Big 12 Sports.com
FORT WORTH, Texas - After nine double-digit win seasons since 2000, two BCS bowl appearances and a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, TCU will finally get the chance to compete in a bigger and better conference with some of the best teams in the country.
The Frogs will kick off their first season in the Big 12 with a home game against Grambling State on September 8. The opener will also be the first game in the newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium that has undergone a $164 million dollar transformation.
As the Frogs leap into a new conference, coach Gary Patterson will tell you his job just got a lot harder. He'll also tell you his team is no stranger to the stiff 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," he said Sunday 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."
With a win over Grambling, Patterson will pass Dutch Meyer for the most wins in TCU football history with 110. Patterson said the honor was something that was very special to him.
"It is an unbelievable honor. Dutch Meyer was so respected by his peers through the years. It's unbelievable to even be mentioned with a guy like him," he said. "I will relish it later on in my career and life. A lot of the guys who helped build the TCU program played for Dutch."
In the last 16 years, TCU has won seven conference championships in three different conferences. They now join a new-look Big 12 Conference that features three other Texas schools and several old rivalries from their days in the Southwest Conference.
Current Frog players are excited for the opportunities that will come with playing in a new conference, including lining up against new opponents in front of sellout crowds.
"It's going to be great finally being in the Big 12 with the big boys," senior defensive end Stansly Maponga said. "We just can't wait to get everything started. Coming out, hearing all the fans, knowing that we're in a new conference with new teams on the field is just going to be a great feeling."
Senior offensive guard Blaize Foltz said the Frogs need to make a statement early on starting with their first conference game at Kansas on September 15.
"We have to start out big in that first game and be physical," he said. "We've always been the program that puts our back against the wall and fights back."
More than anything though, the Frogs say they are ready to stop all of the talking and just get out there and play.
"We just can't wait to get the season started and get the excitement out, because right now we're all tired of talking. We just want to play football," Maponga said.
Patterson also said that with a new conference comes a learning curve. Learning the schemes and game plans of nine new teams is something he says will take time and experience.
"We have to look at the top of the league and say we have to be as good as them," he said. "I don't know where we rank until we play every team. All conferences are different, and you need to have a plan on how to win it. What plan do you have in place to take on the top-three teams and beat them? I don't know what that is right now."
The Frogs will have to reload at several positions this season as former All-Americans Tank Carder and Greg McCoy have moved on to the NFL. Other needs include linebacker, defensive line and cornerback after the dismissal of four players in February left the Frogs with some depth issues.
In the pass-happy Big 12, Patterson knows certain defensive areas will have to improve from last year if the Frogs are going to have a chance this season.
"We are going to be thin at cornerback, which is not exactly ideal for the Big 12," he said. "With a young team, we are going to learn real quickly who can grow up and who can't. The first thing we have to learn is to play hard."
Running backs Matthew Tucker and Waymon James will also have to carry more of the load as last year's second-leading rusher Ed Wesley left school in the spring due to personal reasons.
Returning wide outs Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter will lead a young receiving corps that lost Antoine Hicks and Jonathan Jones from a year ago.
Boyce said his leadership will be a key component to the group's success this season with so many new faces.
"They look up to me a lot so I lead by example. I try to do everything right so they can follow me," he said. "This year it's just me and Skye (Dawson) who are the only older guys in the receiving group so whenever they need help on or off the field they can call me and I'll help them out."
The special teams unit will also have a new look with the departure of placekicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton who were both four-year starters. Evans finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Mountain West history. His 407 points rank seventh in NCAA history.
Shannon: New Linebackers Coach
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon has joined the TCU staff as linebackers coach. Lats season he was a college football analyst for ESPN. Patterson said Shannon's expertise will benefit the players as well as the rest of the coaching staff.
"It's great to have a former head coach on your staff who you can bounce things of," Patterson said. "He was a coordinator of some top-ranked defenses and part of three teams that won national championships. He can turn on film, show kids where we got things from and connect them back with his time at Miami."