Fall 2001
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TCU Magazine "Riff Ram"

Carrying on

By the time you read this, Head Coach Gary Patterson could be 0-2 in his first two starts for the Frogs. Or the Cornhuskers could be 0-1 for the first time in a long time. Neither outcome alters the gameplan of the 2001 Horned Frogs.

By David Van Meter

As the two-a-day August heat turned the TCU football practice fields into a wavy mirage, one image came through with remarkable clarity. Head Coach Gary Patterson isn't "rebuilding" a thing if you're talking about the brand of rebuilding facing most first-year head coaches.

"We have a tradition now," and the team understands what it takes to be a winning program -- hard work," Patterson said. "We prefer not to think about all the 'firsts,' but to take what we've accomplished over the past three years and carry on without missing a beat."

Patterson's proof walks around in practice jerseys, and seems just incredibly huge on this August day. Perhaps that's what a summer of voluntary weight training will do for a squad now vying for a bevy of open starting spots.

Now, the group does count 29 returning lettermen, including 10 starters led by junior quarterback Casey Printers, who owns an 18-4 record as a starter. Also returning is senior Victor Payne, still the strongest Frog on the team (and perhaps the strongest Frog ever with a squat of 800 pounds), the last member of the famed "Big Uglies" front line from the last campaign.

Defensively -- which may be the Frog's Conference USA calling card come September -- five starters return. Especially strong positions will be defensive end, linebacker and cornerback, led respectively by Chad McCarty, leading tackler Chad Bayer and Jason Goss.

Life without L.T.

True, the Frogs may miss two-time NCAA rushing champ LaDainian "L.T." Tomlinson, but they carry on... with an opportunity for the first time in three years to have a more balanced offense. "You don't simply replace a LaDainian Tomlinson," Patterson said. "We'll go into the fall thinking in terms of running back by committee.

One of the things to watch is to see who is going to step up at the tailback and fullback positions. Ricky Madison, Corey Connally and Andrew Hayes-stoker all are in the mix, and Kenny Boyd could come on at tailback. Reggie Holts, a junior college transfer, is a guy to watch at fullback, but it may take him a while to grasp the offense."

But the real answer to this season's offense falls on the broad shoulders of junior quarterback Casey Printers. At times brilliant last season, at times inconsistent, the Printers was featured on the cover of Dave Campbell's Texas Football for good reason, finishing fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 1,584 yards last season, including a personal best of 14 for 17 against Navy (82.4 percent completion rate). He went interception-free his last 59 regular season attempts.

"Whenever you can put a quarterback on the field that has that much experience and with the talent Casey has," Patterson said, "you have a chance to win."

Printer's favorite receiver most likely will be senior LaTarence Dunbar, who holds a pair of school records on the track rubber and was the nation's top kick returner a year ago.

And the "Big Ugly" Payne will shore up one side of the offensive line, joined by four juniors -- guard Josh Harbuck, center Jamal Powell, guard J.T. Aughinbaugh and tackle Brady Barrick, all groomed to take starting roles.

"We're definitely a different group this year," the studious and articulate lineman said. "We're not really comparable to a group that started 30-odd games together; that's very unusual. In the old group, everyone knew what everyone else was doing. We all stepped of together, we worked as a unit and played off of each other's abilities.

"Now, this group has done the same thing, only in a backup role. They've developed their own chemistry, and I need to be able to fit into it.

"If we can do that, then I think we'll be successful."

Still number one?

As the saying goes, offense wins games; defense wins championships. That rings true for the Frogs, who under Patterson as defensive coordinator led the nation in total defense last season, allowing just 245 yards per game, and in scoring defense, giving up just 9.6 points per outing.

The stingy squad also posted a record-setting 43 sacks. What's different this season? The absence of six lettermen, including phenomenal end Aaron Schobel and defensive captain, safety Curtis Fuller. However, senior linebacker Chad Bayer returns, as does fourth-year end Chad McCarty.

And perhaps most significant, the Frogs will be led by new defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach, whose Western Michigan Broncos held opponents to only 11.9 points per game.

The defining element of this year's defense will be speed, Driesbach said, especially at the end positions. Four of five who were on the rotation return. McCarty will hold down the left post while sophomore Bo Schobel mans the other.

