Around the Region Bowl Special: No. 3 TCU set to crash CFP National Championship party vs. No. 1 Georgia

Dec 31, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Around the Region Bowl Special: No. 3 TCU set to crash CFP National Championship party vs. No. 1 Georgia


Bowl: CFP National Championship presented by AT&T

Date/Time: Monday, Jan. 9/6:30 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: ESPN/SiriusXM ch. 81

By this point, the story of the 2022 TCU Horned Frogs is well-documented. Picked preseason to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 in Sonny Dykes’ first year at the helm, few outside TCU’s football program saw its meteoric rise to the National Championship stage coming.

That the Horned Frogs qualified for the College Football Playoff at all after their 12-1 campaign felt like charity to many, an award bestowed upon that upstart team in purple from Fort Worth, Texas for its adorable storybook season. TCU was invited to the party, sure – but most in Big Ten and SEC country expected the Frogs to be forcefully removed from the proceedings before any confetti fell or invitations were doled out to the bigger event in Los Angeles.

The Horned Frogs heard loud and clear in the weeks leading up to their CFP Semifinal matchup with No. 2 Michigan about the Wolverines’ physicality. TCU would allegedly be run over by Michigan, a completely different animal than anything the Frogs encountered in the Big 12.

Then the game started, and the noise quieted. Instead of being pushed around, TCU averaged 6.4 yards per carry and finished the night with 263 yards rushing. The Horned Frogs sacked Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy four times, and safety Bud Clark and linebacker Dee Winters each victimized McCarthy for pick-sixes. When the dust settled, TCU was left unscathed. Michigan never led, and its vaunted defense was gashed for 488 yards. Stylistically, Big 12 football won out over Big Ten football on the college game’s biggest stage.

Still, as far as most of the country is concerned, TCU is an unwanted guest at the CFP party. The Horned Frogs’ win over the Wolverines writes a compelling story but doesn’t deliver the Georgia-Michigan “clash of the titans” ESPN wanted to advertise or pundits hoped to preview. Instead of simply being asked who will win Monday night’s CFP National Championship, experts are asked whether TCU stands any chance at all. Will it be a Georgia blowout, or will those plucky Horned Frogs hang around long enough to entertain us?

Georgia is, in many ways, simply an enhanced version of Michigan. The Wolverines entered the CFP Semifinal with the nation’s fifth-best scoring defense and third-best run defense, but trail Georgia in both categories. Bulldogs’ quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, like J.J. McCarthy, is hardly considered to be the most intimidating player on his talent-rich offense. Most importantly, Michigan and Georgia share in common that both are almost certain to produce more draft picks than TCU this coming spring.

If TCU is to once again shock the nation, its stars will need to shine. Quarterback Max Duggan and wide receiver Quinton Johnston had all the answers against the Wolverines but will face an even tougher challenge versus Georgia. The Bulldogs will likely match up future-NFL cornerback Kelee Ringo with Quinton Johnston and apply as much pressure to Max Duggan as he’s faced all season with their massive front seven. Duggan will need to be confident and decisive, and Johnston will need to lean on his speed and elusiveness to create separation from a big, physical corner like Ringo.

Running back Kendre Miller’s status is arguably the biggest question mark still facing the Horned Frogs heading into Monday. Miller averaged 6.2 yards per carry during the regular season and 7.1 yards per carry against Michigan. His 17 touchdowns during the regular season ranked eighth nationally. If Kendre Miller is unavailable for the Horned Frogs, Emari Demercado will be asked to shoulder the load against the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. After Demercado’s 150 yards on just 17 carries versus Michigan, Sonny Dykes will not be afraid to trust in his senior if needed.

Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs have played through the noise all season, surprising everyone but themselves. Monday night, TCU is a big underdog again. The Horned Frogs are guests at Georgia’s party, one the Bulldogs are hosting for a second straight year.

Count TCU out at your own risk. One team will celebrate as confetti rains around them by Monday night’s end – just don’t be too surprised if that confetti is purple, not red.

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