TCU’s fairytale run against the Georgia Dynasty: A fitting end to a flawless season

As aude lang syne rang out across the country and multicolored balloons rained down from ceilings from afar, college football fans would be forgiven if they bypassed the New Year’s festivities to do something much simpler and much necessary: ​​catch our collective breath.

What else is there to do, really, after the college football playoffs delivered a night for the ages and one that won’t soon be forgotten? It’s hard to even process it all amid pulsating emotional swings and unlikely game after unlikely game for eight or nine hours straight.

However, we have to process it, because TCU’s 51-45 masterclass against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl provided a delicious appetizer for Georgia’s thrilling 42-41 home-court comeback against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. If you wanted to label it the best night the sport has ever seen given the stakes involved, you’d be closer to finding the truth than being a prisoner of the moment.

All of which leads us to a big Western showdown on January 9 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and a fitting finale to this flawless season that has spawned Hollywood-worthy storylines and results more unpredictable than we know what. To do.

For TCU, the chance to win its first national championship since 1938 is more than just a new school adding that cylindrical gold trophy to its football facilities. Horned Frogs are less representative of the American dream trope of rags-to-riches and more of the vision, alignment, and unwavering belief it takes to reach the pinnacle of sport.

They never stopped dreaming of reaching the major leagues and have stayed true to those ambitions through a multitude of conference affiliations. When the former BCS erected roadblocks, they overthrew them. When some thought it couldn’t be done, they became more and more resilient.

How else to explain the fact that former sporting director Chris Del Conte and current AD Jeremiah Donati moved mountains and pounded the pavement to convince old rivals like Texas to help extend a Big 12 invitation to the small private Christian school in a metropolitan area completely saturated by the league? They wanted it ten years ago, and now it’s TCU, and not any of the biggest, richest, or most powerful institutions in the Lone Star State, that can claim to have won the first playoff victory in college football by a program in Texas. .

No, not the Longhorns or the Aggies, or the Bears or the Red Raiders. Instead, it was the guys who made Hypnotoads a thing in the college football lexicon.

Breaking down the amazing Michigan upset by TCU

Breaking down the amazing Michigan upset by TCU

All that, too, despite going 5-7 and firing their longtime head coach Gary Patterson – who literally has a statue outside the team’s stadium – last year. The same group picked seventh in the league heading into 2022 and the same one that several coaches rated following the Fiesta Bowl had about 20,000-to-1 odds of winning it all by the sharps in Las Vegas.

Through it all, they have risen to the top of the mountain, ready to go down in history as one of the most unlikely champions the sport has ever produced. Even those inside the program fully acknowledge that this far exceeds even the most optimistic expectations anyone had for the team during Sonny Dykes’ first campaign.

Now that they’re here, why not finish the storybook ending in a town so closely associated with movie magic, no matter how weird things seemed in the first pitch meeting?

If TCU are a destiny team when it comes to the national championship game, however, their big task seems even more important given that their opponent is not only the reigning title holder, but the current gold standard. , the team ready to put a firm stamp on this dynastic run with the first-ever back-to-back run in the playoff era.

It wasn’t like that for the Georgia Bulldogs, of course. They were far from top guys but rather the underachieving kind, so often questioned that he was not a more regular participant in the national championship image despite all the fertile recruiting on his doorstep, the multitude of resources at his disposal or the impressive collection of head coaches to pass through Athens.

Thanks to Kirby Smart, now a remarkable 80-15 over seven seasons, those questions have taken a back seat. One of Nick Saban’s most esteemed disciples has been brought back to his alma mater with one mandate and only one: to be the best.

UGA is about to do that.

The Bulldogs stack top recruiting class on top of top recruiting class. They win ugly and they win big. They’re on hand with the right practice decisions when the moment calls for it, like the incredible use of timeout Smart displayed against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. They’ve won five straight New Year’s Six Bowl games and are looking to extend the streak to six and do something no one has done in over a decade (with the added hurdle of playing an extra game just to obtain this designation of the ultimate champion).

How Kirby Smart saved the day for Georgia

How Kirby Smart saved the day for Georgia

Perhaps more than anything, the handful of cruel twists that somehow always seemed to go against the Bulldogs now seem to be tilting in favor of red and black. In a sport where the margin is as much inches as yards, Georgia has found itself on the right side of history more consistently as it enters its third title game in six years.

Lest you think of this program as being all Goliaths, it’s worth pointing out that the Bulldogs’ fearless frontman between the lines — quarterback Stetson Bennett — is someone even TCU fans can relate to. identify. Labeled two stars out of high school, he walked to his parents’ alma mater after being told by the vast majority of FBS programs that he was simply too short, unathletic, and had no the arm strength needed to succeed in the SEC. .

Through all doubts, however, he persevered. He transferred to a junior college but ended up in Athens even though he knew the role was mainly to be a substitute. He was demoted twice, but came back each time his number was called again. Bennett made sure he never had to buy a drink in his home country by winning the school’s first national title since 1980 last season, and with one more victory next Monday night he can be considered one of the most accomplished signallers in the sport.

It’s dynastic fate versus a Hollywood fairy tale that originated in the heartland of Texas. A final show of respect for Max Duggan and ex-walk-on Bennett. One more opportunity to show that any good defense needs a partner in an explosive attack that is far from trivial.

One more game for the trophy to rule them all. One more game for the history books and the immortality of college football.

It’s going to be tough to top the semi-final thrillers that gave us Georgia vs TCU on Jan. 9 in Los Angeles, but we’re definitely going to expect greatness to be revealed one way or another considering of what these two programs have become.

Make sense

Semi-final superlatives

Best player: CJ Stroud, Ohio State

Team of the week: TOS

Coach of the week: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Goat of the week: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

GOAT of the week: college football fans

Tweet of the week

Pre-snapshot readings

ReliaQuest Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Illinois

It’s going to be an emotional day no matter when the Bulldogs take to the field, and it’s unclear how they’ll play in their first action since the death of Mike Leach last month. The Illini are missing a few key players and coaches, but they’re likely keeping things close until MSU breaks through for a very special win in Tampa.

Cotton Bowl: Tulane vs. USC

Caleb Williams looks set to get into this one, which has the chance to turn into an on-track encounter given the two attacking-minded head coaches, a lack of defense and incredible skill-position talent. The Trojans get the green light, but don’t be shocked if the green wave continues this game into the fourth quarter.

Bowl of Citrus: USL vs. Purdue

It was already going to be tough for the Boilermakers to compete against an SEC team like the Tigers, but when you add the waivers and missing coaches, the game looks stacked against the Big Ten East champions. They can hang around for a half, but LSU’s athleticism allows them to ride after the break.

Rose bowl: Penn State vs. Utah

Everyone’s grandfather won’t be the same after this one, probably the last traditional Big Ten game against Pac-12 under those lovely San Gabriels and a perfect setting sun. Kyle Whittingham called his group a transition team given some of the starters missing, and that’s also something PSU is handling. The Nittany Lions could take an early lead with an explosive play or two, but in the end, it’s the Utes who do the work from Pasadena.

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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has covered college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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