Given the football related foliage currently littering the sporting landscape, by all logic I should feel pretty good right now. I should feel good about the NFL lockout coming to the most anticlimactic of ends. I should feel good about free agency beginning yesterday. I should feel good about training camps beginning today. I should feel even better about college football teams reporting for two-a-days in mere weeks. And I should be over the moon that we are quickly approaching the 30 day mark for the first Frogs game. The fact that we're getting our first helping a day earlier than 99% of the college football world has not gone overlooked, either.
But I don't feel good. At all.
Now, by nature, I'm a bit of a pessimistic fan. This is not to be confused with fair weather because I always support my teams until the end, but, for example, I gave up on the Mavericks at least 87 times over the course of the playoffs and, despite the ring, trophy and parade, I'm still not sure I've entirely let my guard down. It's my nature and I've learned to accept it and, fortunately, a lot of times my negative hunches are incorrect.
But there's a thought that has been in the back of my mind the past few months that I absolutely cannot shake. I want to, but I just can't. It's already clouded my desire to attend the Baylor game in person by making me feel like I'd be far more comfortable curled up on my couch, alone, in the dark, with a half empty bottle of Jameson.
I wish it weren't true, but here it is - The 2011 TCU Football team, at least on paper, looks eerily similiar to the 2011 TCU Baseball team. And that is a terrible, terrible thing.
It's an apples to oranges comparison, yes, but the more I think about the inner-connectivity, the more I connect the individual dots, the more glum my outlook on this season becomes. Consider the base similarities:
- The TCU Baseball team was coming off their greatest season ever, a run to third place in the College World Series. The TCU Football team will be coming off of, arguably, their greatest season ever with a Rose Bowl victory and a final ranking of #2 in the nation.
- TCU's Baseball team was stocked with multiple highly ranked recruiting classes and could not capitalize on their talent advantage. TCU's Football team will just now begin to see the benefits of recent multiple highly ranked recruiting classes and if they can capitalize.
- On paper, the 2011 TCU Baseball team looked better than the 2010 version, despite losing their unquestioned leader. Ok, so saying the same thing about this year's football team compared to last would be a stretch, but you can't deny that they have the talent, despite losing their unquestioned leaders on BOTH sides of the ball.
- The TCU Baseball team had two consecutive unprecedented years followed by a setback. The TCU Football team has had two consecutive unprecedented years...
All of those things scare me, however I think the second one is what scares me the most, and it directly correlates to the first, which directly correlates to the third, which basically makes having four bullet points kind of superfluous. Hey, it's a slow day and we needed to fill some space.
Recently I was asked what I was most excited about this upcoming season and, without much hesitation, I said seeing how the newest version of a Gary Patterson TCU team is going to look. Gary will always find the hidden gems other teams overlook and turn them into defensive superstars, but now that he is able to sign big name recruits, how will he handle the outsized personalities that accompany the majority of them? Will they be able to swallow their pride and accept a position change if he demands it? Will they be able to ride the bench until they earn a spot, something most of them have never had to do in their lives? I have no doubt that if anyone is ready for this challenge it is Gary Patterson, but I think we all have to be a little wary of the future.
Think back to this baseball season. Yes, injuries to the weekend rotation were essentially what torpedoed this team late in the season. Yes, losing your closer before the season even began was a cruel twist of fate. But I think we're fooling ourselves if we try and suggest the loss the loss and subsequent inability to find a replacement for Bryan Holaday wasn't as big as either of those things. Or bigger. And I'm not talking about his bat - although, admittedly, it was very missed - I'm talking about his presence in the locker room.
I don't know the personalities of the TCU Baseball team the same way I know - or at least think I know - a lot of the ones on the Football team. But, it was pretty evident that when the going got tough for those guys this spring and summer, the tough never got going. You need a guy a like Holaday - a guy I once gushed, in a hyperbolic moment, as being the greatest leader of a TCU sports team ever - to grab everyone by the balls and tell them to grow the fuck up. That guy seemingly never developed this year, and you saw the end result.
Patterson always uses the term paper tigers, and that pretty much aptly describes last year's baseball team. They were #1 on paper to begin the season and never truly played like it. Like I said, I'm not dismissing what happened on the injury front, but that doesn't explain what happened on offense. Even with someone with the courage of Swift Boat Captain John Kerry as their leader, a team with that much ability should never lose to an elimination game at home to an Oral Roberts team they had blasted twice in the same season in the same stadium. Especially when perennial sail-deflator Oklahoma was bounced from the tournament already and all that stood between you and the World Series was Dallas Baptist and an upstart and overrated Cal team who would be coming to your house. I'm not saying that if someone had stepped up to fill that leadership role we'd be on the crest of celebrating a World Series Championship right now, but I do think we'd be looking back on the season with a much different attitude.
I've already covered the topic of Casey, the Creator in an earlier post and I have no desire to do that again. But it begs the question - is he going to be the leader that his predecessor was? Patterson said it himself at the Coaches' Dinner that the QB HAS to be the one to take the reins of an inexperienced team and mold them to his personality. It's a huge load to place on his shoulders. Will he do it?
And think about on defense - losing Tejay Johnson could be an even bigger loss than Dalton in that department. Tejay, apart from having next level ability, was the coach on the field, the guy who whipped everyone into shape and channeled focus. More importantly though, he was the unquestioned leader on that side of the ball and, given his clear overload of character, a guy who everyone did and wanted to look up to. Who is going to be that guy this year? Tank Carder should do fine up front, but in the secondary, who is going to be that guy? If it's not Greg McCoy, Johnny Fobbs or Tekkerin Cuba it's going to have to be someone with very few snaps under their belt, which could turn problematic if this team has any lingering ego issues come September.
Basically, the biggest theme running through what I'm trying to get across is that, will the new generation of Gary Patterson Fuckstompers have a sense of entitlement like the baseball team may have had last year? Coming off of a College World Series where they were the adopted home team, and then getting all of the pre-season hype, may have worked its way into the fabric of the team a little bit. All we kept hearing was, "If we can just get to Regionals..." which is the sign of a team who may have bought into their clippings somewhat and believed their rightful place was back in the CWS. They weren't ranked #1 heading into the year as a shot in the dark, a lot of people truly believed it, including all of us. I'm afraid they may have believed it a little too much as well.
The football team isn't going to be mentioned in many unbiased National Title discussions, but they are going to be ranked in the top 15 when the polls are released. Some of the guys probably have a hard time remembering TCU before the 2008 season, and I'd be willing to bet no more than you can count on one hand could tell you much about what went on in the interim between Baugh and Patterson. So, yes, they'd be forgiven for believing this is how it always is and will be at TCU. But, of course, therein lies the danger because what happens when this young team inevitably loses their first game? Will they fall apart and start pointing fingers? Or will they, like the Dalton/Tejay teams before them, be able to view the season on a game by game basis and take it one step at a time? Patterson has always been one of the best at weeding out the caustic personalities on a team, but I bet he'd admit he's had help in the locker room along the way. Let's hope a positive influence surfaces sooner rather than later.
Geez, between this and my UT post from last week, I've been a bit of a wet blanket lately, and for that I apologize. This genuinely has nothing to do with the infamous Casey Pachall Party Boy pictures because, my goodness, if flash photography made a Facebook page when we were in college we would've all been TOTALLY outed for the hooligans that we were. But I've just been thinking about these, admittedly, broad similarities throughout the off season and, combined with the general negative fan outlook, this has me extremely nervous about the first two weeks of next year. Feel free to talk me off the ledge in the comments. I'm begging you.