Richard Justice: Win or lose on Monday, TCU is why college football’s new world order is so much fun

Jan 8, 2023; Los Angeles, CA, USA; A TCU Horned Frogs helmet at the 2023 CFP National Championship head coaches press conference at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: Win or lose on Monday, TCU is why college football’s new world order is so much fun

   TCU’s appearance in college football’s national championship game Monday night is a reminder of two things.

   First, the Big 12 Conference is going to be just fine after Texas and Oklahoma leave for the Southeastern Conference next year.

   The Big 12 will miss those brand names, particularly because of the television ratings they generate. Yet in TCU, Baylor, Kansas State, etc., the Big 12 will still have an array of teams that play an entertaining brand of football and are plenty capable of competing on the national stage.

   “I think the future for the Big 12 is very bright,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said Saturday. “I think the four added institutions coming in (Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida) all have tremendous potential and have had success obviously through the year. I think the league is going to be better, continue to be better than most people give it credit for being.

   “It’s important for the Big 12 and our credibility to have teams that perform well and can win. And you lose two of the more high-profile members of the conference, obviously, with Texas and Oklahoma moving on. But I think that was what was so good about the Big 12 this year, was you got to see, from top to bottom, just how good the league was.”

   TCU is also a reminder of college football’s new world order. If a TCU program that was once one of the worst in the country can become relevant, there’s hope for every other. (TCU entered the Fiesta Bowl against Michigan with just four players with bowl experience.)

   TCU reflects the new world order, but Tulane just had a breakthrough season, ending with a Cotton Bowl victory over USC that was one of the best games you will ever watch. Kansas and Kansas State can compete with the best programs. Likewise, NC State, UTSA, North Carolina, and others.

   Georgia is a two-touchdown favorite against TCU. Alabama will continue to be a top-five program. USC is on the rise, and LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are as good as ever. But there are strong, interesting teams here, there, and everywhere, and TCU is the best example of that.

   “I think it speaks to the strength of the (Big 12), the overall strength,” Dykes said. “I think it speaks to the momentum that the Big 12 has that two remaining teams were in the championship game (were) us and Kansas State.”

   This shift has been especially dramatic in Texas, where the best players know they don’t have to play at Texas A&M or Texas to get on television or be part of winning teams.

   Texas and Texas A&M are the richest programs in the nation, and both have among the finest facilities and the most fan support.

   That’s going to get them nothing until they hire the right coach. Perhaps Jimbo Fisher and Steve Sarkisian will get those programs on track.

   So far, though, neither has done anything to inspire confidence. Texas hasn’t been a factor on the national stage in more than a decade.

   The Longhorns have had four different head coaches in this span and finished higher than 19th in The Associated Press Top 25 just once.

   Once upon a time, Texas and Texas A&M could sell a kid that playing for them was the best way to get on television. That’s not the case anymore.

   Let’s be fair about what the Aggies, Longhorns, and Sooners still are. Or what they should be.

   When Mack Brown arrived in August 1998, plenty of influential Longhorns doubted the program could ever be as great as it was under Darrell Royal.

    Brown built a monster program that made double-digit win seasons look routine. OU officials probably wondered the same thing when they hired a little-known Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops.

   He did for OU what Brown had done for Texas. But along the way, TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech started winning too — and appealing to recruits.

   TCU being one game from a national championship is a surprise because the Horned Frogs were 16-18 in the three previous seasons.

   But one of the things that appealed to Sonny Dykes was knowing that the Horned Frogs generally had ranked behind only Texas and OU in Big 12 recruiting in recent seasons.

   He stepped in with a fresh voice and did a masterful job navigating the comings and goings of the Transfer Portal.

   TCU was easy to underestimate because the Frogs constantly flirted with defeat. Tiptoed right down the line. Trailed Kansas by seven points in the second half, Oklahoma State by 14, Texas Tech by four, Baylor by eight.

    TCU cut it too close to comfort a time or two. Like the day in Waco when the Frogs trailed Baylor by nine with less than three minutes remaining.

   TCU wrapped that one up when it hustled its field-goal team onto the field with 16 seconds remaining, no timeouts, and the clock running. Griffin Kell’s game-winning kick split the uprights at 0:00 for a 29-28 victory.

   TCU’s only loss came in the Big 12 Championship Game against Kansas State. Then, with Michigan heavily favored, the Frogs jumped Michigan for 488 yards and never trailed on their way to a 51-45 victory.

   “It’s been a heck of a journey for these players,” Dykes said Sunday. “I’ve been really proud of the way they’ve handled everything. It’s a humble group. They know how blessed they are …

   “It will be a big challenge for us. We know that. Obviously, Georgia’s a team that’s very, very talented …. But our guys have never backed down (from) challenges, and they have a lot of confidence in themselves and our program and what we’re trying to do. And we’ll go out and play good football Monday night, see what happens.”

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