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15. TCU

T is for Tomlinson, C is for Coach Franchione, U is for ... Undefeated?

By Gene Menez

 
The Book
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Horned Frogs

"They play fast. But we'll play a lot of teams more physical than they are.... The quarterback, Casey Printers, was green as a gourd last year, but he got pretty good. He can beat you a couple of ways. He's got an arm and he's got feet.... Their defense can put pressure on you, especially Aaron Schobel. He can run."

Sports IllustratedThe biggest gathering of Horned Frogs east of Fort Worth has crowded into a swanky steak house in midtown Manhattan. There are Wall Street Frogs, dot.com Frogs and Broadway Frogs -- all dressed in their Sunday best, even though it's just Wednesday. Then there is Gridiron Frog, LaDainian Tomlinson, a mover and a shaker in his own field of endeavor. He's the one with the diamond stud in each earlobe and the gold tooth. He used to have a whole set of gold teeth, but lost the others during last season's Arkansas State game. "Four hundred bucks gone down the drain," he says.

TCU Tomlinson excelled in obscurity in '99. This year he'll feel some of the Heisman heat. 
Greg Campbell/AP
 
On this night Tomlinson is the main attraction for the TCU Tri-State Alumni group's June soirée. "This is not really my kind of thing," the senior running back from Waco says with a straw dangling out of his mouth. "I like to stay low-key, laid-back. I don't like to be the center of attention."

That has not been much of a problem for Tomlinson, given that he plays at TCU, which gets about as much national coverage as it does snow. But a blizzard is in the forecast. Tomlinson is the game's best running back, the nation's leading rusher last year (his 1,850 yards were 16 yards more than Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne's total), holder of the single-game Division I-A rushing record (406 yards last season against Texas-El Paso), the centerpiece of a team that has 11-0 written all over it and, not least, a Heisman hopeful.

Hard as it may be to believe, Tomlinson's production could be even better this fall. All five offensive linemen are returning from last season, and the Frogs face just one team with a defense ranked in the top 50 last season. It also helps that the Frogs have a defense that will get Tomlinson the ball back.

The Frogs are ready to duplicate the exploits of Tulane in '98 and of Marshall in '99: good team, better schedule, undefeated season. The only real stumbling blocks are Fresno State, Hawaii and Rice, all of which TCU faces in Fort Worth. The Frogs have improved to the point that as of July they were having difficulty trying to fill three dates in the 2001 schedule. "We can't get anybody to play us anymore," says coach Dennis Franchione, who was unsuccessful in arranging a 2000 game against Virginia Tech. "A lot of them just say, 'Hey, you guys are getting too good.'"

Issue date: August 14, 2000


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