Quarterback Chandler Morris is back to his starting job to host Deion Sanders and Colorado on Saturday morning in TCU’s season opener. Courtesy TCU Athletics

Oh, it’s new, the shape of your backfield. It’s blue, the feeling I get when I think of the Natty, and it’s — ooh, whoa — it’s been a cruel summer. T Swift fans were granted a reprieve from what might have been the longest offseason in TCU football history, but it’s been an arduous pause for purple pigskin promoters. Despite crushing temperatures — and memories of the worst championship loss in history — college football officially returned last weekend. It still feels like attempted murder outside, but we’ll all be gourd shopping while mainlining pumpkin spice before too long.

Last year, when the Frogs kicked off with Sonny Dykes at the helm against Colorado, no one had any idea what to expect. The more things change — like TCU appearing in their first college football playoff and subsequent national championship — the more things stay the same, because no one with any degree of humility or transparency has any idea who these Frogs are, including yours truly.

What we do know is that TCU’s home opener is — as of this moment — their only game drawing any national interest. Deion Sanders, who was on the short list of candidates for Gary Patterson’s vacancy last season, spent the offseason devouring headlines when he arrived in Boulder and dismissed the majority of CU’s bottom-feeding roster. Coach Prime is second to none in generating program interest, and he definitively won the award for most controversial and criticized head coach for the spring season. Ya know, the unofficial purgatory during which Texas claims their yearly recruiting championship.


Despite the 21 points that Vegas oddsmakers are spotting anyone who bets on the Buffs, the game is a litmus test for Sanders’ young squad as he tries to prove his scheme acumen and recruiting talents translate to D-1 ball. Frog quarterback Chandler Morris will start this game for the second consecutive season. His injury during the opener last year prompted the return and eventual Heisman ceremony appearance for the NFL-departed Max Duggan. Duggan, along with 10 of his teammates, are lining NFL rosters as our university was tops in the Big 12 for newly minted pros and behind only Georgia and Alabama for players drafted to the professional ranks last season. The most reassuring development for Frog fanatics would be Morris playing a productive — albeit at times boring — contest in which easy throws look fluid and run reads seem coherent. Personally, I don’t want to see Morris scramble at all, and if he’s not required to, it’s a reassuring signal the offense is settling into their transition to new primary actors.

Running back Emani Bailey, who transferred to TCU last season, was third behind Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado but is a talented back and an above-average receiving threat during screens and dump passes. That said, the backfield lost two prominent rushers, Miller being an extraordinary talent.

At receiver, you can’t replace first-round pick Quentin Johnston, but Savion Williams has imposing size and a tremendous upside if he can find a rhythm with Morris. This is a dead horse, but I’ll beat it anyway: The offense — especially in the system that Dykes runs — will go as their quarterback does. Duggan, for all his amazing qualities and talents, passing ease and accuracy weren’t among them. Even routine short throws could be a stressful experience while watching Mad Max. Duggan’s deep ball improved as the season went on but was still unreliable at best. Morris is a better pure passer, which is why he was chosen to start last year and again this year. If the refurbished slinger finds his rhythm during these early games, the offense might still be extremely dangerous despite saying goodbye to the majority of last year’s producers.

Overall, I expect a less potent offense while new players gain confidence, and the defense to be stingier overall despite losing two stars in Dee Winters and Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson. There is more experience and depth along the defensive line and the safety group. Cornerbacks are expected to rotate more often, so the individuals — outside of preseason All-American Josh Newton — may be less capable than Newton and Hodges-Tomlinson together, but the average across a rotating group will be better. There is also value in a longer-tenured system as Joe Gillespie’s 3-3-5 is no longer brand new to this group, who were occasionally feast but more often famine throughout last season.

Dykes in many ways could find himself a victim of his own success. Despite not knowing who the Frogs will be this season, I can assert almost unequivocally that they won’t be as successful as their predecessors, be that because of passion, luck, or a turbocharged butterfly effect of the two. In addition to the questions surrounding TCU itself, the conference they compete in — as well as many around the country — is very much in flux. It was assumed but two years previous, when OU and UT announced their planned desertion to the SEC, that the Big 12 would fall into obscurity and disband. That didn’t happen, and the conference has ballooned from 10 teams to 14. Next year, it expands to include four members from the PAC 12: Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and this week’s opponent, Colorado. Presumably, the squads will be broken into two eight-team divisions. This year, it’s all one melting pot with TCU avoiding matchups with Kansas, Oklahoma State, and newcomers Cincinnati and UCF.

The Frogs’ schedule could have been kinder, though. Dykes and company logged a respectable 17th in the preseason poll, a slap in the face for most teams coming off a national championship appearance, but in the case of these Frogs, I actually perceive it as reserved respect and cautious admiration. Three other Big 12 rosters are Top-25 ranked: Texas (11), Kansas State (16), and Oklahoma (20). In addition to facing all of the aforementioned, TCU hosts only Texas. The sneakiest matchup might be Texas Tech in Lubbock late in the season. The offseason hype that originated in Austin choo choo’ed its way through the Dust Belt as the Red Raiders are a favorite underdog contender in the conference this season as second-year Head Coach Joey McGuire works to improve the culture and caliber of recruit out on the Western plains.

There’ll be much more to dissect after Dykes takes the sideline with Morris at the helm for season No. 2 in a transitioning conference. Saturday morning is about evaluating the new role players and deciphering who is ready to capitalize on their time against Coach Prime.