|LM Otero / Associated Press|
|Quarterback Casey Pachall's immense talent is often overshadowed by his off-field issues.|
In a conference in which offenses provide its identity, Gary Patterson and TCU focus on providing a tough-minded defensive alternative. He finds overlooked players, puts them in a great weight-training program and then turns them loose in a 4-2-5 defense that is well-equipped to handle any college offense. Ironically, the Horned Frogs' two highest-profile NFL stars have been on the other side of the ball in quarterback Andy Dalton and future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
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The Horned Frogs might never have the raw talent commensurate to Texas or Oklahoma, but look to have upped their recruiting since joining the Big 12. Combine that with Patterson's continued comprehensive approach, TCU's impact on the early rounds of the draft should only increase in the future.
Top senior prospects
QB Casey Pachall: Pachall was suspended indefinitely midway through the 2012 season and went to an in-patient drug rehab facility, so off-field questions must be addressed in a satisfactory manner. Pachall is an accurate passer with NFL-level arm talent, completing two-thirds of his career attempts, and can move when needed.
CB Jason Verrett: Verrett is among the handful of top corners that will test the traditional size requirements of NFL coaches and front offices. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, he is wildly productive in coverage (six interceptions, 16 pass breakups). Verrett has no qualms about playing the run tough, adding five tackles for loss.
DE Devonte Fields: Fields was nearly unstoppable as a true freshman, posting 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss after immediately crashing the starting lineup. Fields is extremely quick and a natural pass-rusher. Patterson says Fields is bigger and stronger this season, which is a terrifying thought. Fields is suspended for the first two games of 2013 for an unspecified violation of team rules.
S Sam Carter: The junior does it all in the secondary, finishing third on the team in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (6.5). Carter added four interceptions and seems equally sound in run support as pass coverage, possessing the necessary size and speed to fill a variety of roles and meet the changing needs of the position.
DT Davion Pierson: Pierson earned Freshman All-America honors in his second year at TCU, recording 36 tackles while starting in 11 games. He is quick enough to disrupt spread offenses (7.5 tackles for loss), but has the size to absorb punishment. Pierson and Chucky Hunter should form one of the better interior tandems in college football.
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Three must-see games of 2013
Aug. 31 vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas): So the Tigers had nine players taken in the draft, including four defensive linemen. No matter, as Les Miles will simply roll out another gifted front four. The Horned Frogs, however, won't be able to simply plug in a suitable replacement for Fields, serving a two-game suspension. Hunter and Pierson must be disruptive against the pounding LSU running game.
Sept. 12 at Texas Tech: Fields returns to action in the Frogs' Big 12 conference opener, where he should be lined up across from promising left tackle Le'Raven Clark. Fields' stamina could be an issue, especially if the game ends up resembling last season's 56-53 triple overtime loss to the Red Raiders in any way.
Nov. 30 vs. Baylor: The Frogs have won five of the last six in the series, but the lone defeat was the 50-48 Friday-night thriller that launched Robert Griffin III's Heisman candidacy. Pierson and Hunter will get their chance to neutralize Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, which is much easier said than done.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.