At the conclusion of the 2014 season, the TCU Horned Frogs were left on the outside looking in on the first ever College Football Playoff, along with conference rival Baylor. With the anger of being left out of the CFP still fresh in their minds, they obliterated Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl by a score of 42-3. With a high-powered offense and typically strong Gary Patterson defense, TCU is primed for another huge year in the Big 12.
Before the Horned Frogs start on the road to a conference, and possibly national, championship, they will be teaveling up north to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Jerry Kill's squad has gotten better each year he's been at the helm of the program and this year they will look to continue that trend. After a season in which they won rivalry trophy games against Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan, the Gophers will be raring to go against the formidable team from Fort Worth.
The player to watch in this matchup is certainly Trevone Boykin, one of the early season candidates for the Heisman Trophy and already one of the best players, let alone quarterbacks, in the Big 12 Conference. A former wide receiver, Boykin took over the role and performed admirably at worst, leading TCU, a team normally known just for its defense, to an 11-1 regular season record on the back of an exciting, high-powered and high-scoring offense. Boykin will not have all of his weapons back this year, most notably the graduated BJ Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper, who recently decided to transfer. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of weapons on this TCU team.
On the outside, Boykin still has two pf the best playmaking receivers in the Big 12 in Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee. Doctson was a highly underrated player through much of the 2014 campaign, as he forged a connection with Boykin better than most quarterback-receiver tandems in the nation. Listenbee is a track star with solid hands, who can easily turn nothing into something solely with his speed. In the rushing attack, Aaron Green will look to build on a strong 2014 season in which he led the Horned Frogs in rushing and was second in touchdowns, only behind the aforementioned Catalon. Boykin's legs must also always be accounted for, as his speed and elusiveness can be deadly for defenses if he makes it into the open field.
A strong as the TCU offense is, Minnesota's group is nothing to look down on. Coming off of a good 2014 season in which the team went 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten and a loss to Mizzou in the Citrus Bowl, Minnesota will be in the running for the Big Ten West crown. Led by junior quarterback Mitch Leidner, the Gophers will have to perform well and limit their mistakes if they wish to solve the puzzle that is the stout TCU defense. Leidner threw for 1,798 yards last season in 12 games, but had an 11:8 touchdown to interception ratio; if he commits any egregious mistakes which lead to turnovers, it could be a long day for Minnesota. However, this is not to discredit his talent as a passer nor his athleticism; in fact he is a decent threat with his legs, as exhibited by his 22 carry, 111 yard, 2 touchdown performance last year against Nebraska.
While Leidner is returning as the leader of the Golden Gophers offense, Jerry Kill's team will certainly miss its two top playmakers from last season, that being running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams. Cobb was taken in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans following a season at Minnesota in which he ran for 1,626 yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average, along with 13 touchdowns. He was one of the top backs in program history and will be sorely missed as the program looks for a new featured tailback. Williams was a top tight end prospect in this past draft, going in the second round to the Baltimore Ravens. He led the Gophers in receptions and yards last season, with 36 and 569, respectively. Their top returning receiver is senior KJ Maye, who pulled in just 16 passes last year. This Minnesota team is undoubtedly talented, however they could struggle while looking for reliable targets early this season.
TCU is the second ranked team in both the AP and USA Today preseason polls, while oddsmakers have them as a 17 point favorite entering this game. The Horned Frogs won last year's duel between the two schools in Fort Worth and most factors seemingly give them an advantage entering this matchup as well. However, you cannot completely ignore a Minnesota team with a veteran quarterback, a good coach and the pedigree of playing (well) in the Big Ten. TCU is favored, and with good reason, but don't be surprised to see Minnesota at the very least give them a run for their money.