Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 7/22/13
DALLAS -- Strength at quarterback is one of the reasons TCU could challenge for the Big 12 title in its second year in the conference. Then again, that quarterback is most likely Casey Pachall, whose 2012 season was cut short by substance abuse issues. The reverence for Pachall's playing ability is such that he was named to the All-Big 12 Preseason Team by the media. That's also a reflection of the lack of experience at the position in the Big 12 this year. Pachall left the team last fall to deal with his off-field problems and returned in the spring. If he makes a successful return to being one of college football's top passers, that gives TCU a big leg up over most of the Big 12. "He's a good guy, everybody likes him," running back Waymon James said of Pachall. "If somebody needs picking up, Casey, he's there. He's got all the leader skills, it's just things off the field. He needs to make better choices off the field." TCU coach Gary Patterson said he didn't bring Pachall to the Big 12's Media Days because he said Pachall expressed a desire to be a "normal" football player. So far, a return to normalcy has done wonders for Pachall. "When he came back in the spring, to see the color back in his face, the conversations we had that we weren't having when he left, to me, told me right away that we'd done the right thing," Patterson said. There's also the fact Pachall has yet to officially win his job back. Trevone Boykin was thrown to the fire last year as a freshman, but now gives TCU an opportunity to frustrate defenses with his mobility as much as Pachall can pick them apart with his arm. "If you want to play well in the Big 12, you've got to play well at quarterback," Patterson said. "Even last year, when Trevone played well, we won. When he didn't play well, we lost. "So having a Casey Pachall back, I think he was the number one ranked quarterback after four games when we set him aside, I think tells you when he comes back and plays at that level, it gives us a better chance to win." The Frogs can also win with defense, especially in a league that doesn't always boast a lot of it. TCU went 7-6 last season, 4-5 in the Big 12, as it transitioned from playing in the Mountain West. TCU was picked third in the media preseason poll, behind Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. However, TCU received the second-most first place votes with nine, ahead of Texas and Oklahoma with eight. Six teams overall received first-place votes, an indication it could be a year of parity in the Big 12. The team with the best defense should have a significant advantage. TCU returns nine starters from a defense that ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense last season and was 16th nationally. Defensive lineman Devonte Fields was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year by the media after an outstanding freshman campaign. The Frogs were No. 1 in rushing defense (10th nationally) and only Kansas State gave up fewer points in the Big 12. "We had a lot of young players that were playing last year and we have a lot of chemistry with them now that we're a year older, a year smarter," cornerback Jason Verrett said. "I'm pretty excited on what we're going to do." There's excitement on offense to see what receiver Ja'Juan Story, a transfer from Florida, can do. There's even more excitement about the season opener. TCU will meet SEC powerhouse LSU on Aug. 31 at Cowboys Stadium. It's a game the players have been pointing to since last season. "LSU really helps us get ready in the spring and the summer, no matter how the ballgame goes," Patterson said. "We need to play well because, for us to recruit the kind of kids to win a Big 12, to win a national championship, you have to have some of the best players in the nation come to your place. The only want you can prove that you can do that sometimes is you go play a program like an LSU." It should also be a proving ground for Pachall, whose goal is to play in NFL venues on Sunday. Patterson said Pachall's NFL aspirations have helped in his recovery. "If you want to get to the NFL, it's a business. You're going to clock in at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning, and you're going to do your job, and you're going to go home at 6:00 or 7:00 at night. Can you handle that?" Patterson said. "As we go forward, we'll find out how he does that. If he does, it's going to be a great story. If not, we took our opportunity to try to change a kid's life, and maybe it didn't work out. "But I'm betting on the first one." Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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