Now that TCU’s magical season is over, can it avoid being college football’s latest one-hit wonder?
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — There’s a reason a few thousand heartbroken TCU fans stayed in their SoFi Stadium seats until the dying seconds of their team’s 65-7 loss on Monday night.
They endured every Stetson-Bennett touchdown, every U.G.A chant, and every rendition of Georgia! because It is possible that they will not be able to see the Horned Frogs again compete for the national championship.
College football’s past decade has been dominated by the same half dozen traditional powers. The College Football Playoff has been dominated by the same half dozen traditional powers. Typically, these interlopers have turned out to be one-hit wonders.
At the height of Mark Dantonio’s tenure, Michigan State made a surprise semifinal appearance in 2016. The Spartans lost the next season, and have only won seven of their last seven games.
Washington also made it into the CFP thanks to a strong passing attack. Since then, the Huskies have been through two coaching changes and reached the Pac-12 title games only once.
Last year, Cincinnati became the first Group of Five program to break through college football’s glass ceiling and claw its way into the playoff. The Bearcats’ disappointing season of 2022 saw them lose four times, and coach Luke Fickell fled to Wisconsin.
Now it’s TCU’s turn to try to figure out how to buck that trend and avoid falling back to the ranks of fringe contenders. While red-eyed seniors left SoFi Stadium lamenting a humbling loss and toting locker name plates under their arms as souvenirs, underclassmen framed Monday’s shellacking as offseason motivation and this 13-win season as a springboard.
“We’re going to try to use this season for confidence,” said Chandler Morris, who is expected to take over for Max Duggan as TCU’s starting quarterback next season. “This was Coach Dykes’ first season here, and look what we did. We’re going to try to build on this and get to that tier that the Georgias and Alabamas are on.”
The imminent changes to the CFP’s format inherently give TCU a better chance of building on its dream season than previous underdogs. In 2024, the field will grow from four teams to twelve. This will allow more teams to try to win a playoff bid or make it to the top.
Texas and Oklahoma bolting for the SEC also makes TCU’s path to the playoff more wide-open in years to come. Soon, there will be no more Big 12 perennial juggernauts. Why can’t TCU surpass the likes of Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Cincinnati and Baylor to emerge as the big dog in the new-look conference?
TCU produced 11 double-digit win seasons from 2001 to 2017 before the Horned Frogs backslid in Gary Patterson’s last three-plus seasons. They were 21-22 during this underachieving stretch, and they lacked the toughness of Patterson’s heyday.
When Sonny Dykes arrived following Patterson’s resignation, the heart of this year’s team was already in Fort Worth. Employing a lighter vibe and an innovative approach, Dykes and his staff did an admirable job developing Heisman Trophy finalist Max Duggan and fellow multi-year starters receiver Quentin Johnston, corner Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and linebacker Dee Winters.
Dykes made the most of the transfer portal’s ability to quickly fill roster gaps. TCU added 13 transfers during Dykes’ first offseason, more than half of whom became starters or key rotation pieces.
The team was determined and never gave up, conquering multiple double-digit losses, winning seven one-possession matches, and exceeding all expectations. According to the Big 12 media poll, TCU would finish seventh in league this season. In October, the Horned Frogs looked like a longshot to win the national championship.
TCU was not able to overcome its talent deficit against Michigan in the semifinals nine days ago, the Horned Frogs resembled a deer staring down a semi truck against Georgia’s stable of future NFL prospects. The Bulldogs led 17-7 at the end of one quarter, 38-7 at the halftime, and 52-7 by Kirby Smart’s pull to replace Stetson Bennet after three quarters.
TCU may never be able match the likes TCU Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State for five-star prospectsDykes can use the transfer portal to help them stockpile talent in Dallas-Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs’ 2022 roster featured several such players who originally signed with the likes of Texas, LSU and Oklahoma out of high school, only to transfer back home to TCU in search of a second chance. Dykes is already one of the key recruits for high school in 2023. Rivals ranks among the nation’s top 20.
While Monday night was Duggan’s last game in a TCU uniform, the Horned Frogs don’t appear to be hurting at the quarterback position heading into next season. Morris, a former Oklahoma transfer, won the starting job ahead of Duggan entering this season, only to sprain his knee in the third quarter of TCU’s season opener. He fits Dykes’ offense even better than Duggan does and has drawn praise for his arm talent and accuracy.
In a somber postgame locker room on Monday night, after a remarkable season ended with a whimper, Morris made it clear that he won’t be satisfied being another Michigan State, Washington or Cincinnati. Morris thinks TCU will be able to keep the Georgias and Alabamas in college football at bay and return to the stage quickly.
“At the end of the day, we want to win championships,” Morris said. “The seniors laid the foundation. Now we have to keep going.”