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2021 TCU college football preview: Can Gary Patterson out-coach his talent again?

It’s yet another TCU team with lesser-talent but that can still compete for a title. What else is new?

Head coach Gary Patterson of the TCU Horned Frogs watches the game against the Iowa State Cyclones from the sidelines at Amon G. Carter Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

You can argue about which long-tenured coach has had the most success in college football, but Gary Patterson has done as much without a lot as anyone in all of FBS.

The head coach of the TCU Horned Frogs enters his 22nd season in Fort Worth, and continues to do more with less than his outsized competitors in terms of money, facilities, and access to talent. It’s mostly been with defense and a 4-2-5 system that fits the modern game well, and with plenty of underclassmen that are willing to sit and wait their turn to get on the field in what is an old school approach for modern college football.

TCU has reached three BCS or CFP bowl games this century, but none since 2014. They’ve also never outright won the Big 12 since its inception in 1996. But expect a team with plenty of returning talent to cause consternation yet again for the projected top of the conference.

2020 Season Review

  • 6-4, 5-4 Big 12 (5th), Texas Bowl vs. Houston cancelled
  • Line on notable narrative from season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 60th
ESPN Returning Production: 79% overall (33rd): 87% offense (13th), 70% defense (66th)
Returning Talent Index: Positive, 5th in Big 12
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 8/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Max Duggan (Junior)

Duggan threw for just 1795 yards last season with just 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in 10 games, but should have more weapons to work with in 2021. He won the job after the first half of the opener against Iowa State, and is on some NFL Draft boards as a mid-round pick. He should give them the best chance to win.

Offense (non-QB): RB Zach Evans (Sophomore)

Had a fantastic true freshman season with 54 carries for 415 and seven touchdowns. Added in eight receptions for 76 yards as well, and will be asked to carry the load as the likely starter this fall.

Defense: LB Dee Winters (Junior)

Had 65 tackles last season, including two sacks and a scoop-and-score. This was a defense that outperformed its talent rating last season, and will need to do so again to have a chance at a conference title in the fall.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 37th overall: 67th offense, 16th defense, 51st special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 33rd overall: 53rd offense, 20th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +50000
To win Big 12: +1400
Win total: 7.5 (Over -125, Under +100)

2020 Against The Spread: 7-3
2020 Point Total: Over 5-5

2021 TCU Schedule

2021 TCU Horned Frogs schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 vs. Duquense 8:00 p.m./ESPN+
Saturday, Sep. 11 vs. Cal 3:30 p.m./ESPNU
Saturday, Sep. 18 BYE TBA
Saturday, Sep. 25 vs. SMU TBA
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. Texas TBA TCU +2.5
Saturday, Oct. 9 at Texas Tech TBA
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Oklahoma TBA
Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. West Virginia TBA
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Kansas State TBA
Saturday, Nov. 6 vs. Baylor TBA
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Oklahoma State TBA
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Kansas TBA
Friday, Nov. 26 at Iowa State 3:30 p.m./Fox or FS1