college football writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Football is a sport rooted in physics.
The 22 players clash with an impossible force across time and space with every shot, as the object in motion at its center, the pigskin, moves until it stops, or it stops in celebration or despair.
As evening fell to the last vestiges of the final night of 2022, and the clock zeroed after the wildest Fiesta Bowl in recent memory, physics paused briefly.Just after the 3rd a raucous celebration kicks off control unitOn New Year’s Eve, the purple and white confetti that fell from the roof of State Farm Stadium seemed still in the stale air of the desert and hovered over the party below as they beat the favored University of Michigan 51-45.
TCU beats Michigan in Fiesta Bowl
The Hypnotoad logo, which had been present on the sidelines, stopped spinning. The tall wingers who are both offensive and defensive are suddenly light on their feet, hanging in the air and embracing each other. During an incredible back-and-forth College Football Playoff semifinal, hands that had sweated most of the night suddenly dried out and were constantly held high above their heads. Cheerleaders who had been airborne before were horrified by what had happened and were glued to the natural grass.
It was just a brief moment of suspended animation, but one that Horned Frogs fans will cherish forever as memories of a remarkable journey flood in. This is the moment they’ve seemingly been waiting for forever, and now it’s about to happen.
Ultimately, the school was looked down upon by its peers, jettisoned by the Crater Conference, worked its way from the bottom of the sport, and indeed finally reached the precipice of it all when no one believed they could.
“Look, that’s all our lives. It’s the life of these footballers, the life of the coaching staff. It’s what we do. We pour our heart and soul into it,” said an exhausted Sonny Dykes from a distance. Becoming No. 4 with a game to go The AP Poll-era head coach won a national championship with a program in his first year in charge. “Everyone here has made a lot of sacrifices. You give so much and you get a little bit emotional at times.
“I mean, what a bad game of football.”
What a football game. This wasn’t just an ordinary semi-final for title contention. It was an epic matchup that will be discussed for years as one of the most exciting matches of all time.
Big drama? It has 25 combinations over 15 yards.
defense? Even though the final score is like this, there are also many. TCU’s Bud Clark and Dee Winters, who each scored on two excellent interception returns, were part of a unit that took the Wolverines and their stellar rushing offense from the end zone three times in the first half alone. Move away.
Then there’s the second-half finisher played back and forth, which will be replayed in years to come. At one point, the two sides exchanged seven drives in less than a minute, resulting in five touchdowns and a fumble.
“It’s been a pretty surreal 30 years for me, and then (winning) like this, I can’t believe it,” said TCU wide receiver coach Doug Meacham, who was at the school for six years. “You just start thinking about winning one game at a time, making the next game the biggest one, building as you go. Then you see the light at the end of the tunnel. You start thinking about fighting for things, and ‘now it’s happening. You know Michigan, they’re a big school, they have a lot of people behind them. We’re just a small private school in Texas…we beat ’em. “
TCU has the second-lowest enrollment in the Power 5 and certainly the fewest school ever to reach the College Football Playoff. Their DNA is almost born with the little guy, aha toad, okay. They continue to exceed expectations and thrive despite every obstacle they encounter.
When the Southwestern Conference disintegrated, the university had neither the alumni base nor the historical success that other leagues coveted. Without any political support to join the newly formed Big 12, they sank all the way to the WAC just to find a foothold. After Dennis Franchione found some success and jumped ship to a bigger job, the school front turned to his little-known defensive coordinator, Gary Patterson, to help build more momentum and start an upward trajectory that hasn’t stopped yet .
Patterson quickly became the cornerstone the program needed and built a reputation for taking underrated or overlooked recruits and turning them into key players as the program started winning and winning big. They left WAC for Conference USA and quickly headed to the tougher mountains of the West. After eyeing a bigger move and briefly agreeing to join the Big East, they eventually convinced some of their old SWC rivals to let them join the Big 12 in 2012.
Just as many thought they would find their new home in Power 5 challenging, the Horned Frogs love proving others wrong. They nearly made it to the opening game of the 2014 College Football Playoff, but were controversially eliminated on the final weekend and finished the season third in the country.
However, TCU can never quite get back to the same level, and the program appears to have stalled after its last Big 12 championship run in 2017. Patterson has had great success as TCU head coach for much of his time, and there is a statue outside Amon’s G. Carter Stadium that was finally displayed at the gate after a 3-5 start last season.
“This is the hardest decision we’ve ever made in our 150-year history. Gary Patterson deserves the highest praise for building this football program and what we’ve done here today,” said TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donatti Say. “At the same time, we needed to make changes. We needed to keep the project moving forward. So when we made the decision, Sonny quickly became an easy choice. He ticked all the boxes we needed .”
