TCU will have the target on its back in 2023 following a 13–2 record with an improbable run to the National Championship game, the best season in program history. But most of the integral pieces from the storybook campaign, including five first team all-conference performers, won’t be back to defend the crown they earned as the first Big 12 team to win a CFP game.
Instead, former starting quarterback Chandler Morris, a previous five-star running back recruit and a bevy of transfers will need to gel together to recapture the Hypnotoad magic. They’ll need to round into full form in time for a loaded backhalf conference slate that includes meetings with Kansas State, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma.
The end-of-season gauntlet gives Sonny Dykes another chance to further shed the narrative that surrounded him at SMU as a coach who couldn’t finish seasons. From 2019-2021, his Mustangs teams started 8–0, 5–0 and 7–0, respectively, but only once managed to win double-digit games.
TCU Horned Frogs
2022 record: 13–2
2023 record prediction: 8–4
BIGGEST GAME: at Kansas State on Oct. 21
TCU has one revenge game on their schedule, and they’ll need to travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to exact it. Kansas State handed the Horned Frogs their only conference loss of the season in the Big 12 Championship Game. Max Duggan looked as if he would collapse from exhaustion after willing TCU to 11 straight points in the final seven minutes of action to force overtime, but the Wildcats overcame the furious comeback with a game-winning field goal.
The Horned Frogs suffered an uncharacteristically lackluster performance on defense, as Kansas State gashed them for 243 total rushing yards. The good news for the 2023 game is the Wildcats won’t have Deuce Vaughn, who ran wild in the championship with 26 totes for 130 yards. TCU brings back Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Johnny Hodges at linebacker, who’ll need to lead the front seven in a better run defense effort.
This matchup will also be the last game TCU plays before their bye week in Week Nine. They’ll want to go into their short rest with some momentum before emerging for back-to-back contests against Texas Tech and Texas, followed by a season finale against Oklahoma.
TRAP GAME: at Iowa State on Oct. 7
It’s never fun to travel all the way to Ames, Iowa, and no one knows that better than TCU, who hasn’t secured a victory at Jack Trice Stadium since 2015. This will also be TCU’s first trip outside the state of Texas.
Iowa State finds itself in rebuild mode after limping to a 4–8 finish in 2022. The Horned Frogs mercifully ended its lackluster campaign with a 62-14 stomping in Fort Worth. But the Cyclones aren’t as far away from contention as it appears. Six of their conference losses last year came by a combined 24 points. Their defense was also stellar under defensive coordinator John Heacock, ranking 14th in the nation in rushing defense and tenth in passing yards allowed.
Iowa State returns their top two tacklers in linebacker Gerry Vaughn and safety Beau Freyler, and the secondary is loaded with T.J. Tampa and Myles Purchase. Trey Sanders, a five-star in the Class of 2019, and Emani Bailey will need to carry the load on the ground to take advantage of a Cyclone defensive line that lost first round Draft pick Will McDonald IV and steady presence MJ Anderson.
POTENTIAL UPSET: vs. Texas on Nov. 11
Let’s be clear - TCU has an excellent chance of winning this game, but it’s the pick for potential upset because Texas will most likely be favored on paper. The Longhorns are a popular pick to win the Big 12 due to the pieces they bring back in their passing game. But TCU has shown before they can stop quarterback Quinn Ewers and his receiving core.
Last year’s Top 25 matchup between these two programs was supposed to be the game of the week with College GameDay on the scene hyping up the Big 12 title implications. Instead, TCU’s defense turned it into a snoozefest for Longhorns' fans. The 17-10 final score was far closer than the domination the Horned Frogs' defense displayed. Texas’s sole touchdown was a defensive fumble recovery in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Now, TCU gets to host the Longhorns in Fort Worth off a mini-bye (they play Texas Tech on Thursday the week before). The offensive line for TCU will need to perform much better to keep up with Texas this time around after giving up five sacks last year. The Horned Frogs have to expect Steve Sarkisian will be seeking revenge for the offensive dud his team put up in prime time.
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