With two straight BCS bowl game appearances and no regular-season losses since 2008, TCU has become a national powerhouse under coach Gary Patterson.
But with sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall takes over for Andy Dalton and half of the Horned Frogs' starters gone from last season's Rose Bowl-winning squad, however, Patterson is unsure of what to expect entering TCU's final season in the Mountain West Conference.
The 14th-ranked Horned Frogs face former Southwest Conference rival Baylor on Friday night when both teams open their seasons in Waco.
After falling to Boise State in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl - its first BCS bowl - a BCS championship game again eluded the two-time defending Mountain West champion Horned Frogs last season. Instead, TCU capped off a 13-0 season on New Year's Day with a 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to finish second in the final poll.
Next season's move to the Big East gives the Horned Frogs a chance to earn an automatic bid into the BCS, but this season's challenges come first.
"I'll be honest with you, it will be an interesting year for us," Patterson said. "Everybody talks about how we lost a lot of seniors. I think, talent-wise, what we have coming back will develop."
The development of Pachall will be key after Dalton left with a school-record 42 wins.
"I feel like he's taken bitty pieces of what Andy has been doing and he's been doing good as well," said junior Skye Dawson, who joins sophomore Josh Boyce and senior Antoine Hicks on the Horned Frogs' receiving corps. "He's definitely been doing a great job on the field."
Pachall should have plenty of help in the backfield with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returning. The trio combined for 2,300 yards and 23 TDs last season.
TCU's defense lost six starters from a unit that led the FBS in yards (228.5) and points (12.0) allowed per game, but linebackers Tank Carder - the Mountain West defensive player of the year - and Tanner Brock return, as do defensive lineman D.J. Yendrey and Stansly Maponga and senior safety Tekerrein Cuba.
Despite making its first bowl game appearance in 16 years last season - a 38-14 loss to Illinois in the Texas Bowl - Baylor needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball after giving up 435.4 yards per game - 104th in the FBS - during its 7-6 campaign.
The addition of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who helped Pittsburgh rank eighth in total defense in 2010, could bring a new attitude to Waco.
"He brings a proven track record to Baylor, and enjoys tremendous respect nationally for his work on the defensive side of the ball," coach Art Briles told the school's official website.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III is starting to earn that same respect after a standout 2010 when he threw for a school-record 3,501 yards.
The junior will likely target junior Kendall Wright, who has a school-record 194 receptions, sophomore Tevin Reese and junior Terrance Williams.
The loss of Jay Finley (1,218 yards and 12 TDs in 2010) to graduation left a gaping hole in the backfield, but senior Terrance Ganaway, sophomore Glasco Martin and freshman B.J. Allen could carry the load.
A matchup with a Horned Frogs team that's won 25 straight regular-season games since a 13-10 loss at then-No. 10 Utah on Nov. 6, 2008, gives Briles a good chance to see who's ready to compete.
"You'd like to have a good gauge of your team sometimes before you jump into a well-lit fire, but that's not what we've got," he said. "... we've got to be mid-season ready the first snap of the ball."
TCU defeated Baylor 45-10 on Sept. 18 to improve to 3-0 in this matchup since the SWC disbanded in 1996. The Horned Frogs lead the all-time series 50-49-7.