While some AD might be put off by hiring someone labeled a refurbished head coach, Dykes ends up being what a defensive-minded program needs: a feel that understands the ups and downs of college football, but plays better People on the other hand.
Now, he leads his team on the verge of winning it all after a spectacular comeback campaign.
“Our players and coaches, I think we did a really good job after our loss at Kansas, looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Hey, look what we can do better?’ That’s why I love this group,” Dykes added. “Nobody blames anybody else. Nobody blames. The offense doesn’t blame the defense. The defense doesn’t blame the offense. This football team doesn’t have that. We’re all in this together.”
That’s especially true in the context of the franchise’s remarkable 2022 run, which has comeback after comeback, including seven straight divisional games, each won by 10 points or fewer. The Horned Frogs initially finished seventh in the Big 12 preseason voting, but finished second and still became the first team in the league to win the playoffs — and the first in the Lone Star State itself.
Not bad for a group that didn’t receive votes in the AP Top 25 poll until six weeks into the season. Not bad for a team that forced the previously undefeated Wolverines to resort to flea flashes and shots just to get back to a game that at one point had another CFP blowout trend.
“Football is a game of punching people in the mouth and being punched in the mouth,” said defender Johnny Hodges. “They’re deep in their playbook. I don’t think they’re expecting our physicality. We’ve heard them all week that they’re going to run easy. We take it as a chip on our shoulders and I know we’re going to play okay because They didn’t watch the movie and they didn’t see what we did.
“When they’re really in deep trouble, I know we’re on their minds and if they have to, they don’t have confidence.”
Michigan fumbled the ball three times in the game and despite advancing an average of 7 yards per play, the Wolverines came away empty-handed on two trips to the red zone and completed a short field goal at the 2-yard line. They had a staggering 18 drives and 15 turnovers, but Michigan never took the lead.
“They’ve never played 3-3-5. I think that’s a big key to the game tonight,” said Clark, who recorded a 41-yard six on his second kick of the game to give TCU leads and they never give up. “They usually play with teams in a four-man (linebacker-forward). It’s a different look for them. They’ve never seen anybody play a three-man.”
Despite being labeled by some as a four-star recruit, Clarke symbolized a group of underdogs coming together to cheer this campaign on. The sophomore graduated high school as a fringe top-350 player in the country and outside of the top 10 in Louisiana. Still, the former Patterson recruit proved to be a key part of the back-end operation, recording his team-best fifth interception of the year. He developed into one of the key pieces of TCU’s defense, blocking pass lanes and breaking deep passes with length and speed.
“Nobody thought we were going to win, everybody doubted us,” added offensive lineman Steve Avila, the school’s first All-American in seven seasons. “When we look back at all the 5am training, all the training we’ve been through, it’s proof of work. That’s all I can think of and I’m so proud of everyone.”
The hard work proved to pay dividends, as the two sides engaged in a bitter deal in the closing stages, with Michael Buffett aptly introducing a heavyweight fight ahead of the fight.
Whenever they’re pushed over the edge, TCU finds a way.
Starting linebacker Kend Miller suffered a knee injury late in the first half when he was tackled near the goal line. But with substitute Emari Demercado coming in, the ground game actually started to take off for the Horned Frogs. The senior, who grew up just a few miles from the upcoming national championship game in Inglewood, Calif., recorded a career-high 150 yards and a stop on a junior college team before arriving in Fort Worth. Touchdown night.
Then there’s quarterback Max Dugan, who started the year on the bench but ended up a Heisman Trophy runner-up. It was far from the veteran signal-caller’s best performance (14-29, 225 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions), but he provided plenty of moments that showed what got the Frogs this far courage. He shrugged off pressure throughout the night, shortly after the Wolverines cut their lead to three when Quentin Johnston snatched a 76-yard touchdown pass in the air and played in the faces of two defenders. Back pass.
It was a pass that seemed to stay in the air for a second longer than it should, landing in the perfect place at the perfect time. It was a fitting game for a pair of players on a team whose fate brought them to the brink of the most sudden national championship game since Georgia Tech in 1990.
National Championship Prelims: Georgia vs. TCU
“There was a time when we were on our knees and I thought about my dad (Spike Dykes), I thought about (my late mentor Mike Leach). When you can win one of these games, it’s is very special. And you certainly wish you could share it with them,” Dykes said after a brief pause. “You could feel their presence, you could really feel it. It was an old fashioned shootout and he was definitely having fun with it.”
For a sport so rooted in the continuous body movement that defines every game, college football often makes the most sense in those brief, flickering moments, where you can pause and reflect on it all.
That’s a lot TCU is doing right now as the Horned Frogs write the next chapter on their remarkable road to the top.
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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. For nearly two decades, he has covered college sports on NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! and more! Sports and NFL.com etc. Follow him on Twitter @BryanDFischer.
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