College football writer
As auld lang syne rang out across the country and multi-colored balloons rained down from rooftops everywhere, college football fans would be forgiven if they overlooked New Year’s festivities for something much simpler and much more necessary: take a collective breath.
What else is there to do, really, after the College Football Playoff delivered a night for the ages and one that won’t soon be forgotten? It’s hard to even process it all in the midst of throbbing emotions and improbable game after improbable game for a good eight or nine hours straight.
We have to process it, though, as TCU’s 51-45 masterclass against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl provided a delicious appetizer for Georgia’s thrilling 42-41 comeback in its own backyard against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. If you wanted to label it as 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 to a big Western showdown on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and a fitting end to this flawless season that has spawned stories fit for Hollywood and more unpredictable results than we know what to do with .
For TCU, the chance to win its first national championship since 1938 represents much more than just a new school adding this cylindrical gold trophy to its football facility. The Horned Frogs are less representative of the rags-to-riches American dream and more about the vision, alignment and unwavering belief it takes to reach the top of the sport.
They never stopped dreaming of making it to the big leagues and held onto those ambitions through a multitude of conference affiliations. When the old BCS put in cuts, they overturned them. When some thought it couldn’t be done, they became more and more resistant.
How else to explain the fact that former athletic director Chris Del Conte and current AD Jeremiah Donati moved mountains and pounded pavement to convince old rivals like Texas to help extend a Big 12 invitation to the small private Christian school in a metropolitan area totally saturated by the league? They willed it into existence a decade 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 the first College Football Playoff win for a program in Texas. .
No, not the Longhorns or the Aggies or the Bears or the Red Raiders. Instead, it’s the guys who made the Hypnotoads a thing in the college football lexicon.
Breaking down TCU’s stunning upset of Michigan
All this, too, despite going 5-7 and firing their head coach Gary Patterson, who literally has a statue outside the team’s stadium, last year. The same group picked seventh in the league starting in 2022 and the same one that, several coaches noted after the Fiesta Bowl, had preseason odds of 20,000 to 1 to win it all in Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, they have reached 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 vastly exceeds even the most optimistic expectations anyone had for the team in Sonny Dykes’ debut campaign.
Now that they’re here, though…why not complete the storybook ending in a city so closely associated with making movie magic, no matter how strange things seemed at the initial meeting?
However, if TCU is a team destined for the national championship, its tall task seems even more momentous considering that its opponent is not only the reigning title holder, but the current gold standard, team willing to put a firm stamp on it. that dynastic run with the first consecutive run in the playoff era.
It didn’t used to be that way for the Georgia Bulldogs, of course. They were far from the top dawgs but rather the unprofitable type, often questioned as to how they weren’t a more regular participant in the national championship picture despite all the fertile recruiting at their doorstep, the multitude of resources at their disposal, or the impressive col· lesson of head coaches to pass. for Athens
Thanks to Kirby Smart, now a remarkable 80-15 in seven seasons, those questions have faded into the background. One of Nick Saban’s most prized disciples was brought back to his alma mater with one mandate and one mandate only: to be the best.
UGA is on the precipice of that.
The Bulldogs stack top recruiting class on top of top recruiting class. They win ugly and they win big. They’re right with the right coaching decisions when the moment calls for it, like Smart’s incredible use of timeouts against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. They’ve won five straight New Year’s Six bowl games, and are looking to extend that 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 get this ultimate champion designation).
How Kirby Smart Saved the Day in Georgia
Perhaps more than anything, the handful of cruel turns that somehow always seemed to go against the Bulldogs now seem to be tipping in the red and black’s favor. In a sport where the margin is as much about inches as it is about yards, Georgia has more consistently found itself on the right side of history as it enters its third title game in six years.
Lest you think this program is made up of only Goliaths, it’s worth noting that the leader between the lines for the Bulldogs, quarterback Stetson Bennett, is someone even TCU fans can relate to. Labeled as a two-star out of high school, he walked on at his parents’ alma mater after the vast majority of FBS programs told him he was too small, unathletic and lacked the arm strength needed to make it to the SEC. .
Despite all the doubts, however, he persevered. He transferred to a university, but returned to Athens even though he knew the role was to be primarily a stand-in. He was demoted twice, but it happened each time when his number was called again. Bennett made sure he never had to buy a cup in his home state by capturing the school’s first national title since 1980 last season, and with one more win next Monday night, he can be talked about among the most accomplished call signs in sports.
It’s a dynastic destiny versus a Hollywood fairy tale that originated in the heart of Texas. A final show of respect for moxi-suppressant Max Duggan and ex-walker Bennett. Another chance to prove that every good defense needs a partner in an explosive offense that is far from ordinary.
One more game for the trophy to rule them all. One more game for the history books and college football immortality.
It’ll be hard to top the semifinal thrillers that Georgia vs. TCU gave us on Jan. 9 in Los Angeles, but we sure hope greatness is revealed one way or another given what these two have become programs
Make it meaningful
Best player: CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Team of the week: TCU
Coach of the week: Kirby Smart, Georgia
Goat of the week: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
GOAT of the week: College football fans
The tweet of the week
ReliaQuest Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Illinois
It will be an emotional day regardless of when the Bulldogs take the field, and it’s hard to work out how they will play in their first action since the death of Mike Leach last month. The Illini are missing some key players and coaches, but will likely keep things close until MSU pulls off a very special win in Tampa.
Cotton ball: Tulane vs. USC
Caleb Williams seems fine to be in this one, which has a chance to become quite the backcourt contest given the two offensive head coaches, the lack of defense and incredible talent at the skill position. The Trojans get the nod, but they won’t be shocked if the Green Wave keep this game going into the fourth quarter.
Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Purdue
It would already be difficult for the Boilermakers to compete against an SEC team like the Tigers, but when you throw in waivers and missing coaches, the deck seems stacked against the Big Ten East champions. They can pass the half, but LSU’s athleticism allows them to roll after halftime.
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Utah
The granddaddy of them all won’t be the same after this, probably the last traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup under those lovely San Gabriels and a perfect sunset. Kyle Whittingham labeled his group a transition team given some of the missing starters, and that’s also what PSU is all about. The Nittany Lions might grab an early lead with an explosive play or two, but in the end, it’s the Utes who get the job done from Pasadena.
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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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