Defensive end James McFarland of the TCU Horned Frogs looks...

Defensive end James McFarland of the TCU Horned Frogs looks on during a Big 12 game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Dec. 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Christian Petersen

If Kirk Herbstreit’s predictions come true, TCU fans will have a lot to be happy about in late December.

The ESPN analyst thinks the No. 13 Horned Frogs are in for a big season, so much that he included them in his preseason College Football Playoff prediction aslongside Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State.

“I think people are maybe sleeping a little bit on TCU,” Herbstreit told Newsday on Tuesday.

Herbstreit said his reasoning behind his pick is two-fold. First, he pointed to the defense, which is back at full strength after an injury plagued 2015. Four players who were expected to start and have key roles last season – defensive end James McFarland, linebacker Sammy Douglas, cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Kenny Iloka – were done by October. But they’ll be back this season, and they have a chance to make up for lost time.

“They have a chance, I think, defensively to be much better than they were a year ago,” said Herbstreit, who was on a call to promote Allstate’s #StreitCred program in which fans can tweet him their picks for the week’s standout performances. “They had so many different injuries on that side of the ball, so I think they come back better on defense.”

The other key for the Horned Frogs will be a new face under center. Kenny Hill – who succeeded Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M in 2014 – transferred to Fort Worth after losing the starting job in College Station, shedding his “Kenny Trill” nickname as he gets ready to replace Trevone Boykin.

Herbstreit called Hill his preseason Heisman sleeper and expects him to put up big numbers. Hill has shown some Heisman-caliber performances in the past – he threw for 1,094 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three games as A&M’s starter in 2014 before a stretch of bad games against SEC competition led to his benching.

“I just think that this team is going to enjoy a lot of success and I think he’s going to put up big numbers,” Herbstreit said of Hill. “And any time a team wins a lot of games, a lot of times they look to see who’s having a good year, and I think that guy will be Kenny Hill.”

As is the case every year in the Big 12, TCU will have some tough competition. No. 3 Oklahoma represented the conference in the College Football Playoff last season. No. 21 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Baylor also pose threats. But if things break right, the Horned Frogs could be in the mix for a conference title – and possibly a national championship.

Said Herbstreit: “I think they’re the team to look out for.”


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