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February 28, 2009

TCU hopes this is its year to crash the BCS

TCU spent a good portion of the 2008 season in the top 20 and finished the regular season 11th in the BCS standings.

The Horned Frogs beat previously unbeaten Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl to finish seventh in both season-ending polls.

Quarterback Andy Dalton will have his top two targets back in 2009.
Coach: Gary Patterson
Last season: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West. Beat Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Spring dates: Feb. 28-April 4
Offense (5): T Marcus Cannon, QB Andy Dalton, WR Bart Johnson, T Marshall Newhouse, WR Jimmy Young.
Defense (4): E Jerry Hughes, S Tejay Johnson, CB Rafael Priest, CB Nick Sanders.
Special teams (2): K Ross Evans, P Anson Kelton.

But the Horned Frogs lose seven starters off what was a dominant defense, so spring drills will be important as coaches attempt to find some new starters.

Here's a look at TCU as it opens spring practice.

Positions of strength

Believe it or not, beware of the Horned Frogs' passing game. Wide receiver Jimmy Young and running back Ryan Christian, the top two receivers from 2008, return. Jeremy Kerley was seldom used at wide receiver, but he has big-play potential. That's good news for quarterback Andy Dalton, who will be a third-year starter in '09 after passing for 2,242 yards in '08. The Frogs project to be just as strong against the pass, with Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders both having three years of starting experience at cornerback. They combined for three interceptions and 25 pass breakups last season. The secondary has three starters back, and that unit was excellent last season. TCU was successful using a running back-by-committee approach last season, and likely will do so again.

Help is needed

All-American ability returns at end with Jerry Hughes, who posted 15 sacks in '08. But the Frogs lost the other three starters off their front four and also are missing both starting linebackers from their 4-2-5 set. TCU led the nation in rush defense last season but will be hard-pressed to do so again. The trio of Henry Niutei, Cory Grant and Jeremy Coleman is being counted on to bolster the interior of the defensive line. TCU also is searching for two new starters on the offensive line (guard and center).

Keep an eye on

LB Daryl Washington: He made two starts last season, and he showed what he's capable of with an excellent showing against Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Washington, a senior, posted 63 tackles in '08 and figures to make a bigger impact as a full-time starter.

C Jake Kirkpatrick: He played in 12 games as the understudy to All-Mountain West Conference center Blake Schlueter. Kirkpatrick, a junior, has size, ability and two years of experience under his belt.

LB Tank Carder: He is the likely replacement for All-MWC middle linebacker Jason Phillips, who led the Frogs in tackles last season. Carder, a sophomore, made only nine tackles in '08 but could get 10 times that many this fall.

His time is now

If 6-foot-6, 248-pound sophomore Braylon Broughton reaches his vast potential, he could team with Hughes to give the Frogs an intimidating pass rush. He originally signed with Arizona, but he never made it to Tucson and sat out the 2006 season. He then sat out a redshirt season at TCU in 2007. Last season, he was named the MWC's preseason newcomer of the year, but he made just one tackle in three games. It's time for Broughton to deliver.

The buzz

TCU has posted 11 victories four times in the past six seasons but hasn't claimed the "BCS buster" title that all teams from non-"Big Six" conferences aspire to be. A wealth of experience but not many starters returns from last season's team, which finished 11-2 and came tantalizingly close to beating Utah in Salt Lake City. As spring practice opens, the feeling in Fort Worth is that '09 could be the Frogs' season to break through. Early season trips to ACC members Virginia and Clemson will provide chances for the Frogs to build their case.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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