugural campaign in the Big 12 next fall, they have already lost more games this season than they did in the two previous years combined. They experienced a couple of high-scoring losses to in-state rivals Baylor and Southern Methodist — which was highly unusual for a program that was rated No. 1 in total defense from 2008-2010.
TCU fell to Baylor in the season-opener, 50-38, in a thriller televised on ESPN. On Friday (6 p.m., MT, ESPN), the Frogs face former Mountain West Conference rival BYU on national television with a chance to redeem itself.
"We didn't play very well the first time out against Baylor," said coach Gary Patterson. "We're trying to get back to the national scene to prove to people we can play a little bit better than that. BYU's trying to get the same thing done, working themselves back into a great season. It should be a great match."
In two weeks, the Frogs will meet No. 5 Boise State on the road.
Nobody expected TCU to be as dominant this year after losing several key players to the NFL — most notably quarterback Andy Dalton, who was a four-year starter and the winningest quarterback in school history.
But BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn't see much difference in this squad and the ones that have outscored his teams 101-17 the past three seasons. He sees an opponent that has an abundance of speed and athleticism.
The Cougars have played other fast teams this year, like Ole Miss, Texas and Central Florida, Mendenhall said, but TCU presents other problems besides speed.
"This offensive approach is different and it's difficult," he said. "We'll put that message across to our players that it's a difficult challenge and it is done with fast and physical players that's going to require a high level of preparation."
"They do have a lot of good athletes," said BYU linebacker Jameson Frazier. "We've played a lot of fast teams besides TCU. It's a matter of us being able to prepare well enough for them. Our coaches have put in a lot of work already to game plan them so they'll get us ready."
Overall, Mendenhall is impressed with the Frogs.
"Watching them on both sides of the ball, and their special teams, and they look very good," he said. "The biggest difference is they have a younger quarterback."
Dalton's replacement, Casey Pachall, has enjoyed a solid season, engineering an offense that averages 45 points per game. Pachall has thrown for 1,566 yards and has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. He has 17 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
Once again, TCU boasts a stable of talented running backs in Matthew Tucker, Ed Wesley and Waymon James. The Frogs are No. 18 in the nation in rushing, averaging 217.4 yards per game. Wesley has returned from an early-season shoulder injury and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry in TCU's last three games. Tucker averages five yards per carry and James averages 7.8 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Josh Boyce has caught 38 passes for 604 yards and five touchdowns.
"It's the same offense without a veteran quarterback," Mendenhall said. "They have good running backs, they have a quarterback that throws it well. He doesn't run it quite as well as Dalton. (TCU has) really nice receivers and a good plan. It's just their system, with good players."
Defensively, the Frogs are much less experienced in the secondary, but they are improving.
"I'm not sure you'll notice much difference," Mendenhall said. "They look very good."
TCU pitched a 69-0 shutout last week against New Mexico and allowed just 21 yards passing. Defensive end Stansly Maponga, who has recorded a team-high five sacks, gives the Frogs a consistent pass rush. TCU's defense has held the last two opponents, the Lobos and San Diego State, to less than 100 yards on the ground.
"They're not the same guys on defense (as last year) but they have some of the same pieces, like (All-American linebacker) Tank Carder," said BYU quarterback Riley Nelson. "They're very talented and they recruit well. I imagine they're going to be pretty much on the same level as they have in years past."
Rise of the Frogs
The Horned Frogs have been one of the nation's top programs over the past several years. Here's a look at their records and final rankings since 2005:
Year Record Top 25 Finish (AP)
2005 11-1 No. 11
2006 11-2 No. 22
2007 8-5 —
2008 11-2 No. 7
2009 12-1 No. 6
2010 13-0 No. 2Cougars on the air
vs. TCU (5-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MT
TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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