Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is the TCU bandwagon finally filling up?

Through the first two home games of the 2009 season, TCU's aggregate attendance stands at 72,379. Compared to just 52,605 for the first two games in '08, that's an increase of almost 38%. So with the 5-0 record and #8 ranking in the coaches' poll, is the Horned Frog bandwagon finally starting to fill up?

Some might say no. After all, even with the average of about 36,000 fans a game this year, TCU's attendance figures are still dwarfed by any team ranked even remotely close to where the Frogs are in the polls. On top of that, you might argue that the 38% statistic is a bit skewed by the fact that both Texas State and SMU have brought a few thousand fans of their own, something that neither Stephen F. Austin or Stanford (TCU's first two home games last year) came close to doing. Add in the fact that thousands of extra tickets were sold to the SMU game because of Parent's Weekend (which was later in the season last year) and you might come to the conclusion that any increase in fan interest so far this year is, in reality, minimal at best. After all, there are still way too many people hanging out in the parking lots during the game, completely clueless as to what's happening inside the stadium.

On the other hand, I think it would be hard to deny that there isn't at least some boost to the fanbase this year. I've noticed a lot of people that formerly couldn't have cared less about the team taking a real interest this year. I've seen a lot more TCU shirts and hats and what-not around town and more exposure of the program in the mainstream media. Spitblood's traffic, while still quite modest, has reached new all-time highs this fall. Look at the attendance figures for the games each year that have been played in severe downpours: 25,000 (a number I'm very skeptical of) for Stanford last year, versus 37,000 for SMU this year. Yes, the SMU game was Parent's Weekend and there were a few Ponies in the house, but I highly doubt that the extra 12,000+ fans were parents that came to visit their son or daughter at school and SMU fans- most of those people were eating at Saltgrass or Blue Mesa during the game.

So what can we expect Saturday against Colorado State? While it should be nice weather, the afternoon kickoff probably doesn't help bring in families who have kid-related activities during the day. Plus you know Colorado State isn't going to bring more than a handful of fans, and having Texas-OU going on over in Dallas will certainly be a distraction to the casual fan.

While that 38% increase looks pretty good right now, I hope it isn't just an illusion. Coach Patterson stressed in the radio show last night that he wants a big, vocal crowd on hand to support the Frogs this weekend.

CSU a threat?

At 5-0, ranked 8th in the Coaches' Poll and heading into what should be their first decent-weather game in nearly a month, the Frogs are riding high. After thawing out from the Air Force game and playing in the friendly confines of Amon G. Carter, the Frogs ought to roll, right? Especially considering Colorado State comes into the weekend having lost their last three games. During that time, the Rams have given up an average of 411 yards of offense and have seen their pass defense ranking slip to 104th in the country. Think Dalton and his steadily-improving receiving corps aren't salivating at the thought of that? By that measure, it would be easy to consider CSU coming to Forth Worth as lambs to the slaughter.

But not every statistic is as appetizing as CSU's defensive numbers. Their passing offense, led by quarterback Grant Stucker and wide receivers Rashaun Greer and Dion Morton, ranks 34th in the nation. While the Frogs' pass defense ranks 19th in the nation, they have shown a tendency to give up big plays. Morton is also a threat in the return game, where the Rams rank 22nd in kick returns with an average of 25.4 yards per return. With the Frogs' inability to kick the ball deep, that causes some concern. Combine all of that with the fact that CSU ranks 15th in turnover margin (TCU: 93rd) and you can start to see the recipe for an upset if the Frogs aren't hitting on all cylinders.

At this point, the Frogs really have to consider every team on their schedule a threat. Because just one loss- and especially a conference one- derails their chances of playing in a big bowl game and most importantly, of winning their first conference title since '05. So don't get caught looking ahead towards BYU, because Colorado State is dangerous enough to ruin everything.

Strength of Schedule Watch: Week 7

Yeah, it would've been nice to have Boise State lose last night, because they clearly are not going to lose this year. But that's just because it would've been nice to know there was no chance that the fuck-up artists that are the BCS would spurn a potentially undefeated TCU squad for the Broncos. I still don't think it's going to be a problem, though, as the Frogs' strength of schedule will eventually vault them past Boise.

Game of the Week:
Clemson (2-3) vs. Wake Forest (4-2) (11:00am Saturday, ESPN 360)
-Jesus, you think Clemson fans are tired of ESPN 360? You know what I'm tired of? Clemson losing- come on, guys! Of course we want the Tigers to win for TCU's sake, but they also badly need this game to get their season back on track if they plan on going to a bowl game. Either way, Dabo will probably be out of a job at Christmas time.

Other bigguns:
Virginia (2-3) at Maryland (2-4) (3:00pm Saturday, ESPN-U)
-Did the Frogs play UVA at the right time, or is my hope that the Wahoos have turned there season around in vain? They've looked like a completely different team the last two times out, beating UNC and drubbing Indiana. Hopefully they can avenge Clemson's loss at Maryland by beating the Terps. If Maryland messes up TCU's SOS again, I will put a curse on all of their first-born.

BYU (5-1) at San Diego State (2-3) (5:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-The Cougars have been pretty up & down so far this year- what with beating OU in the season opener but then playing Desiree Washington to Florida State's Mike Tyson. Being ranked #18 the weekend before they play TCU, this would definitely not be the time for BYU to fuck up again. Save that for next Saturday, boys.

Utah (4-1) at UNLV (2-4) (9:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-Similar to my sentiments about BYU, the Utes definitely need to just keep winning ballgames...until they come to Fort Worth on November 14th. That shouldn't be a problem against the Rebels, who's defense looks they're pretty much mailing it in at this point.

SMU (3-2) vs. Navy (4-2) (7:00pm Saturday)
-Could having SMU on the schedule actually help TCU's strength of schedule? I never thought I'd say that, but after the Ponies' upset of East Carolina last week, they have a realistic shot at going to a bowl game. Stopping the run hasn't been SMU's strength this year, and the Midshipmen are one of the best running teams in the country.

Others:
Wyoming (4-2) at Air Force (3-3) (1:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-Along with Colorado State, these two might be the best teams in the MWC outside of TCU, BYU and Utah. The winner of this game is basically a lock to go bowling, while the loser will have to fight it out with the rest of the middle of the conference to ensure that status.

Texas State (2-3) at Nicholls State (1-4) (1:00pm Saturday)
-I'm pretty sure I already used the joke about Nicholls State having a roster full of gingers, but I thought it was a pretty good one so I'm re-using it. Now LAUGH, DAMN IT! Seriously, though- Texas State scored 21 points on TCU's defense, while Nicholls State lost to Air Force 72-0. This one ought to be a W for the Bobcats.

New Mexico (0-6) is off this weekend, which means they probably won't lose.

Morning Dump

Patterson, Horned Frogs wary of what lies ahead Star-Telegram

TCU junior receiver is making strides
Star-Telegram

Frogs' Hughes fearsome Denver Post

Experts claim Frogs' end is future first-rounder Loveland Reporter-Herald

TCU coach defends 'weak' MWC
Salt Lake Tribune

Hughes selected as a Rotary Lombardi Award semi-finalist GoFrogs.com

Anti-BCS folks hope to broaden their base
Deseret News

Non-AQ picks week 7
ESPN

Nine unbeatens left as season nears halfway point
AP