No. 22 TCU Opens Tough Month Vs. Baylor

Friday, August 31st 2007, 3:25 pm
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ In what was already shaping up as a challenging start to the season, No. 22 TCU goes into the first of three games against former Southwest Conference rivals with the status of standout defensive end Tommy Blake uncertain.

Since missing five practices and a scrimmage when he left campus and went home for personal reasons in mid-August, Blake has practiced only three times. The two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection and top NFL prospect hasn't been on the field this week while on a medical leave with an undisclosed illness.

Still, coach Gary Patterson didn't rule out Blake from playing in the season opener Saturday against Baylor.

``He's practiced enough to be able to play,'' Patterson said. ``As far as him and I are concerned, there are no problems. When he's been able to do it, he's been all the things that we need him to be.''

Blake, who led the Mountain West with seven sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for losses in 2006, is among nine returning starters for the TCU defense that was top three nationally in total defense, rushing and scoring.

The Horned Frogs enter the season with an eight-game winning streak and are the favorite to win the Mountain West Conference. After 11 wins three times in four seasons, they also expect to contend for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

Baylor, meanwhile, is still looking for its first winning season since the SWC disbanded after the 1995 season. An upset in the opener would be a positive starting point.

``Right at the end of last season and going into the offseason, we started thinking about TCU,'' Bears linebacker Nick Moore said.

When Baylor and TCU played for the first time since the SWC days in last year's opener, the Bears blew a halftime lead at home and lost 17-7. Baylor was 1-3 before Big 12 play, then started 3-1 in conference before a season-ending knee injury to quarterback Shawn Bell.

If the Bears can get by TCU, they have a favorable schedule to finish undefeated in non-conference play. They play Rice and Texas State at home before going to dismal Buffalo.

``They're on a mission. They want to get back to a bowl game,'' Patterson said. ``Baylor sits in a situation where if they beat us, they have a chance to be 4-0. ... I think they know that and I think that's why there's so much importance on our game. It was a lot easier to put the emphasis on TCU this year.''

Bears coach Guy Morriss is a TCU alumnus, an offensive lineman for the Frogs from 1969-72 before 15 seasons in the NFL. He has never coached on the campus, where the youngest of his five daughters goes to school, and was last there for a game when he was Kentucky's coach and was in the area recruiting during an open date.

``It will be nice to go back. Other than that, it's 100 yards long like all of them,'' Morriss said. ``It's my first trip back. I won't even bring that up (to the players). They probably already know that, I guess. It's not a big deal.''

Both teams went into preseason camp undetermined about their starting quarterbacks.

Redshirt freshman Andy Dalton will start for the Horned Frogs ahead of Marcus Jackson, the backup who last year threw two second-half touchdowns against Baylor. Jackson is also expected to get some snaps Saturday.

The four-man QB battle at Baylor included a 25-year-old senior transfer from Kent State and a junior college transfer. But sophomore Blake Szymanski, who started the final three games after Bell was hurt, likely will start with redshirt freshman Tyler Beatty the primary backup.

TCU has won four straight games over Big 12 teams since their 2005 season-opening victory at Oklahoma.

After Baylor, the Frogs go to Texas for the first time since they were SWC rivals playing annually. There is then a short week to prepare for the Mountain West opener at Air Force before playing SMU, which upset TCU in their last meeting two years ago, a week after Oklahoma.

``It's just something we're going to have to do week by week,'' TCU linebacker Jason Phillips said. ``If you try to take it all on at once, say we have Baylor, then Texas and SMU, it starts cluttering up. Emotionally, we have to get prepared for that game that week, and not overdo it.''