TCU is college football's one true Cinderella ... at least in the last 38 years ... and even then it's a discussion.
BYU won the 1984 national championship through a series of circumstances but mostly because it beat Michigan in the Holiday Bowl and stood as the only undefeated major-college team in the country (13-0). In the days before the "Power Five" designation, BYU was considered a power program in a major conference (WAC).
Boise State beat Oklahoma, finished in the top five and sent scores of players to the NFL during Chris Petersen's heyday. Cincinnati made it to the College Football Playoff but was quickly eliminated. And as one observer quickly pointed out Saturday night, the Horned Frogs played a tougher schedule in a better conference than the Bearcats on their way to the CFP.
Oh yeah, TCU also pulled off one of the upsets of the ages. Michigan was not only favored by more than a touchdown, it was in the middle of its best season ever. The great Bo Schembechler never won a national championship. Now with NFL rumors swirling around him again, the question begs itself: Will Jim Harbaugh ever win one?
Maybe that's being too picky. The point now is that TCU is a Cinderella with brass knuckles. The Frogs proved they could hang and in some cases dominate the physical Wolverines. So take that concern off the table in the matchup with Georgia.
, that they're not a traditional power ... or even a power at all considering their history.
So, like any big game, an analysis of the College Football Playoff National Championship becomes more about strategy than combine numbers. The Bulldogs are probably better, surely bigger and definitely hairier. TCU, though, isn't intimidated.
How TCU can win
Turn quarterback Max Duggan loose. No one has stopped him this season since the senior took over in the season opener for the injured Chandler Morris. Michigan came the closest holding the Heisman finalist to his worst passing day of the season (14 of 29) and intercepting him twice. But Duggan was there when needed, finding wide receiver Quentin Johnston on a simple crossing route that turned into a 76-yard touchdown pass that turned out to be a game-winning play in the CFP semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl. Johnston has been playing with a high-ankle sprain the last half of the season. It certainly didn't seem to impact him against Michigan.
That makes Duggan even more dangerous, more inspirational. He just doesn't look imposing at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. Georgia can underrate him at their peril. He cannot be unnerved and will certainly rebound from a substandard performance against Michigan. Anybody notice that Georgia has given up 1,000 combined yards the last two games?
Duggan has come a long way since having a catheter stuck up his groin two years ago to correct a heart problem. But in this age of the transfer portal, he has stuck it out. Monday will mark his 48th game with the Frogs.
The biggest surprise of the Michigan game may have been TCU's ability to shut down the run. After running back Donovan Edwards' game-opening 54-yard rumble, Michigan averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Backup Kalel Millings fumbled at the goal line. The Wolverines was largely ineffective in the red zone.
TCU forced QB J.J. McCarthy to be passer in the second half. It almost worked. McCarthy threw for a career-high 343 yards, 261 in the second half. But this is a TCU defense that is capable of controlling the running game. It allowed only 28 yards rushing at Texas in a defensive struggle.
This may sound weird, but the Michigan win marked one of the more impressive defensive performances by a team that gave up 45 points. TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges is an undersized Navy transfer but leads the team in tackles. Dee Winters (3.0 tackles for loss, an interception and a pass break up) might have been the best defender on the field as another Frogs starting LB.
At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, defensive lineman Dylan Horton is going to be a tough match up for the Dawgs coming off a four-sack game. Defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie has been sneaky good with the 3-3-5 "Stack" that relies on hybrid defenders who can drop in coverage and play in the box.
The health of RB Kendre Miller remains key. The 1,300-yard rusher (17 TDs!) played only until early in the second half then left with what is still an undisclosed injury. The biggest surprise was backup Emari Demercado, who rushed for a career-high 150 yards in his absence. Demercado is coming home for the championship game; he is from Inglewood, California, the location SoFi Stadium.
How Georgia can win
Follow Stetson Bennett IV to the Promised Land. He's done it once. Why not again? Georgia's sixth-year quarterback has passed every test -- from walking on to playing in junior college to riding the bench, to, well, becoming a superstar. Now, he is arguably the most celebrated signal caller in program history -- a designation that will be cemented if he is able to lead the Dawgs to consecutive national championships.
Bennett's latest accomplishment was rallying Georgia in the fourth quarter for the biggest comeback in CFP history. With nine minutes left against Ohio State, his team trailed by 11. At that point, Georgia assistants spotted Ohio State in a fake punt formation. Coach Kirby Smart was able to quickly call a timeout negating what would have been a first-down run.
On the next play after the punt, Bennett threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Arian Smith. The Buckeyes were no longer comfortable; they were protecting a precarious lead. Bennett solidified himself as a Captain Comeback completing his last six passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
He had thrown the winning touchdown pass with 10 minutes left against Alabama in the 2022 CFP National Championship. Against Missouri, in UGA's closest regular-season shave, he led the Dawgs back from a 13-point deficit. So, it's fair to say: Defeat Bennett and you defeat the Dawgs.
A lot like Michigan, this version of Georgia is steady but perhaps not all-the-time spectacular offensively. Smart likes to distribute the ball on the ground. For the third consecutive year, there is no 1,000-yard rusher. All-American tight end Brock Bowers is the game breaker, although he didn't get started until late against Ohio State. Same for possession WR Ladd McConkey.
As physical and productive as TCU's secondary played against Michigan (two pick sixes), it got flagged several times for holding and pass interference. Georgia's receivers are a bit deeper and more dynamic than those of Michigan. Bennett will find them. He always does. In a career year, he should surpass 4,000 passing yards against TCU.
Who will win?
It's hard to buy the malarky that Georgia merely "woke up" after trailing Ohio State by two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter. In many ways, the Dawgs are fortunate to be here. We raise those issues to reinforce how the Frogs can get their foot in the door. Anyone remember that LSU threw for more than 500 yards in the SEC Championship Game? C.J. Stroud may have been the best player on the field in the Peach Bowl. In other words: There are holes in the Georgia defense. TCU just has to find them.
In its last 138 snaps covering the last two games, Georgia has given up 7.36 yards per play. What the Dawgs have morphed into lately gives the Frogs a chance. TCU will be forced to outscore Georgia and ensure its defense does not suddenly clamp down. Not when TCU has gotten this far and has a legitimate shot at the Cinderella shocker.
A shootout favors the Frogs. History favors the Dawgs. Consecutive championships for Georgia would be the first since Alabama (2011-12) and first ever in the College Football Playoff era. Bet the over and bring your popcorn. This should be epic. Let's say Georgia 34, TCU 30.