Nothing short of reaching another BCS game and winning it would satisfy TCU fans and players this year. If last season taught people anything it was to not underestimate the Horned Frogs.
Sixth-ranked TCU opens the season with an early test as it takes on No. 24 Oregon State at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night.
The Horned Frogs, who began the 2009 season ranked 16th, went 12-0 before losing 17-10 to undefeated Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
While TCU had hoped to face an opponent from an elite conference in its first BCS game, it ended up suffering its worst offensive game of the season, falling short of its goal of a BCS bowl victory.
"All last season, we were like, 'OK, we deserve to be in the BCS, we deserve to be there,'" receiver Curtis Clay said. "When we did get there, we didn't show the nation that we did deserve to be there."
Eager for redemption, the Horned Frogs have a good chance to stay among the nation's elite this year as they field yet another prolific offensive unit. The only departures from a team that averaged 456.7 yards and 38.3 points were All-Mountain West left tackle Marshall Newhouse and leading rusher Joseph Turner. However, the Horned Frogs' signal caller returns for a fourth season as starter.
Andy Dalton's next victory will make him the winningest quarterback in TCU history. He is already among the winningest active quarterbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 29-8 record. He threw for 2,756 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season.
"I feel like we should be better this year," Dalton said. "Obviously the bowl game didn't go as well as we wanted, but that's not what defined the season. See everything we accomplished."
There are bigger concerns on defense, where the Horned Frogs lost All-American end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington, who were both picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Starting cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders graduated.
However, TCU does return 24 of its 30 defensive letter winners including junior linebacker Tank Carder -- whose 89 tackles last season trailed only Washington -- and Wayne Daniels, who had 5 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Unlike last season, when TCU didn't face a ranked opponent until visiting then-No. 16 BYU on Oct. 24, the Horned Frogs are facing a tough test right out of the gate in a nationally televised game.
"For the longest time, we were saying we deserve to mentioned with those top-tier teams," Clay said. "I think now that we are being mentioned, it's very important this season to show that we deserve to be here.
"We were always trying to prove everyone wrong, and now I think our goal is to prove everyone right."
A game at Cowboys Stadium against a top-10 opponent will make for quite a debut for new Oregon State starting quarterback Ryan Katz, who spent last year backing up Sean Canfield. Canfield graduated after throwing for 21 touchdowns and completing a school-record 67.9 percent of his passes.
"The transition at that position always provides a mystery," coach Mike Riley said. "The guys will have to give Ryan a lot of support, but this kid is going to be a good quarterback."
Katz -- a sophomore -- has appeared in only four games, which means the Beavers may look to more experienced offensive players such as junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers to take the lead.
The 5-foot-7 Rodgers finished 11th in the FBS with 1,440 rushing yards and his 21 TD runs ranked third in the nation. He and older brother James, who had 91 receptions for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns, are two of the eight offensive starters returning from last year's team. Oregon State also returns eight starters on defense.
While they don't have experience at quarterback, the Beavers are optimistic they have enough proven players to make another run at a Pac-10 title. Only a loss to Oregon in the regular-season finale denied them their first trip to Pasadena since 1965.
Oregon State wrapped up an 8-5 season with a 44-20 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
"I think we can do it because a lot of guys bought into staying in Corvallis in the summer, more guys than we've had in past years -- just combining and coming together in the summer to work on timing and everything else," Jacquizz Rodgers said. "I think it will be a great year for us."
This is the first time these programs have met.
Top 25 Overview
If TCU wants another shot at a BCS bowl, a good showing against Pac-10 foe Oregon State is a must. The Horned Frogs return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Andy Dalton. Although the Beavers are breaking in new QB Ryan Katz, they return the dynamic duo of Jacquizz and James Rodgers.