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IN HIS 14 YEARS IN FORT WORTH, GARY PATTERSON HAS HELPED navigate TCU's climb up college football's conference ladder. He began as Dennis Franchione's defensive coordinator in the WAC, then shepherded the program into Conference USA in his first full year as head coach in 2001 before shifting to the Mountain West four years later. Now, after spurning the Big East, TCU has landed in the Big 12, the powerful league that left it behind when forming 18 years ago. "People say, 'Now you don't have to have a chip on your shoulder,'" Patterson says. "Yeah, we do. We're still in a situation where there's people saying, 'Well, now they can't do this.'"
If offensive line coach Eddie Williamson can work his usual magic with three first-year starters, doubters will find little material on a Frogs offense that includes standout QB Casey Pachall, speedy All-MWC receiver Josh Boyce and two 700-yard running backs. Such weaponry will be needed to keep pace with the country's highest scoring conference. Says Patterson, "You've gotta learn how to make people kick field goals."
That task falls to the defense, normally a Herculean strength of Patterson's teams—the D has been ranked No. 1 nationally in four of his 11 seasons as head coach—but one that gave up 90 total points in the team's two losses last season. This year's unit, anchored by All-America candidate Stansly Maponga at end and Kenny Cain at strongside linebacker, will be revamped not only because four starters graduated but also because of the campus drug bust that led to the dismissal of three likely first-teamers. The secondary will now feature four new starters alongside returnee Jason Verrett in Patterson's usual 4-2-5 scheme, and sophomores will move permanently into the top spots at tackle (Jon Lewis and David Johnson). "We'll see how they grow up," says Patterson.
The defensive lineup is young (Cain and end Ross Forrest are the only starting seniors), but Patterson is optimistic. "We think we're more talented than we were a year ago," he says. "But I don't know what that means because [we're] going into a different conference."
That talent means that as his team runs one of the country's toughest gantlets, it has a chance to prove that it belongs.
COACH Gary Patterson (12th year) 109--30 (48--7 in seven seasons in Mountain West)
CO--OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS Jarrett Anderson, Rusty Burns
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Dick Bumpas