Top 25 Countdown
Washington Post College Football Top 25 Countdown: No. 18 Texas Christian
• Last Season: 11-2 (defeated Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl)
• Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
• Key Game: at Clemson, Sept. 26
Why They're Worth Watching
TCU could be this year's BCS-busting team that leaves fans debating about an imperfect postseason system. The Horned Frogs already have earned national respect by finishing No. 7 in 2008. Virginia Coach Al Groh said TCU would be among the favorites to win the ACC. Coach Gary Patterson has built one of the nation's top defenses, finishing No. 1 in 2008 while holding opponents to 11.3 points per game. The Horned Frogs return star defensive end Jerry Hughes and cornerbacks Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest, both three-year starters. The offense will again be led by quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 11 touchdowns and rushed for eight last season. He will enjoy the protection of senior left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who is likely an NFL prospect.
Player to Watch
Jerry Hughes, Sr., DE
Hughes experienced a breakout season in 2008, leading the nation with 15 sacks and six forced fumbles. He finished as a consensus all-American but elected to return for his final season. Hughes was a standout running back in high school. At 6 feet 3 and 257 pounds, he has the speed to terrorize offensive tackles.
Why They're Vulnerable
Even after losing seven starters, the defense is advertised as faster this season, but experience must be developed quickly because TCU visits Virginia and Clemson in September. Replacing two starters on the offensive line might test the Horned Frogs' running game, which could be handled by a couple of candidates. Dalton has impressive wide receivers, but he must prove more able to pass effectively in big games. Besides traveling east to play the two ACC teams, beating Utah and BYU in the Mountain West is never easy.
-- Zach Berman