Posted: Wed August 14, 2013 11:06AM; Updated: Wed August 14, 2013 11:06AM
Dan Greene
Dan Greene>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Top 25 team preview: No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs

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Defensive end Devonte Fields may be TCU's best player, but he's suspended the first two games of ' 13.
Defensive end Devonte Fields may be TCU's best player, but he's suspended the first two games of ' 13.
John Albright /Icon SMI
TCU's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 31vs. LSU (Arlington)
Sept. 7vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 12at Texas Tech
Sept. 28vs. SMU
Oct. 5at Oklahoma
Oct. 12vs. Kansas
Oct. 19at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26vs. Texas
Nov. 2vs. West Virginia
Nov. 9at Iowa State
Nov. 16at Kansas State
Nov. 30vs. Baylor
Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

The Horned Frogs had a fairly encouraging major conference debut last season, going 4-5 in the Big 12 and 7-6 overall. Even more encouraging for 2013: Three of those losses came by seven points or fewer, and 15 starters return. That total includes nine from a defense that ranked 16th nationally in yards from scrimmage (323.9 per game) and saw a pair of stars emerge in cornerback Jason Verrett (AP third-team All‑America) and defensive end Devonte Fields (10 sacks and a conference-best 18.5 tackles for loss), the lone unanimous preseason all-conference selection. Also back is quarterback Casey Pachall, who in four wins last September threw for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception. But an October arrest for DWI led to a season-ending suspension and substance-abuse rehab. (Pachall, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI, also failed a drug test earlier in 2012.) He must now beat out sophomore Trevone Boykin, who was erratic as a starter last fall.

The case against

Pachall must return to top form for TCU to keep pace in a conference full of high-powered attacks. Also, Fields is suspended for the Frogs' first two games for an unspecified violation of university and team policies.

Schedule analysis

A month after opening against LSU in Arlington, Texas, the Frogs visit Oklahoma State and Oklahoma -- tabbed No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the Big 12's preseason media poll -- making for a brutal first half. A closing date with Baylor could play a huge role in end-of-season bowl-invite jockeying.

Key stat

28.3: TCU's average points per game last season, the third fewest in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs failed to score 20 points in four of their final six games, all losses. TCU also ranked 73rd nationally (and eighth in the conference) in total offense after ranking among the top 30 in the nation in each of the previous four seasons.

Breakout player

LB Marcus Mallet: With the departure of linebacker Kenny Cain, who led the Horned Frogs with 86 tackles in 2012, the 6-foot-1, 227-pound Mallet will be expected to step up. Now a junior, he started twice last fall and made 18 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He turned in his best game against West Virginia, when he made seven tackles in a double-overtime win.

Freshman to watch

RB Kyle Hicks: He may not play right away, but 5-10, 190-pounder represents a future building block for TCU. Hicks originally committed to Texas, but he flipped his pledge to join high school teammate Fields in Fort Worth.

X-factor

The quarterback competition: Patterson's statements that the battle between Pachall and Boykin is even have been taken with generous portions of salt; one beat writer even vowed to cover TCU's opener nude if Pachall is not the team's starting quarterback against LSU. But given the tumult of Pachall's past 18 months, it seems Patterson is wary of handing over the keys to the offense prematurely. When he has played, Pachall has been accurate, completing 66 percent of his attempts over the past two seasons.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Casey Pachall: 2,776 passing yards, 26 TDs; 70 rushing yards, 2 TDs

RB Waymon James: 1,050 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 140 receiving yards

WR Brandon Carter: 950 receiving yards, 9 TDs; 45 rushing yards

Coach speak: Gary Patterson

SI: Between the conference change and the stadium expansion, it's been a busy few years for you.

GP: It's awesome for me getting the stadium done. So finally, for my first spring in about three or four years, I was able to be just a football coach, which is a big difference.

SI: Some have tabbed you as a sleeper for the Big 12 title. What do you make of that shift in perception?

GP: If somebody picks us low, it's my job to prove them wrong. And if somebody picks us high, it's my job to prove them right. I think that's what head coaches' jobs are.

SI: Is the "new" feeling of the conference gone?

GP: At least we have played everybody once. It takes you two years to play them all at your place once, their place once, so your kids get a feel for playing in those stadiums and how you do things. The good thing was, we won four out of five of our conference games on the road. Usually that's a thing that your kids have to learn the most. That's the biggest deal: How do you find a way to win more at home and keep up the same kind of energy you had going on the road and playing?

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