Even Sonny Dykes won’t blame people for doing a doubletake when he roams the sideline for the first time as the head coach of the TCU Horned Frogs. Gary Patterson filled that position for the entirety of the current century. The long-tenured head coach exited the program during the 2021 campaign when it was made clear that the program was going in a new direction after the season. TCU brass didn’t need to look far for its top candidate.
“His legacy should be celebrated and appreciated because this program isn’t where it is today without the impact of Gary Patterson,” Dykes said. “The expectations are high here because he made them that way. Gary and I have a lot of the same beliefs on what is important to playing winning football.”
Patterson’s shadow still looms large at TCU. Literally. A statue of him already sits outside Amon G. Carter Stadium. But Dykes isn’t afraid of the expectations or pressure. He’s used to shadows. His father, Spike, was a legendary coach at Texas Tech. The younger Dykes is appreciative of his predecessor. This is the fourth time Dykes takes over a new program as a head coach. He admits that the roster he inherited at TCU is the best of the bunch.
“There are a lot of things that were done right around here for a very long time,” Dykes said. “The roster is the best I’ve inherited. There’s not a glaring area of weakness.”
Dykes first became a head coach at Louisiana Tech in 2010. He led the Bulldogs to one conference title in three years before leaving for Cal, where he’d record a 19-30 record. As fate would have it, Dykes wound up at TCU in 2017 as an offensive analyst. The Horned Frogs went 11-3 that season and reached the Big 12 Championship game. That short stint in Fort Worth gave Dykes a glimpse at TCU’s potential.
That 2017 season turned out to be the last great season in Patterson’s 20-plus year tenure; TCU went 7-6 in 2018, reaching the Cheez-It Bowl and avoiding a losing season with a 10-7 win over Cal in overtime. The Horned Frogs went 5-7 in 2019 and 2021. The program was 6-4 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but missed out on a bowl game when the Texas Bowl was canceled. Reaching bowl games was a given for much of Patterson’ reign. The new reality forced hard decisions behind the scenes.
The rise of SMU under the direction of Dykes was one of the thorns in Patterson’s side; the Mustangs weren’t overly competitive with TCU for much of Patterson’s career. Dykes changed that, beating TCU in Fort Worth in 2019 and 2021. In the win last season, SMU raced for over 350 yards on the ground. Dykes helped SMU widen its DFW footprint, which was a net-loss for a TCU program that was now losing recruits, and transfers, to its crosstown rival. While TCU was missing bowl games, SMU was earning invites. The Mustangs won 25 games over the last three seasons. In that same span, TCU won 16. The Horned Frogs required evolution.
“A reset isn’t always bad,” TCU linebacker Dee Winters said. “The change allowed us to start fresh as players and as a program. It was the perfect time for a restart.”
TCU’s spring practices were a perfect illustration of a new regime shifting culture. The Horned Frogs opened each practice to the public. Dykes could be seen and heard at basketball games, podcasts, and television segments. Assistant coaches were available for comment. Players could talk to the media. For better or worse, that wasn’t happening on Patterson’s watch. But with NIL here to stay, Dykes knows that there are recruiting advantages to allowing your current players to build their brands.
“It creates an energy for the players,” Dykes said. “The fanbase gets an opportunity to be around our program, as do high school coaches and players. It is always important to have transparency in your program.”
The new era begins on a Friday night in Boulder against Colorado. A trip to SMU takes place on Sept. 24.
A new-look offense and an improving defense allow the Horned Frogs to pull a few upsets and crash the Big 12 party.
Injuries continue to hamstring the offense while the defense struggles to improve against the run in another bowl-less season.
Game of the Year
TCU at Baylor — November 19
One of the bright spots in a program-altering 2021 season for TCU was knocking off rival, and future Big 12 champion, Baylor thanks to an incredible offensive performance by reserve quarterback Chandler Morris. The Horned Frogs close the season with four tough November matchups, including trips to Texas and Baylor in two of the final three weeks of the season.
The arrival of head coach Sonny Dykes should result in an uptick of offensive production for TCU. The Horned Frogs averaged 28.67 points per game and an impressive 435.8 yards per contest in 2021. The goal for the offense is to become more consistent and efficient.
TCU proved it can hit home runs with either Max Duggan or Chandler Morris at quarterback. Dykes, a former baseball player, wants his offense to hit for a better average. Duggan is a three-year starter who ranks fifth on TCU’s career passing yards list with 5,920. Morris previewed his upside in a stellar performance against Baylor in an upset win during 2021.
“A change in philosophy will help with consistency at quarterback,” Dykes said. “We won’t ask them to do as much with a smaller menu of plays. They’re confident and comfortable.”
The winner of the quarterback competition won’t lack weapons. Wide receiver Quentin Johnston was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021. The junior from Temple led TCU with 634 receiving yards and six touchdown catches. Slot receivers Taye Barber and Derius Davis provide electric options in the quick passing game and on jet sweeps. The Horned Frogs also added Texas transfer Jared Wiley at tight end.
