TCU and Georgia blaze different paths to championship game

On paper, the college football playoff national title game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 TCU is not a heavyweight fight. It’s more like Mike Tyson vs. Glass Joe in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

It’s like a stalk of tall grass against a lawn mower. 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 with Georgia winning its first national title in four decades, the Bulldogs have lost 14 starters from the best team in the sport and the best defense the SEC has seen in 10 years.

For almost all other programs, this is a setback. In the modern version of the sport, this would also mean that coaches across the staff repertoire would immediately access the ever-expanding transfer portal to find plug-and-play players to suit their needs.

At Michigan State, Mel Tucker used the portal to switch his program from 2-5 in 2020 to 11-2 in 2021. At USC, Lincoln Riley used the transfer portal to switch a program that ended 4-8 in 2021 at 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 to their advantage. Lately, prestige, brand and the promise of money in the form of name, image and likeness have made it possible for the rich to get 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), wide receiver wide 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 reasons that are specific, but others that are pretty obvious, like the opportunity to play for national titles and enter the NFL Draft with a high pick count – and the extra money that comes with it. A place like TCU, on the other hand, couldn’t compete in this area. TCU could only hope to find the remains that Alabama, USC, or even Michigan State didn’t want — until now.

The Horned Frogs, to date, are the best example of using the transfer portal to build a team that competes for the national title.

No transfer-era team has made double-digit transfers, paired them with a first-year head coach and staff, and walked straight into 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 on a program — and the first since Larry Coker did it with the Miami Hurricanes a while ago. 21 years old.

Dykes earned this opportunity by building on the foundation left by his predecessor, Gary Patterson, who was remarkably brilliant and consistent at taking underrated high school players and developing them into top NFL talent. 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 has done it once before with Ty Summers, who signed on to play quarterback at Rice in 2013 before flipping his commitment to TCU and becoming a defensive end and linebacker.

Thanks to Patterson’s assessment, Dykes and his assistants also managed to win transfers – 13 in fact – who chose TCU because they didn’t have an opportunity elsewhere to play right away or have a impact on their teams in the way each of them envisioned. . With players like Johnny Hodges choosing to transfer to TCU from the Navy and bolster a program that defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie had proven could develop NFL first-round talent in Tulsa, TCU was just looking to give itself a boost. chance.

And that’s all it was – luck. 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 they took advantage of being overlooked and underrated starting in Week 1. They are, in that regard , diametrically opposed to their opponent on Monday night.

Georgia was chosen by most to play in this game almost as soon as they won the 2021 national title, despite losing so much experience and production to graduation and the NFL. That’s because Kirby Smart influenced the recruiting and development philosophy of his mentor, Nick Saban. They pick them, sit them down and develop them.

Can Max Duggan lead an upset against the Bulldogs?

Can Max Duggan lead an upset against the Bulldogs?

Smart, in just five years, made Georgia a new benchmark in recruiting and then dispersed that talent on both sides of the ball. Fifteen five-star players and 78 top rookies — five- and four-star players — dot the UGA roster of 85 scholarship recipients.

TCU has 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 claim to reload rather than rebuild. UGA goes further, instilling a Bulldog football culture along the way. As the portal gains entrants and the NIL becomes the currency for which signatures are made, UGA sells this culture to teenagers, convincing them to bet on the process with the idea that it will pay off. in a few years. It turned out to be a winning strategy.

However, not all programs have the means to build this way, and not all programs will have the financial capacity to sustain the effort of courting the best players in the country year after year. So UGA will probably be here in this conversation for national titles longer than TCU.

But more talk of the off-season recall program will be marked by wealthy donors approaching their respective coaches at trailer stops and asking why they can’t be the next TCU. These coaches will have no choice but to say it is possible – and to pursue it.

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