Bayer, an unassuming 5' 11" but pound for pound one of the team's most physical players, will lead the linebackers.

Perhaps the brightest note for the 2001 purplemen is in the defensive secondary. The team's top four corners return, led by seniors Jason Goss and Kenneth Hilliard, who will assume the void left by the defensive captain Fuller.

"We have been and will continue to be, a pressure-oriented defense," Patterson said. "We like to attack and make things happen, but not give up the big play. Our team speed is very good. We may have to be a little proactive this season and win the turnover battle, but we have some better athletes that can do those kind of things."

Adding a little kick

While L.T. put the most points on the board for the Frogs last year, placekicker Chris Kaylakie put in a solid second-place All-WAC effort with 16-of-18 field goals and 50-of-51 extra points.

If the Frogs can replace that solid foot -- newcomer Mike Wynn, who kicked for Class 5A state champion Midland Lee last season, may get the nod, then special teams should return to the same form from last year: senior LaTarence Dunbar's 506 yards in returns, along with Cedric James' nation's best return average of 28.8 yards; and senior Joey Biasatti's 41.6 yards punting average, whose leg was broken after a late hit in a victory against Rice);

THE FROGS will also "carry on" against all-new opponents. Of their 12 scheduled opponents, the Frogs faced just two last year.

In addition, the Frogs will be facing five of the 12 schools for the first time ever on the gridiron. Another five games will be against teams, like the Frogs, that appeared in bowl games a year ago. Rebuilding? Carrying on? They're both the same really -- except only one carries the expectation the entire TCU community has for this year's team purple.

"We are going into a conference where we play three bowl teams this year, and another one that should have been in one. We have a lot of things that we want to accomplish and look forward to. We play six games, half of our schedule, by the end of September, than have just six more games over the next two months. After the Nebraska game, we play the next four in Texas, and two of those road games are in the Metroplex. Our goal is still winning the conference and going to a bowl game, so the biggest game we have is the sixth game of the season, because that is our first conference game."


How big is Conference USA? The conference spans 13 states and as many major media markets. Unlike the WAC, it is one of the seven major conferences that have significant representation in the NCAA governance structure, and enjoys significant national television exposure, NCAA automatic qualifications and major bowl tie-ins.

It sponsors 19 sports -- baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. The conference is enhanced by automatic bids in volleyball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's tennis and baseball. Men's basketball and volleyball compete in two divisions, the American and National. All other sports compete in a single one.

How good is it?

The league has consistently rated as one of the top basketball leagues in the country, producing 37 postseason teams (21 NCAA and 16 NIT). C-USA football, which began competition in 1996, has rated among the top seven conferences in the nation.

Nine football teams have earned bowl bids in the last four years, including Southern Miss which finished last season nationally ranked for the second time in three years.

C-USA is a member of the Bowl Championship Series, and sends its regular season champion to the AXA Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., and teams to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the gallery-furniture.com Bowl in Houston and the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Mich.

In women's basketball, the league has produced 22 NCAA teams in its first five campaigns, including one team in the Sweet 16, along with 10 WNIT appearances.

In volleyball, the league has earned 13 NCAA bids, with Louisville reaching the Sweet 16 in 1996 and 1998.

In addition, 12 soccer teams, 14 baseball teams and five softball teams have earned NCAA Tournament bids. Last season, Tulane made its first appearance at the College World Series.

C-USA has also sent two men's soccer teams to the Final Four and two teams to the Women's College World Series. The league has also had numerous NCAA individual and team competitors in golf, tennis and track and field. Overall, Conference USA teams and individuals have made more than 190 NCAA appearances.

What about media exposure?

ESPN, Inc. and Conference USA recently entered into an exclusive eight-year agreement, beginning with the 2001 football season and the 2001-2002 basketball season.

The multi-faceted agreement, which incorporates ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Regional Television, ESPN.com and ESPN Classic, is highlighted by: first-time coverage of C-USA football featuring weeknight games; televised future C-USA Football Championship Games on ABC Sports; men's basketball coverage Fridays on ESPN and Wednesdays on ESPN2; syndication and network rights for the conference's football and basketball coverage through ERT; continued exposure for women's basketball, along with volleyball, baseball, soccer and softball, as well as marketing rights.