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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:20 AM

Though the new college football season officially kicked off Thursday Night, the most intriguing of the weeknight preliminaries this week is definitely Friday's matchup between #14 TCU and unranked Baylor.

  • TCU may not be as good as that national ranking given all the personnel turnover they've had since their Rose Bowl campaign.

  • Baylor may be much better than original projections that barely cracked the top 50 in some preseason publications.

TCU was a 6-point favorite when we went to press. Last year, that spread may have been closer to -9 or -10 in Waco given how great the Horned Frogs were playing. This year? Might the wrong team be favored?

TCU is truly a team of mystery entering the 2011 season. Some of the reasons why:

  • Andy Dalton is gone at quarterback. He may be starting for the Cincinnati Bengals when they open the regular season next week. His final start at TCU was a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. How good will the new quarterback be? It's impossible to know until he sees snaps at full speed. Full speed won't come in a tune-up against Nobody Tech. It will come on the road against in hostile territory against a bowl team from the Big 12.

  • There's little experience on the offensive line. It's tough enough to break in a new quarterback when you have a lot of veterans up front! TCU ranks near the bottom of the board nationally in terms of games played offensively at the point of attack.

  • There's little experience on the whole offense! If you read our summer series of conference previews, you'll recall that only two starters return for TCU on offense. It's not like the backups are completely green. This is a team that wins a lot of blowouts because they play a soft schedule. Still, running roughshod over lower division teams in the Mountain West in the fourth quarter of a blowout is nowhere near the same thing as starting a game on the road vs. quality.

  • The defense is inexperienced too! TCU's defense is typically so great that they can live with a poor offense and still win smash mouth games. If the offense is good, they sneak into the BCS picture in a typical year. Well, it's hard to say right now how good this team will be on either side of the ball. TCU only returns four defensive starters from last year's #1 rated total yardage defense.

Pretty bleak outlook for a program, no matter what happened the prior year.

You can't just assume the worst for TCU though. These known quantities are definitely in play:

  • Gary Patterson is a fantastic defensive coach. His schematics and aggression get the job done. It really is a case of "reloading" rather than rebuilding in a typical season on that side of the ball as a result. You have to assume going in that TCU's defense is going to make its presence felt Friday Night, even if the names aren't very familiar to TV announcers.

  • TCU has athletes. Texas is a hotbed for high school football. This program has done a great job of finding guys who fall through the cracks in terms of Big 12 recruiting. In fact, they're not getting guys who don't fall through the cracks...but who just want to go to TCU because they have a better chance of playing in a big bowl game! All the studs at wearing the burnt orange of the Texas Longhorns last year sat on their couches and watched TCU play Wisconsin in Pasadena. 

  • TCU's athletes aren't afraid of Baylor's athletes. Even if Baylor is in the Big 12, and TCU is in the less respected Mountain West...high schoolers in the state don't grow up dreaming of playing in Waco. TCU's new starters might be intimidated (though they wouldn't admit it) if they had to open the season in Austin, College Station, or even Norman, Oklahoma. Their knees won't be shaking against Baylor.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have posted a number that kind of splits the difference amongst all the unknowns. The ranked team gets respect over the unranked team. The coach who's played in BCS bowls lately gets respect over the coach who's never been. The team with a great reputation on defense gets respect over an inconsistent host who lost its bowl game to Illinois last year 38-14.

This year's TCU team has a very good shot of being better than that Illinois team!

So, how do make the call?

There are mysteries in terms of talent. Both teams should be fired up. TCU knows it has to be focused early because this trip is followed next week by a visit to Air Force. They can coast through the next seven games before visiting Boise State (unless BYU shows more spunk this year than they have in past meetings with the Horned Frogs). Baylor's next four games are Stephen F. Austin, Rice, Kansas State, and Iowa State...meaning the Bears could sneak into the top 25 with a 5-0 start if they can pull off an upset here. It's a very tough game for a do-it-yourself handicapper to hang their hat on beyond the basics of "TCU should be at least -10 over any unranked team," or "never lay points on the road with a new quarterback."

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK knew they'd be playing this one for clients. It's the only game on a prime time schedule...that means clients expect to cash their tickets and build their bankrolls for the weekend. You have two months to analyze the game. Use your scouts and sources to find the winner!

That's exactly what Jim Hurley has done. He knows more about TCU's starters than everyone in ESPN's studios combined. He knows who holds the edge in early season meetings between creative offenses and physical defenses. He has all the trend records about what teams do the next year after winning their bowl, and what they do after losing one. It's all come together for a Friday Sleeper play that's either going to launch TCU back into the Top Ten...or launch Baylor up into the Top 25.

DON'T YOU GO TO SLEEP ON THIS GAME!

You can purchase it right here at the website. Tonight's winner will then set the stage for Saturday's BACK-TO-SCHOOL PARLAY that's going to sweep the board and earn a 13-5 return. You'll recall last year's combo was Washington over Syracuse 41-20, and Air Force over BYU 35-14. Both plays won their games by 21 points! The fun will continue throughout Labor Day Weekend with additional big play action.

Be sure to check on bonus baseball too as the pennant races continue to stay in flux. Series will be watching closely this weekend include:

Arizona at San Francisco (huge series in the NL West!)
Texas at Boston (Rangers reeling, Red Sox rolling?)
Toronto at NY Yankees (Blue Jays won't lay down)
Chicago White Sox at Detroit (Motown motors running well of late)

If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453. We'll be happy to put together a one-sport or two-sport package that bets means your individual needs.

TCU may be a team of mystery heading into Friday Night action. There's been no mystery over the last 25 years about who the best college football handicapper is. That man is JIM HURLEY. And, NETWORK is the juggernaut he created that brings the best of informational analysis, stat analysis, computer analysis, and market analysis to find you BIG JUICY WINNERS every night!

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