A 56-0 thrashing of Grambling got things off on the right foot, and a 20-6 win over Kansas in its first Big 12 bout had TCU feeling awfully good early on. A pair of non-league wins over Virginia and SMU followed before the Frogs suffered their first defeat in a 37-23 final against Iowa State. A win at Baylor the next week put the team in better spirits, but two straight losses (Texas Tech, Oklahoma State) and setbacks in four of the final six games of the regular season wasn't exactly how coach Gary Patterson had drawn it up a few months earlier.
TCU took on Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and dropped a 17-16 decision, sending the team out on a down note and forcing Patterson and his charges to contemplate what could have been, but to also turn an optimistic eye to the future.
OFFENSE: TCU quarterback Casey Pachall (64-of-97, 948 yards, 10 TDs, one interception) was enjoying a fine start to the season last year, but he had bigger issues to deal with off the field as he took considerable time away from football to address his substance abuse problems. Apparently in a much better place now, Pachall is back for his senior season, and while he appears to be the guy Patterson will entrust with running his offense, Trevone Boykin (.572 completion percentage, 2,054 yards, 15 TDs, 10 interceptions) did an admirable job as a redshirt freshman last season in Pachall's absence and will surely get his chance to play as well.
Another guy TCU fans are obviously excited to have back in the fold is senior running back Waymon James, the team's leading rusher in 2011 who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury.
The receiving corps doesn't feature any standouts, at least not as of now, but Pachall is the better of the two signal-callers in terms of accuracy and arm strength so expect one or two guys to emerge as major contributors soon enough.
As for the offensive line, three starters return, but there are questions about depth so staying healthy is obviously paramount to any success the team achieves this season.
Knowing that Pachall may be a bit fragile mentally with regard to the personal battle he has undertaken, Patterson is trying to deflect any additional stress his gunslinger would otherwise have to deal with.
"I'm letting him do his thing, keep the pressure off of him. I think having a two-quarterback situation that we feel like we have two quarterbacks now that can go win ball games is a positive as far as the pressure type and go forward", Patterson said at the conference's football media event last month.
"Casey is a very talented young man. How he handles everything and does will be an indication of how well we do in the Big 12 Conference."
DEFENSE: The Frogs were among the best defensive teams in the Big 12 last season, allowing an average of 22.6 points and 323.9 total yards per contest, the former ranking them second in the league, and the latter leading the way. They were particularly strong against the run, yielding a mere 105.4 ypg to rank first in the conference and 10th nationally.
Nearly the entire unit is back in 2013, nine starters in all, and the strength will likely be the line and the secondary. Junior linebacker Joel Hasley is the top returning tackler (79 stops), and sophomore defensive end Devonte Fields recorded 18.5 TFL and more than doubled his closest teammate in sacks with 10 as he was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Junior strong safety Sam Carter and senior corner Jason Verrett are the notables in the TCU defensive backfield, the latter coming up with a club-best 22 passes defended and six of the team's 21 interceptions a year ago. Carter had four picks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Placekicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry performed very well last season, especially considering both were freshmen. The return game boasts a number of speedy guys capable of making big plays at every turn.
OUTLOOK: It won't take long to see if Pachall, James and company have the goods to make a major splash this season as TCU takes on SEC power LSU in Arlington, Texas in the season opener on Aug. 31.
The conference opener at Texas Tech could prove difficult, as will trips to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Win more than they lose during those bouts and this could be a banner year for the Horned Frogs.
Patterson knows his team has a bumpy road ahead, but believes that playing a tough schedule builds character and attracts a certain type of athlete for future recruiting classes.
"You're already playing great programs within your conference, but I truly believe you've got to cross over every once in a while. Obviously, is it more of a risk for a head coach win/loss-wise? Yes, because they've got really good players, really great staff, and really great tradition. On the other side of it, if you play well or you win, it also puts you in a situation where it jumps you in the national spotlight."