FORT WORTH — TCU was already facing a challenging task just by moving to the Big 12, where the two-time BCS buster was suddenly part of one of the nation’s best conferences.
Take away the second-year starting quarterback and two proven running backs, then mix in 27 freshmen who have already played, and things have gotten even more difficult for coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs in their inaugural Big 12 season.
When Casey Pachall withdrew from school this week to enter an inpatient rehabilitation program, the quarterback became the latest of about a dozen players TCU has lost since last fall for various reasons, including drug arrests, injury and academic issues. Each was or could have been a significant contributor this season in the Frogs’ transition into their new league.
“We’re going to try to go win football games with what we have,” Patterson said.
TCU is the only FBS team to win at least 11 games in six of the past seven years, and was No. 2 in the final AP poll only two seasons ago after going 13-0 with a Rose Bowl victory. The Frogs won or shared titles in three different leagues since the Southwest Conference broke up after the 1995 season and they were left out of the original Big 12 lineup.
In their first game without Pachall, when injured starting senior tailback Matthew Tucker also didn’t play, the Frogs (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) lost 37-23 at home Saturday to Iowa State. And they still have their toughest stretch of Big 12 games ahead, when in the final month they play four consecutive games against top 15-ranked teams.
“The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for them,” said Patterson, TCU’s winningest coach with 113 wins in his 12 seasons. “You allow (losing) to be OK, what you’re saying is that winning’s not important.”
The Frogs have played more true freshmen (15) than they have scholarship seniors (11) on the roster. No FBS team has played more than the 27 overall freshmen TCU has, that when added with 22 sophomores account for 65 percent of the players who have stepped on the field.
“We have the same standards with them. I told them that we can’t treat you like young players anymore “ Patterson said. “’No matter what happens in the next six or seven ballgames. This group has a lot of potential and there a lot of good players on it. ... For us, we need to keep growing up.”
After TCU’s long wait to be part of a major conference, the move to the Big 12 has been a bumpy ride so far — though not so much on the field.
Three likely defensive starters and a backup offensive linemen were kicked off the team in February following their arrests by Fort Worth police with other TCU students after a six-month drug sting. All four players pleaded guilty to marijuana delivery charges and received probation. That included linebacker Tanner Brock, who was Pachall’s roommate and the leading tackler for the Rose Bowl team filled with seniors.
Pachall was interviewed by police when Brock was arrested, and the quarterback admitted then that he had smoked marijuana and failed a team-administered drug test two weeks before that. When the police report became public in August, just before the start of fall camp, the quarterback faced no suspension because he had completed drug and alcohol counseling mandated by the university.
Trevone Boykin, the redshirt freshman quarterback who is now the starter, was preparing to play tailback last week before Pachall’s arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.
Tucker is the last of three 700-yard rushers from last season that TCU expected to have this year. He could be back for Saturday’s game at Baylor (3-1, 0-1), but that ankle might be an issue the rest of the season.
Against Iowa State, true freshman B.J. Catalon had 13 carries for 86 yards with two fumbles, one near the goal line. Boykin completed 23 of 40 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, two in the fourth quarter.
Ed Wesley, a 1,000-yard rusher on the Rose Bowl team, left the program early last spring. He wasn’t picked in the NFL draft and was cut after a short stay in training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. Then, leading rusher Waymon James sustained a season-ending left-knee injury in the second game this season.
One linebacker left the team after last season because of an injury and another, who had 21 tackles while playing 13 games as a freshman, is gone because of academics. A potential starter at offensive tackle is also off the roster after academic issues.
Senior defensive end Ross Forrest played in the opener before a lingering knee injury sidelined him. Tight end Stephen Bryant, who played 12 games last season, suffered a season-ending injury in preseason practice and redshirt freshman cornerback Travoskey Garrett is also out. Offensive lineman Michael Thompson had season-ending surgery last week.
“We talk about guys who are not part of the program. These guys are in the program. You’re talking about a group that’s fighting through doing the things they need to do,” Patterson said. “Do we need to get older? Yes. Do we need to gain more depth? Do we need to get people back? Yes. This group is awful proud.”