CU Buffs opponent preview: TCU aims to prove 2022 wasn’t a fluke

Prior to last year, his first at TCU, Sonny Dykes had enough of a track record as a head coach to show a pattern.

Dykes’ first three head coaching stops included a not-so-good first year, followed by success in later years. Last year, Dykes broke out of that pattern in a big way. Taking over what had been a mediocre TCU program, Dykes stunned everybody by leading the Horned Frogs to the national title game.

The Horned Frogs went 13-2, tying a school record for wins and becoming the first Big 12 team to win a College Football Playoff game. Despite a narrow loss to Baylor in the Big 12 title game, they reached the CFP semifinals and knocked off Michigan before getting blown out by Georgia, 65-7, in the title game.

This summer, BuffZone will preview each of Colorado’s opponents for the 2023 season and in this first installment, we look at TCU. On Sept. 2, the Buffs will visit the Horned Frogs, who are trying to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.

“The transition for Sonny Dykes from having zero expectations and no one shining a spotlight (before last year) to now being one of the teams that’s in the brightest of spotlights is going to be interesting to see how he handles that,” said Melissa Triebwasser, TCU beat writer for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. “He’s had good teams. He’s never had a team that contended nationally like he did in his first year at TCU. The fan base, they don’t expect necessarily a playoff berth, but if you aren’t in the mix for a Big 12 championship in late November, people are gonna start talking.”

It’s unrealistic to expect TCU to duplicate last year. Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan is gone after quarterbacking to the Frogs to several magic wins. He was one of eight TCU players taken in the NFL Draft this spring.

CU is likely to see a familiar face at quarterback, however. Chandler Morris won the starting job out of camp last year and played the first three quarters of a 38-13 rout of the Buffs before an injury sidelined him and opened the door for Duggan. Behind him is former Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan.

“It looks like this is going to be Chandler Morris’ job to lose and barring injury I don’t anticipate anything happening in fall camp to keep him from being QB1 when they face off with Colorado in early September,” Triebwasser said.

Chances are the Frogs will still score plenty of points. They averaged 38.8 points per game last year (ninth nationally) and may not hit that number, but Dykes’ teams have scored at least 30 points a game 10 times – all but his first seasons at California and Louisiana Tech.

Defensively, TCU ranked 89th nationally in points allowed (29.0 per game) and 94th in yards allowed (408.2 per game) and certainly got exposed against Georgia. It was a group, however, that played well late in the regular season.

“They weren’t elite, lock-down, but they were incredibility opportunistic once they got comfortable in (coordinator Joe Gillespie’s) system,” Triebwasser said.

Seven starters are back on defense and the Frogs added some talent through the transfer portal.

While few are projecting a return to the CFP, TCU still has a team capable of contending for the Big 12 title.

“When you’re kind of a Cinderella story like we were last year, you get labeled that,” Dykes told The Athletic in the spring. “You don’t want to be a Cinderella team. You want to be a legitimate program.”

TCU Horned Frogs

Head coach: Sonny Dykes, 2nd season (13-2; 84-65 career)

2022 season: 13-2, 9-0 Big 12

Series with CU: TCU leads 1-0

The Game

Who: Colorado Buffaloes at TCU Horned Frogs

When: Saturday, Sept. 2, 10 a.m. MT (TV: FOX)

Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas

5 Guys to Watch

• RB Emani Bailey: Finished fourth on the team in rushing last year, but is the Horned Frogs’ top returning running back. Totaled 250 yards on the ground and led the Big 12 with 8.1 yards per carry. He will battle with Alabama transfer Trey Sanders for the starting role.

• LB Johnny Hodges: A year ago, he transferred in from Navy and was named the Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, as well as earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. He led the Frogs with 87 tackles and added 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

• QB Chandler Morris: He won the job coming out of fall camp last year and started the 2022 season opener at Colorado, completing 13-of-20 passes for 111 yards before leaving with a knee sprain late in the third quarter. He threw just seven passes the rest of the year. Morris is the starter this year and he hopes to finally seize the opportunity full-time.

• CB Josh Newton: Named first-team All-Big 12 a year ago after racking up 35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups. He had 114 yards on his three interception returns and took one back for a touchdown. He played four years at Louisiana-Monroe before transferring to TCU.

• WR JP Richardson: Former Oklahoma State captain transferred to TCU and had a big spring. Expected to be one of the top targets for a revamped receiving corps. As a sophomore at OSU last year, he caught 49 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns.

Good to know

• Fourth-year sophomore quarterback Chandler Morris began his career at Oklahoma before transferring to TCU in 2021. During his collegiate career, he has thrown 108 passes without being picked off. He has completed 65.7% of his passes for 879 yards and four touchdowns.

• Dykes had the same offensive coordinator – Garrett Riley – for three years and two stops before losing Riley to Clemson in the offseason. Kendal Briles takes over the offense after three seasons as the OC at Arkansas. Prior to that, Briles was the OC at Florida State (2019), Houston (2018), Florida Atlantic (2017) and Baylor (2015-16).

• Guard Willis Patrick played last season at Jackson State, where he played for new CU head coach Deion Sanders and with several JSU players now in Boulder.

• Former Colorado safety Mark Perry finished second on the TCU defense with 84 tackles last season. Perry played three years at CU before transferring after the 2021 season. Perry will be a fifth-year senior for TCU this year.

• Six of TCU’s 13 wins in 2022 came by one score (eight points or less). Three others were 10-point wins.

• TCU had eight players selected in the NFL Draft this spring, the fourth-most in the country, behind Alabama (10), Georgia (10) and Michigan (nine). It was the most TCU players selected in one year since 1957 – when there were 30 rounds in the draft.

• This season, TCU will play each of its first five games in Texas, with four games at home and a road trip to Houston. The Horned Frogs will leave the state just three times in the regular season, including a short trip to Norman, Okla., located just three hours from Fort Worth.

• In recent years, CU has played twice in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio (2016 and 2020), but the Buffaloes have not played a regular season game in Texas since Oct. 10, 2009, when they visited Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns. CU hasn’t played a game in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since the 2001 Big 12 title game in Irving.

Portal movement

The Horned Frogs have lost 17 players to the transfer portal, but didn’t lose much production. The most significant losses were receiver Jordan Hudson (to SMU), who caught 14 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns last year; tight end Geor’quarius Spivey (Mississippi State), who caught 11 passes for 136 yards; backup quarterback Sam Jackson (California); and cornerback Keeyon Stewart (Arkansas), a key backup last year. TCU re-loaded through the portal, though, with 13 additions. Most notably, they added four receivers, including JP Richardson (Oklahoma State) and JoJo Earle (Alabama); and three offensive linemen, all of which could start. Running back Trey Sanders (Alabama), defensive lineman Tico Brown (Missouri State) and cornerback Avery Helm (Florida) could also make a significant impact right away.

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