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2012 Big 12 Football: TCU Joins The Conference Elite In Its Inaugual Season

Today is the sixth installment in an eight-part series previewing the upcoming Big 12 football season and all 10 teams in the league as we count down to kickoff Saturday just three days from now.

TCU football in 2012 preseason practice session
TCU football in 2012 preseason practice session

Today we provide a preseason scouting report on one of the two new teams that begins play in the Big 12 this season, the TCU Horned Frogs, as part of our continuing series previewing 2012 Big 12 football.

TCU Horned Frogs

(11-2, 7-0 in Mountain West Conference in 2011)

TCU comes into the Big 12 Conference as the three-time defending champion of the Mountain West Conference. The Horned Frogs are 36-3 over the past three seasons, including a huge victory last season over Boise State, and have won 10 or more games in eight of the past 11 seasons.

Sixteen years ago, when the former Southwest Conference and Big Eight Conference joined forces to form the Big 12, TCU was left on the outside looking in as the Big 12 took only four teams from the former SWC (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor). Over those 16 years, all TCU has done is win seven conference championships in three different conferences: Mountain West, Western Athletic and Conference USA).

Head coach Gary Patterson, who begins his 12th year at TCU this season, knows that, despite the success his program has enjoyed in recent years, his job now will get much harder, but he is also is quick to point out that the Horned Frogs are no stranger to the tough competition they will now face on a weekly basis.

"We have played Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. We understand how physical Kansas State is, and we understand Kansas has vastly improved," Patterson said recently during the school's on-campus football media day. "I don't want to take away anything from these kids and say we don't know how to win, because we do know how to win."

The Horned Frogs are led offensively by 6-5 junior quarterback Casey Pachall. There was some question about Pachall's leadership and physical skills and whether he would be able to fill the giant shoes of his predecessor, Andy Dalton (now the starting QB for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL), when he moved into the quarterback position his freshman season a couple of years ago. While Paschall is not Dalton, and doesn't profess to be, in 2011 he had one of the best seasons by a TCU quarterback in school history. His stat line for last season read: a 66.5 percent pass-completion percentage for 2,921 yards, 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Behind his star quarterback, Patterson has what one writer covering the Horned Frogs called an "embarrassment of riches" at the running back position. Two of their top three rushers from 2011 are back this season. Senior Matthew Tucker and junior Waymon James combined for over 1,500 yards rushing last season and 18 touchdowns. TCU was the 19th best team in the nation in 2011 when it ran the ball. Ed Wesley, who added over 700 rushing yards of his own a year ago, was thinking of coming back, but signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason.

Paschall has talented targets he can get the ball to when the Horned Frogs turn to their passing game, but the depth at that position doesn't match what Patterson has for his ground attack. The offensive line, where TCU must replace three starters, is the big question mark on offense coming into the 2012 season.

The Horned Frogs have some fairly big needs to fill on a defense that played solidly last season but was much softer in defending against the pass than it was in stopping the run. The Frogs suffered a significant hit when their best linebacker, Tanner Brock, was one of four players dismissed from the team in February. Brock led the team in tackles for a loss last season (13.5) and forced five fumbles. Defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas must also replace NFL-bound linebacker Tank Carder, who was the heart and soul of the defense the past couple of years.

The secondary was TCU's biggest weakness on defense a year ago, which could be an even bigger problem with the high-powered spread formations that it will face in the Big 12.

Under Patterson, TCU's defense has been ranked No. 1 in the country in four of his 11 seasons in Ft. Worth. His 2011 team gave up 90 points in its two losses, one of which was a 50-48 at Baylor to start the season. By any measure, to yield this many points is highly uncharacteristic of a Gary Patterson-coached team and something to be concerned about as the Frogs kick off a new era in the Big 12.

The Horned Frogs, ranked 17th in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll, open the 2012 college football campaign on Sept. 8 at home against Grambling at newly renovated Amon Carter Stadium, which has undergone $164 million in architectural and functional improvements.

TCU's success in its inaugural season in the Big 12 will largely be determined by how well the Horned Frogs do in a killer five-game gauntlet at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, back home to take on Kansas State, at Texas and vs. Oklahoma to close out the regular season.

"We have the talent and we have the skill and the size to compete with any of those teams, said the Horned Frogs' QB Pachall. "It's just being able to deal with them week to week to week."

Welcome to life in the Big 12.

TCU will play its first Big 12 game on Sept. 15, in its second game of the season, at Kansas. There won't be a conference championship for the Horned Frogs in their first season in the Big 12, but their presence definitely makes the conference stronger. I predict the new conference member from the Lone Star State will go 9-3 overall and 6-3 against Big 12 competition. Projected finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings: Third.

On Thursday: West Virginia

Keep up with what all the latest news and developments regarding Big 12 football and all 10 teams in the conference at SB Nation Kansas City.