STEPHEN HAWKINS,AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs knew things were going to be different in the Big 12.
While they had their lowest victory total in eight seasons and went without a league title for the first time in four years, the Frogs still made a notable adjustment to their new conference.
“We had played a lot of the teams, so I don’t think we were surprised by anything that happened in the Big 12,” Patterson said. “It was more of us learning about ourselves.”
The Horned Frogs made their Big 12 debut playing the same standout defense they did when they were winning three consecutive Mountain West Conference titles. Their freshman quarterback won three Big 12 road games after being unexpectedly thrust into the starting role.
TCU finished 7-6 with a 17-16 bowl loss to Michigan State, one of three losses in the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation or overtime. After at least 11 wins each of the previous four years, they had a triple-overtime loss and a double-overtime victory last season.
“There was a lot of ups and downs that first year in the Big 12 and it was tough playing in a new conference where week in and week out you’re facing a top-caliber team,” said defensive end Jon Koontz, one of eight returning defensive starters. “But I feel like we did get our feet wet last year. … We do know what it’s like now to play in a conference like this, and we’ve got a lot of experience coming back.”
There will no easing into this season, like the 56-0 win over Grambling State in the 2012 opener. The Frogs play SEC powerhouse LSU on Aug. 31 at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, Texas, only about 20 miles from the TCU campus.
Five things to watch this season at TCU:
1. CASEY’S COMEBACK: Casey Pachall is 15-2 as TCU’s starting quarterback, though he only played the first four games last season — all victories, in which he threw 10 touchdowns and one interception. He left school last October for a treatment program after his drunken driving arrest. Pachall was back in school in time for spring drills and the senior seems to have the upper hand in being the starter again even after Trevone Boykin’s solid performance (2,054 yards passing and 15 TDs) the rest of last season. “If it’s a tie, then the older guy is going to win,” Patterson said. “He’s been around a while.”
2. NO FIELDS: Unless there is a change in his status, defensive end Devonte Fields will miss the first two games due to a suspension for an unspecified violation of “university and team policy.” Fields had 18½ for losses with 10 sacks as a freshman last season, when he was selected the Big 12 defensive player of the year. The suspension was announced in May, keeping him out of the LSU game and the home opener vs. Southeastern Louisiana. He can play the Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.
3. B.J. AND THE BACKS: B.J. Catalon was the only running back to play in all 13 games last season, and the freshman ended up leading the team with 582 yards rushing. But Waymon James is healthy after missing the final 11 games last season because of a left knee injury and former Nebraska transfer Aaron Green is eligible to play after having to sit out last year.
4. GP’S TWEET LIFE: Frogs coach Gary Patterson joined the Twitterverse in April after spring practice. One of the primary reasons was to take advantage of being able to direct message recruits. He can also keep up with what his players are doing on Twitter, and then give fans a different perception of the coach whose is so often hoarse-throated and tying his shoes on the sideline during games. As of his own players, “They just know that I’m out there,” he said. “In the last three months, it’s really kind of cleaned up.”
5. FIRST TIME (ALMOST): TCU will play conference games at Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas State, which will complete the Frogs’ visits to each of the other nine Big 12 stadiums for conference games. The Frogs have been to all of those places before, but their last visit to Patterson’s alma mater (K-State) was 1985. They are going to Oklahoma State for the second year in a row.
Predicted finish in Big 12: 2nd.