This Saturday, the SMU Mustangs travel to Fort Worth to take on the #20 TCU Horned Frogs. This is going to be one of SMU’s biggest (if not THE biggest) opponents of the year. Because I am not an expert on TCU, I decided to go out and get some help from someone who does know TCU football. Today, I am joined by Jamie Plunkett, managing editor of the SB Nation site Frogs O’ War. If you would like to see my Q&A with Jamie, head over to there site here!
Without further ado, here are some questions I thought were important to ask.
Nick Armstrong: After a 6-7 season and coming off a bowl loss, what are fan expectations for this season?
Jamie Plunkett: TCU fans aren't really used to losing, ever since Gary Patterson took over as head coach. In fact, 2016 was the fourth season in Patterson's 17 as head coach that TCU finished .500 or worse. The first three times, Patterson's teams have responded with 10+ wins the following season. While 10 wins may be a reach in 2017, TCU fans are expecting a bounce back year, with an 8 or 9 win season.
NA: Who are the key offensive and defensive players we need to keep an eye on?
JP: Offense: QB Kenny Hill, RB Darius Anderson, RB Kyle Hicks, WR KaVontae Turpin. Kenny Hill is a known commodity at this point, but he's entering his senior season with a new mindset, and a new determination that seemed to be missing at times in 2016. He's played pretty well in two games to start (but some of his old accuracy issues have reared up again). The biggest thing to keep an eye on, though, is TCU's running game. Darius Anderson, Kyle Hicks, and Sewo Olonilua are a dominant threesome in TCU's backfield. Not to mention, when Kenny gets going he can move a little bit, too.
TCU's receivers haven't had to do much through two games this season, with Dez White leading the team with seven receptions, 83 yards, and two touchdowns. However, when guys like KaVontae Turpin and John Diarse begin to get involved, this is as dynamic an offense as you'll find in college football.
Defense: SS Ridwan Issahaku, CB Ranthony Texada, DT Corey Bethley, DE Ben Banogu
TCU is getting back to the old way of playing defense under Gary Patterson. They're fast as all get out, they swarm to the ball, and they're overwhelmingly physical. Issahaku is developing into the next great TCU safety, and he's flying all over the field making plays. He's recorded 11 tackles through two games, with three tackles for loss, two sacks, a pick six, and three passes defended. Ranthony Texada is TCU's best corner, and he's finally healthy for the SMU game. It'll be interesting to see how often he's matched up against Courtland Sutton. that's definitely a matchup to watch. Meanwhile, Bethley and Banogu on the defensive line have been completely disruptive through two games, and it'll be fun to see them continue that trend in the weeks to come. They're both strong, dominant players who have made an immediate impact on TCU's defense.
NA: What positions have the most and least depth?
JP: Most depth - Linebacker, Safety, Running Back, Wide Receiver. TCU's three deep at these positions is insane. Patterson is so confident in his linebackers that he moved one of last season's starters to defensive end. He trusts all three running backs (Anderson, Hicks, and Olonilua all had rushing touchdowns against Arkansas), and even though it hasn't shown yet in 2017, I still trust that there is insane talent at wide receiver, with guys like Turpin, Jalen Reagor, and John Diarse.
Least depth - Defensive end, cornerback. Behind Ben Banogu, LJ Collier, and Mat Boesen, there isn't much going on at defensive end. Ty Summers is a bit banged up, and we haven't seen much of Gary Overshown. We thought this was going to be a problem against Arkansas, and thankfully it wasn't, but moving forward it could be. I also noted cornerback in this category, just to have a second unit. Julius Lewis and Jeff Gladney are both capable cornerbacks behind Texada, and they've done a great job in two games this year locking down receivers.
NA: Where does this team thrive, and where are the weaknesses?
JP: Offensive tempo is critical for this team. If they get out of rhythm, they start to stagnate. Fortunately, it looks like they're slowing down the tempo a bit with the running game, which means that not as much is relying on Hill offensively, and that's a positive thing for this offense. We're still not totally sure how solid the secondary is, although we think they're pretty good, so the test against SMU should be a good barometer of where this secondary stands.
NA: Kenny Hill was hyped up at A&M, then came to TCU and did alright, but was inconsistent. What kind of year can we expect from him?
JP: I think, with the uptick in running plays we've seen through two weeks, that Sonny Cumbie is really working to put Hill in a position to succeed. They've really asked him to make smart plays and protect the ball, and really just manage the game. If he can do that, and not get too deep into his own head, he should have a pretty good season.
NA: What is the perception of SMU football, and the American Athletic Conference, from your point of view?
JP: SMU is absolutely on the up and up, with Chad Morris doing great things for the program in a short amount of time. I still consider SMU a rival, as do most TCU fans, but there's definitely a big brother-little brother feeling aimed at the Dallas side of things. Of course, this is cyclical, as back in the 80s I'm sure it was the other way around. The American is a decent conference, especially for basketball, and when it comes to football I generally view the AAC as a moderately good conference. We don't really know much about how good South Florida is yet, although they've looked good against lesser competition through two weeks. The same could be said for Navy, SMU, and Houston. It'll be interesting to see how the conference plays out this year, once they all start competing with each other.
NA: What is your final prediction of the game?
JP: I think TCU is focused, despite the Oklahoma State game looming next week. The Frogs mean business this season, and I think they pull away from the Mustangs pretty early. 42-20 TCU.
NA: Bonus question: In your opinion, what is a must visit place in Fort Worth?
JP: If you want to do the touristy Fort Worth stuff, go to Joe T. Garcia's or the Stockyards. If you want the TCU experience, hang out near campus and go to Fuzzy's, Buffalo Bros, or University Pub (where we record the Frogs O' War podcast every Wednesday).