College News & Analysis

College Football National Championship: TCU's path to victory

Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan (15) against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

• Magic Max: TCU needs star quarterback Max Duggan to pull more rabbits out of his hat if the team is to pull off the upset.

• Force Georgia into mistakes: TCU’s defense needs to replicate its performance against Michigan in the semifinal and force the Bulldogs into uncharacteristic errors.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins

TCU is pulling off a Cinderella story for the ages.

The Horned Frogs weren’t even one of the 47 teams who received a vote in the preseason AP poll. Now, TCU is playing for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Since the national championship game’s inception in 1998, the only other school to make it that far without receiving a vote in the preseason AP poll was Auburn back in 2013. The last national champion that started the year unranked was Georgia Tech in 1990.

Despite this run, TCU is still a 12.5-point underdog to top-ranked Georgia in Monday’s championship game, according to BetMGM. While the Horned Frogs are looking to claim their first title since 1938, the Bulldogs are searching for their first since, well, last year.

Here's what TCU needs to do to pull off the ultimate upset.

Offensive Gameplan: More Max Duggan magic

Max Duggan embodies TCU’s underdog mentality.

The senior underwent multiple heart surgeries in 2020. He played most of 2021 with a broken bone and a torn tendon in his foot. He then entered this season as the backup quarterback to Chandler Morris.

After all that, Duggan finished as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2022, one of only three Horned Frogs to finish in the top two and the first since Jim Swink in 1955. He also won the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s best quarterback and named after TCU’s only Heisman Trophy winner.

His 18 passing touchdowns on 20-plus-yard throws tied for the most in college football. Against Michigan in the semifinal, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for a couple more.

Georgia’s defense proved vulnerable against Ohio State, giving up a season-high 42 points. No player in the Bulldogs’ secondary earned a 70.0-plus grade in the win. Duggan and star receiver Quentin Johnston could expose them once again.

In the biggest moments, the senior quarterback has delivered for TCU. With star running back Kendre Miller listed as questionable with a knee injury, Duggan will have even more pressure on his shoulders to deliver.

Defensive Gameplan: Force some mistakes

One of the biggest reasons TCU upset Michigan in the semifinal was uncharacteristic mistakes from the Wolverines.

On fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line on the first drive of the game, Michigan — instead of trying to punch it in with the second-best team rushing grade in the country — attempted a “Philly Special,” which failed spectacularly.

The Horned Frogs scored twice on pick-sixes off quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who entered that game having thrown only three interceptions all season. 


After a controversial no-touchdown call left the Wolverines on the one-yard line, TCU recovered a fumble on a botched handoff.

If Georgia is similarly sloppy, it could open the door for a TCU upset.

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