After the Horned Frogs came a victory shy of an undefeated regular season in 2003 -- and made the BCS' big-wigs sweat -- TCU fans immediately began clamoring over the Horned Frogs' chances of producing a similar run in 2004. It might not be out of the question.
The Horned Frogs once again figure to be in the middle of the Conference USA title hunt -- and possibly more this season following last year's attention-grabbing 11-2 record. The small private school is returning a slew of offensive playmakers, and its young defense is loaded with speed and promising talent.
"We haven't talked about making another BCS run quite yet," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "Our focus is on winning a conference championship because you can't do anything until you accomplish that. We learned that last season."
OffenseThe suspense on offense is who will be under center: Brandon Hassell or Tye Gunn? But in reality, it might not actually matter which guy winds up shouting signals. Both quarterbacks are proven winners, as their combined 15-2 starting record attests, and they can't go wrong in an offense loaded with talent.
"We know both guys are capable of getting the job done," Patterson said. "The decision will either come down to which guy is healthy or which was proves to have a hot hand."
Those hands may be handing off more than throwing the football, however. The Frogs have two talented running backs in Robert Merrill and Lonta Hobbs. Both backs are capable of producing 1,000-yard seasons, and both could achieve the mark this season.
The receivers are also talented. Reggie Harrell, who broke the school's single-season receiving yardage record last season, is surrounded by an impressive sophomore trio of Cory Rodgers, Quentily Harmon and Michael DePriest.
The line has four returning starters, including all-conference tackle Anthony Alabi. The group should provide plenty of running lanes. The only offensive weakness is finding a reliable fullback.
DefensePatterson marveled over the speed of his defense prior to the season. He'll soon discover if that speed can overcome inexperience.
TCU lost all four starters on the defensive line and will be counting a committee to fill the gap. They will likely rotate the group based on their run-stopping and pass-rushing strengths.
Linebacker Martin Patterson gives the defense a steady presence in the middle of the field, and he'll have to keep it up on a defense without many proven performers. Logo Tevaseu will work opposite of him at linebacker, but the 5-foot-9 senior tallied most of his tackles on special teams last season.
The secondary, which gave up several long pass plays last season, has more speed and gets weak safety Marvin Godbolt back in the lineup. Godbolt missed the final nine games of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"This defense has a chance to be one of the fastest we've had," Patterson said. "But we have to see how physical they can be."
SpecialistsOver the past three seasons, TCU relied on Nick Browne's leg. Junior Mike Wynn, who has attempted only one field goal since arriving on campus, takes over for Browne and will have to show his mettle right away.
The other specialists are back. John Braziel will look for more consistency this season with his punting, while Rodgers is a threat for dazzling returns on both kickoffs and punts.
Final AnalysisWhile the Horned Frogs aren't entertaining BCS bowl thoughts just yet, it might not take long for those dreams to resurface. TCU has too much offensive talent and speed on defense to suffer much of a drop-off. The Horned Frogs shouldn't have any problems moving the football. The most glaring problem is a depleted defensive line, but there are enough names on the depth chart to find reliable replacements.
TCU has a tougher non-conference schedule than last season with a home date against Northwestern and trip to Texas Tech. But the same soft Conference USA slate is back, and TCU doesn't have to deal with title contender Memphis.