The running back room took a hit when former five-star recruit Zach Evans transferred to Ole Miss after the season; Evans led the team with 648 yards rushing. But the returning Kendre Miller wasn’t far behind with 623; Miller averaged .5 yards more per rush and scored two more touchdowns than Evans.
“The offense is much different,” Barber admitted. “We’re throwing the ball around and running it in new ways. It is exciting because we’re spreading the ball around and keeping the defense guessing.”
The strength of the offense might be along the offensive line, which is a luxury first year coaches are rarely awarded. Dykes mentioned center Steve Avila when asked for the best player on the roster. Alan Ali, who was arguably the best offensive lineman at SMU in 2021, followed Dykes to Fort Worth. Wes Harris and Andrew Coker also return up front.
Offensive MVP: Quentin Johnston
Johnston is a freakish athlete who should record higher numbers in 2022 thanks to a new offensive system brought in by head coach Sonny Dykes.
Offensive Name to Know: RB Emani Bailey
Kendre Miller figures to be the No. 1 running back for TCU, but the Horned Frogs are on the hunt for more production at the position after Zach Evans’ loss to the transfer portal. Bailey, a junior from Denton who started his career at Louisiana, is a potential weapon for the new-look TCU offense. He rushed for 642 yards and averaged 6.3 yards a carry in 2021.
The offensive-minded Sonny Dykes inherits a quarterback room with an experienced option in Max Duggan and a young talent in Chandler Morris.
RUNNING BACKS: B-
TCU shouldn’t struggle to run the ball despite losing Zach Evans to the transfer portal. Kendre Miller leads a stable of talented runners with experience.
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: B
The duo of Quentin Johnston and Taye Barber provides the TCU passing attack with all-conference caliber options. Tight end Jared Wiley’s transfer from Texas provides physicality at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Offensive line should be a strength with Steve Avila back at center and the improving Andrew Coker outside. Alan Ali transferred in from SMU.
Once a model of defensive excellence, TCU dipped into unchartered waters during the 2021 season by allowing 35 points and 462 yards per contest. The unit recorded a pedestrian 15 sacks and 14 turnovers in 12 games. The biggest culprit for the downfall was a poor rush defense. Opponents averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for 34 touchdowns last year.
Sonny Dykes tasked defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie with fixing the defensive issues. Gillespie, who spent the previous three seasons at Tulsa, is converting the Horned Frogs from Gary Patterson’s signature 4-2-5 to a 3-3-5 scheme. The system requires bigger defensive linemen than the previous one. Dykes was pleased with his options in the trenches, led by Dylan Horton. TCU also possesses a handful of available scholarships that can be used to improve spots such as the defensive line over the summer.
“I was pleased with the defense during the spring,” Dykes said. “We just need to build depth. The Pieces are starting to fit together, and guys are starting to play faster.”
One of those pieces is linebacker Dee Winters. He’ll be counted on as a leader in 2022 and was singled out by Dykes several times during spring practices as a bright spot. Winters led TCU with 74 tackles last season. The senior from Burton High School is enjoying the new freedom within a fresh system. He said the defense created more turnovers in the 2022 spring practice than any other of his career.
“We’re rallying to the football and getting takeaways,” Winters said. “We’re getting to play faster because there’s not as much reading. It was a fresh start for all of us.”
The secondary might emerge as the strength of the defense. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson returns to cornerback as a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. He showed versatility in 2021 by playing safety when injuries dictated a position move. The safety room added four-star Chace Biddle from Garland.
“There is a lot of competition in the two deep in our secondary,” Dykes said. “I like that group. They can run and they have some speed.”
Defensive MVP: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
Hodges-Tomlinson was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021 for the second consecutive season after a year spent shuffling between cornerback and safety.
Defensive Name to Know: LB Marcel Brooks
A new coaching staff equates to a fresh slate for players. That feels true for former five-star prospect Marcel Brooks. The senior from Flower Mound Marcus began his college career at LSU. He transferred to TCU in 2020 and hasn’t broken into the starting lineup over the last two years. He spent 2020 primarily on special teams. He was moved to wide receiver in 2021. Brooks was back at linebacker during spring and impressed in the new scheme.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
TCU struggled to stop the run and create pressure on the quarterback in 2021. The loss of edge rusher Ochaun Mathis means new players must step up.
Dee Winters is back to headline the linebacker room in Fort Worth. He’ll be flanked by high-upside players such as Shadrach Banks, Marcel Brooks, and Terrence Cooks Jr.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
Defensive back Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson was an All-Big 12 selection for the second time despite shifting from cornerback to safety during 2021. TCU needs more depth in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Place kicker Griffin Kell and punter Jordy Sandy return to TCU to provide continuity on special teams. Returner Derius Davis is also back.
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