College football countdown: No. 11 TCU

Thursday, July 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Expectations high for Horned Frogs

FORT WORTH – TCU returns a ton of key starting players this season. The schedule also is stacked in the Horned Frogs' favor.

Most important, however, coach Dennis Franchione's team has natural progression working in its favor.

After Franchione took over the program two years ago and led the Horned Frogs to a 7-5 record and a Norwest Sun Bowl victory over Southern Cal, a lot was expected last season. TCU stumbled out of the gate, though, losing three of its first four games.

That, too, was part of the process.

"In '98, we learned how to win, and in '99, we learned how to live with winning," said Franchione, who inherited a program that won only one game the year before his arrival. "We weren't used to the expectations."

Now the Horned Frogs are. After rebounding last year to go 8-4 – the most wins at TCU since 1984 – the team can live with high expectations simply because it has its own. Reaching double-digit victories for the first time at the school since 1938 is not out of the question.

"We have to focus on one goal, and that's winning one game," sophomore quarterback Casey Printers said. "If we do that for 11 weeks, it will come."

It's at least a very good possibility because 18 starters return, and 12 are seniors. The Horned Frogs have a Heisman Trophy candidate in senior tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, who last year became the first player above Division II to rush for more than 400 yards in a game (406 vs. UT-El Paso). They have a very talented quarterback in sophomore Casey Printers, who started 10 games last season and has proven he's extremely adept at running TCU's multiple offense.

Up front, all five offensive linemen return, and there's depth behind them, too.

Then there's the Horned Frogs' defense, which rivals the offense in terms of ability and experience. Eight starters are back, including end Aaron Schobel, already the school's career sack leader (24½).

The physical pieces are certainly in place. So too, it seems, is the mental aspect.

"We have to understand that we have to do the work and preparation in order to be in the Top 25, not just be considered," Franchione said. "We had a great spring, and I am pleased with how hard the team worked in the offseason."

TCU Schedule- Sept 9 at Nevada; Sept 16 Northwestern; Sept 23 Arkansas State; Sept 30 at Navy; Oct 7 Hawaii; Oct 21 at Tulsa; Oct 28 Rice; Nov 4 at San Jose State; Nov 11 Fresno State; Nov 18 UTEP; Nov 25 at SMU

TCU Horned Frogs Capsule

COACH: Dennis Franchione (15-9 in two seasons at TCU, 128-64-2 in 17 years overall).

LAST YEAR: 8-4, unranked.

OUT: Replacing wide receiver Mike Scarborough is the biggest question. He caught nearly 30 percent of TCU's passes last year (35 of 118).

IN: Les Koenning replaces Dan Dodd as offensive coordinator, the first major change to Franchione's staff in two years. Koenning served in the same capacity at Houston and Duke, and he also worked on Jimmy Johnson's Miami Dolphins staff and coached wide receivers at Texas A&M for two years.

BIG PLUS: The schedule couldn't be more in TCU's favor. The Horned Frogs get Fresno State, Hawaii and nemesis Rice at home this year.

BIG MINUS: The schedule is, perhaps, too weak. The BCS certainly won't be knocking down any doors in Fort Worth.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: It's not beyond comprehension that the Horned Frogs could go 11-0. The pieces certainly are there.

BOTTOM LINE: If the team can focus amid a multitude of distractions, it likely will be the most successful season for TCU in the post-World War II era, and this group of seniors will be the first ever to play in three consecutive bowl games.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State
11. TCU