TCU, Georgia forge different paths to championship game


On paper, the College Football Playoff national title game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 TCU isn’t a heavyweight matchup. It’s more like Mike Tyson vs. Glass Joe in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

It’s like a tall blade of grass versus a lawnmower. It’s Aaron Judge against a slow-pitch softball machine.

It’s a lopsided affair, and the rosters these teams have built, and how they’ve built them, underscore just how different this national title game is.

TCU vs. Georgia: David vs. Goliath?

TCU vs. Georgia: David vs. Goliath?

After a 2021 season that culminated in Georgia winning its first national title in four decades, the Bulldogs lost 14 starters from the best team in the sport and the best defense the SEC had seen in 10 years.

For almost any other program, this is a setback. In the modern version of the sport, it would also mean managers across the staff directory immediately accessing the ever-expanding transfer portal to find connectable players to suit their needs.

At Michigan State, Mel Tucker used the portal to turn his program from 2-5 in 2020 to 11-2 in 2021. At USC, Lincoln Riley used the transfer portal to turn a program that finished 4-8 in 2021 to 11-3. in just over a calendar year.

These are just two examples of head coaches turning to the development and evaluation of other programs for their benefit. Lately, prestige, branding and the promise of money made in the form of name, image and likeness have made the rich richer.

Alabama is one example, with impact starters playing the 2022 season in Tuscaloosa after starting their careers elsewhere, including linebacker Henry To’o To’o (who started his career at Tennessee), the receiver Jermaine Burton (Georgia), offensive tackle. Tyler Steen (Vanderbilt), cornerback Eli Ricks (LSU) and running back Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech).

All of these men chose Alabama for some specific reasons, but others quite obvious, such as the ability to play for national titles and enter the NFL Draft with a high number of picks, and the extra money that comes with it. A place like TCU, on the other hand, couldn’t compete in that area. TCU could only hope to find scraps that Alabama, USC or even Michigan State didn’t want, until now.

The Horned Frogs, so far, are the best example of using the transfer window to build a national title contending team.

No team in the transfer era has taken double-digit transfers, paired them with a first-year coach and staff, and gone straight to the national title game. In fact, TCU’s Sonny Dykes is trying to become the fourth coach in history to win a national title in his first year at a program, and the first since Larry Coker did it with the Miami Hurricanes 21 years ago. years.

Dykes earned this opportunity by building on the foundation left by his predecessor, Gary Patterson, who was remarkably brilliant and consistent in taking underappreciated high school players and turning them into top talents of the NFL. Dykes and his staff took that, then hit the portal for what else they needed.

Shadrach Banks played wide receiver in high school, and his game was compared favorably to Amari Rodgers. But Banks plays linebacker at TCU because that’s what Patterson thought he would do best. Patterson did it once with Ty Summers, who committed to play quarterback at Rice in 2013 before flipping his commitment to TCU and becoming a linebacker and linebacker.

With the benefit of Patterson’s evaluation, Dykes and assistants also managed to land transfers, 13 in fact, who chose TCU because they weren’t given a chance to play right away or make an impact on their teams in the way that each of them imagined. . With players like Johnny Hodges choosing to transfer to TCU from Navy and bolstering a scheme that defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie had proven could develop first-round NFL talent in Tulsa, TCU looked only to give -it’s an opportunity.

And that’s it: an opportunity. The Horned Frogs are the first to point out that they were picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the Big 12, and have benefited from being overlooked and underrated starting in Week 1. In that sense, they are diametrically opposed to their opponent on Monday at night.

Georgia was picked by most to play in this game almost as soon as it won the 2021 national title, despite losing so much experience and production to graduation and the NFL. That’s because Kirby Smart has affected the recruiting and development philosophy of his mentor, Nick Saban. They choose them, seat them and develop them.

Can Max Duggan lead an upset for the Bulldogs?

Can Max Duggan lead an upset for the Bulldogs?

Smart, in just five years, turned Georgia into a new benchmark for recruiting and then dispersed that talent on both sides of the ball. Fifteen five-star players and 78 top-level recruits (five- and four-star players) are on UGA’s 85-scholarship roster.

TCU boasts just 17 blue chips and one five-star player, ranking 32nd in the 247 Sports Talent Composite behind programs like Georgia Tech and Missouri.

Many programs aim to reload rather than rebuild. UGA takes it further, instilling a culture of Bulldog football along the way. As the portal gains entrants and NIL becomes the currency for which signings are made, UGA sells teenagers on this culture, convincing them to bet on the process with the idea that it will pay off in a few years . It’s proven to be a winning strategy.

However, not every program has the means to build like that, and not every program will have the financial ability to sustain the effort of courting the best players in the country year after year. So, UGA will likely be here, in this national title conversation, longer than TCU.

But more chatter about the offseason booster program will be punctuated by wealthy donors approaching their respective coaches at caravan stops and asking why they can’t be the next TCU. These coaches will have no choice but to say it’s possible and pursue it.

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