This city lives for an irresistible underdog’s tale. Leave it to the College Football Playoff, of all the establishment-promoting institutions in this grand land, to provide Hollywood dreamers with a plot line dripping with all the good stuff.
The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, reared near the stockyards of Fort Worth and representing 12,000 undergraduate purple-wearing peers, are coming to town in early 2023. They’ll be joined by the Georgia Bulldogs, the defending national champions and a team everyone’s heard of, setting up the first Cinderella story in nine years of the CFP’s four-team bracket format.
Call it Dykes and Duggan vs. Goliath.
Sonny Dykes, as in the Mike Leach disciple who unceremoniously coached California for a while and groomed former Rams quarterback Jared Goff into a No. 1 draft pick. Dykes quietly moved across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex from Southern Methodist last December and turned TCU into blue-blood beaters in one season of masterful work.
Max Duggan? He’s the auburn-haired, Irish-heritage powder keg who began the year as Dykes’ chosen backup quarterback and finished it as a Heisman Trophy runner-up leading his team to a shocking 51-45 upset of formerly unbeaten Michigan in a memorable Fiesta Bowl on Saturday that will torture the Wolverine faithful for many years to come.
Michigan, with two pick-sixes thrown by quarterback J.J. McCarthy and a fumble giveaway at the TCU one-yard line, handed Dykes and Duggan the stones and stood dumbfounded at point-blank range for their crushing knockout blows, again and again.
It’s unlikely Georgia, 14-0, will be as helpful to TCU on the night of Jan. 9 in the CFP championship game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, but the Horned Frogs, 13-1, have also proved they don’t necessarily need any charity to compete with the top programs in the sport.
TCU, not Big 12-to-SEC defectors Texas and Oklahoma, is the first school from that league to win a playoff game and advance to the national championship game.
The Horned Frogs are also the first team from the football-obsessed state of Texas to make it this far. As of 2011, TCU was a member of the Mountain West Conference, just trying to play its way into the Power Five under program architect Gary Patterson.
The CFP has not been kind to upstarts, which is a big part of why the playoff is expanding to 12 teams in 2024. TCU, which went 5-7 last year and began the season unranked, didn’t need expansion to gain access, though.
More power to the Horned Frogs, then.
One subplot for SoFi’s first college football national championship game that will connect to at least one interested observer locally? Dykes and Duggan are aided by offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, the younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley.
Garrett Riley will have his hands full with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s defense, which was taken to the limit by Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud on Saturday night in a scintillating 42-41 Bulldogs comeback win in Atlanta’s Peach Bowl.
Stroud and the Buckeyes fought valiantly, taking a 38-24 lead in the fourth quarter, but the reality is the Big Ten went 0-2 in two heartbreaking CFP semifinal losses.
Georgia, as a team stacked with five-star recruits that is attempting to become the first squad since Alabama in 2011-12 to repeat as champion, will arrive in L.A. as a clear favorite over TCU.
Never mind that the Bulldogs are led by their own underdog, former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who engineered the game-winning drive in the final minute Saturday to add to his already improbable legend.
After two CFP semifinals decided by a combined seven points, Los Angeles college football fans are hopefully in for something equally special in nine days.