1) We all know that Gary Patterson is playing coy with his starting quarterback, but anybody that has watched them play knows that Casey Pachall is much better than Trevone Boykin. Is this a pure gamesmanship move, or will both players be on the field this Saturday?
Both players will play, but they'll be in different roles. Pachall will be the starter and get the lion's share of the snaps, while Boykin will be the wildcat quarterback who can actually throw a bit. I think TCU will try the zone read with Boykin and James to attempt to frustrate the LSU defensive ends, then try to use that aggression to open up a deep pass opportunity or two for Boykin. I'd expect an 80-20 split of the snaps, since Casey can run enough to keep a defense honest on the option and zone read, but he's not a big play threat on the ground.
2) Speaking of Pachall, any word on how his comeback is going, and is there any concern with rust, given not only the duration, but the intensity of his layoff and personal problems?
There's certainly concern about rust, as there were reports out of early spring practice that while the arm was still as much of a howitzer as before, his timing was significantly off. The caveat to that is that he has been back with the team through spring and fall practices, so I'm confident he'll have the timing down once again. The real issue that I think Casey may have is a mental one, as one of his strengths has always been his confidence to put the ball into small windows. This hasn't resulted in a ton of interceptions for Casey, as he really is that good (In fact, on the whole quarterback and secondary are the only two position groups I wouldn't happily trade with LSU). Can he still have that confidence, given his issues and the time he's had off? That will be a big concern for the active NCAA passing efficiency leader.
3) The quarterbacks are the big names on this Horned Frogs offense, but what are some of the other backs and receivers LSU will need to watch out for?
At running back the key man is Waymon James, who was sidelined for all but two games last year with a severe knee injury. Before the injury, James was averaging an insane 9.9 yards per carry, which would have likely come down some but not a huge amount as he'd averaged 7.2 ypc in 2011. James is a Maurice Jones-Drew type back, short but immensely powerful and with great speed, him having a big game is key for TCU's chances. On the receiving end of Casey Pachall's passes TCU has a variety of very speedy players, but the two that will cause LSU the most headaches are the lightning quick Brandon Carter and the beastly LaDarius Brown. Carter will take over for Josh Boyce as Pachall's favorite option, as he has the speed to get open and is as sure-handed as they come, but I expect LSU to have the most trouble with LaDarius Brown. At 6'4" and 220 Brown is too big to be brought down by most corners, and he has legit 4.45 speed which can make him a matchup nightmare.
4) The Frogs have been hit with a couple of late defections and may be without stud defensive end Devonte Fields. What are the major concerns and question marks y'all have going into this season opener?
TCU is as deep and talented as any team in the Big 12 at two of the three position groups on both sides of the ball- but the other group is important enough that it makes the rest of the entire offensive/defensive unit more questionable. On offense the offensive line is the question mark, as TCU's line is huge but inexperienced, particularly at guard and right tackle, where play by play announcer's nightmare Halapoulivaati Vaitai will slide in to replace the suddenly departed Tayo Fabuluje. The good news is that TCU's line has an experienced center who can communicate well with the rest of the line, and we clock in at over 300 lbs at every position on the line, which should keep even the genetic freaks of nature that LSU will have opposite them from bowling them over too quickly, but run blocking effectively will be the key and I expect them to struggle with it a bit early. On defense the linebackers are a major question mark, as Kenny Cain was the lone senior on defense last year, and fellow returning starter Joel Hasley quit the team in fall practice. The silver lining to Hasley leaving is that it appears he quit over being passed on the depth chart, so the real issue there is one of depth. Still, the 4-2-5 relies heavily on the linebackers reading plays correctly, dropping into coverage when necessary and filling the proper gaps, so there's definite trepidation about the linebackers.
5) TCU has more than proven that they can hang with almost anybody on the field. But every team has a weakness, and what's been the most common denominator when Patterson's teams have struggled the last few seasons?
At least one facet of TCU's special teams group has been a serious question mark since 2008 where Ross Evans managed to kick us out of the Sugar Bowl with two bad misses against Utah. Since then we had more Evans expletives than any other, including the 2011 Boise State game where a missed extra point early led to Patterson's decision to go for two (and the win) later in the game. Last year the kicking improved with Evans' graduation and the rise of strong legged Jaden Oberkrom to the role, but the return game went into the toilet as the previously sure handed returner Skye Dawson went through a string of six games in a row where he failed to cleanly field a punt, often turning into a score for the other team (including setting up the deciding touchdown in our bowl loss to MSU last year). During the Kansas State game Dawson came out of the game with an injury which caused us all to breathe a sigh of relief... until backup returner Deante' Gray promptly fumbled the next Kansas State punt. Dawson is gone, but Gray remains and it will be a long time before TCU feels comfortable with anyone returning a punt or kick.
On a longer term view, TCU has struggled when injuries have piled up- a problem that you can date all the way back to the Southwest Conference days. When the Frogs have time to develop starting talent, it's as good as anyone else in the conference- the issues come as injuries pile up late in the season and untested bodies are stepping in. Unlike the LSUs and Texases of the world we're more likely to have a two star than a four star backup, which can lead to serious issues.
6) With the game being played less than an hour from TCU's campus, what are your expectations for fan turnout? Will TCU bring enough to give them a majority, or even a strong minority in the Jerradome?
TCU fans are really excited for this game, so while I don't expect a majority (there are a lot more of you than there are us) I wouldn't be surprised with something around a 50-50 split. It's in a major metropolitan area where there are a ton of LSU grads and fans, and it's not so far from campus that the drive is more than a day trip. That said, TCU has really been embraced as "Fort Worth's football team" of late, so I think we'll see a great turnout from both fanbases.