Preview: TCU football set to face Georgia in College Football National Championship


Tristen Smith

TCU and Georgia head coaches Sonny Dykes and Kirby Smart, respectively, stand with the national championship trophy, Jan. 8, 2023. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

By Micah Pearce, Staff Writer

The TCU Horned Frogs will face the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs in the national championship.

TCU started the season unranked in the AP poll. It was also picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll. Georgia was ranked No. 3 in the AP preseason poll and only took two games to reach the No. 1 position. The Bulldogs continue to hold on to that top spot going into the national championship.

However, in the College Football Playoff, the number next to the team doesn’t matter.

The No. 3 Frogs beat No. 2 Michigan in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl to punch their ticket to the national championship. TCU hadn’t appeared in a bowl game in four seasons. The Frogs beat a Michigan team that was making its second CFP appearance in two years.

TCU head coach Sonny Dykes holds up the Fiesta Bowl trophy after beating No. 2 Michigan in the College Football Playoff, Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

“Probability is not reality,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “Reality is about what happens on the field in between those lines.”

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett wasn’t surprised the Frogs would be their opponent in the national title game. The Bulldogs were dialed in on their own team.

“We were all worried about what we were going to do at the beginning of the year,” he said. “In our building it’s always been about us.”

Bennett pointed out Michigan’s mistakes.

“[TCU] has a lot of pride,” he said. “Michigan was talking crap and they came out with a bone to pick with the run.”

LB Dee Winters pressures Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy, who narrowly escaped a safety, in the end zone, Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said the Frogs start at a disadvantage because they lack the experience of Georgia, which is competing for its second title in two years.

“This is our first time to be on a stage like this,” said Dykes. “It’s uncharted territory for most of our players.”

It’s uncharted for all but four players, the number of Frogs who had played in a bowl game before this season. Dykes said he has been impressed with how well the players have dealt with the distractions and bright lights.

“I’m really proud of how they’ve handled everything,” he said. “They’ve exceeded expectations in terms of their ability to focus on what’s important.”

Bringing the national championship trophy to Fort Worth is what is important to this 2022 TCU football team. But it won’t be easy.

The Frogs line up in a 3-3-5 defensive formation, which is flexible enough to allow the defenders to adapt to different plays. Smart complemented TCU’s defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie for the success he’s had with the 3-3-5 formation.

“It amazes me the job [Gillespie] does consistently,” he said. We became enamored with it when he was doing it at Tulsa.”

Smart said the formation helps the Frogs have more depth in their defense and allows them to utilize their speed.

“They do a tremendous job,” he said. “It’s a thing of beauty to myself because I enjoy watching really good defense.”

Georgia gave TCU more respect for its defense than Michigan did before the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy said there would be a lot of “smashing” if TCU rolled out its 3-3-5 formation.

Georgia and Smart know how well the Frogs have played as of late and they don’t want to go into the game with their heads in the wrong place. They are facing their own set of odds against them.

The last team to win back-to-back national titles was Alabama, which won the BCS Championship in 2011 and 2012.

TCU quarterback Max Duggan and the Frogs want to keep history from repeating.

“It’s fun when you get to play the champs,” Duggan said. “We’re excited to be on the same field as them and show what we’re all about and earn our spot.”

Georgia has scored an average of 39.4 points per game this season compared to TCU’s 41.1. On the defensive side, the Bulldogs have given up an average of 14.8 points per game compared to the Frogs’ 26.4.

Bennett gave credit to the Frog defense.

“I think [TCU]’s corners are really good,” he said. “That allows them to play and frees up everybody else because they trust them out there on that island.”

Gillespie said the 3-3-5 is a challenge for opposing offenses because it looks like there aren’t enough defenders, but they come in from different spots on the field to give the element of surprise.

Duggan and Bennett will be playing in their final college football games. Duggan declared for the NFL draft, calling it a “hard decision.”

“It was just something that I was ready for and I thought it was the best timing for myself and my family,” said Duggan.

The two quarterbacks shared some time together in New York because they were both candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman trophy finalists, from left, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, TCU quarterback Max Duggan, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams. Dec. 10, 2022, in New York.(AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson talked about their similarities.

“Stetson, he can run and Max can run also,” he said. “They are both complete quarterbacks, so seeing [Bennett] on film and facing [Duggan] every day, I feel like we’re prepared.”

The Frogs have looked to Duggan as a team leader. He was choked up after TCU lost the overtime battle to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship. After the Fiesta Bowl win, Duggan said it was a way to “avenge that loss.”

“College football season is not always pretty, things are going to go wrong,” he said. “We went through some adversity, but we’re fortunate enough to be in this position because of the values we’ve set for our program.”

The Frogs are playing to earn respect for TCU, but also for the Big 12 Conference and other schools that are counted out because they aren’t from the Southeastern Conference or the Big 10.

It’s the credibility that Dykes talks about in every press conference. And the key factor to earning that respect is winning by doing your job, the same three words that Dykes and staff have preached every week in the 2022 season that will end with a national championship appearance.

The Frogs are the first team from Texas to reach the College Football Playoff. They’re also the first team from Texas and the Big 12 to reach the national championship.

The 15th and final game of the Frogs’ season will be played in SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles against the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. CST. They’ll look to bring home their first national title since 1938.