Already in the midst of a historic run, Texas Christian University’s football team has reached another pinnacle after the squad overcame Michigan during the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The 51-45 victory punched the Horned Frogs’ ticket to the College Football Playoff National Championship game, where they will face off against reigning champion Georgia for the title. This is not only TCU’s first shot at a national championship since 1938, but they’re the first Big 12 team to win a playoff game.
Steven Johnson, TCU beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, joined the Texas Standard to talk about the Horned Frogs’ historic run. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: While the Horned Frogs were going into this game on the heels of a terrific season, they were still considered to be the underdogs, going against an undefeated Michigan team from the powerful Big Ten conference and coached by Jim Harbaugh, who’s perhaps NFL bound, if you believe some of the some of the talk out there on the street. How did TCU adjust their game to take down the Wolverines?
Steven Johnson: Well, just talking to the players after the game, I think there was a belief that Michigan was just really overconfident. And I think TCU was a little bit surprised by that. But Johnny Hodges, a linebacker on the team, told me that they knew that Michigan wasn’t taking TCU as serious as TCU was taking Michigan. So I think they came in mentally with that edge, just wanted to be a more physical team. They heard all week how Michigan was gonna run right over them and do all the smashing and whatnot. So I think TCU just came out and they just did their jobs, man. They were the more physical team, and every time Michigan made a comeback, TCU used that experience from all those close games early in the year to always have an answer, no matter how close the Wolverines got.
You were at the game on Saturday – was there anything that surprised you or perhaps tipped you off as to what the outcome might have ended up being?
I would say the way TCU’s offensive line was performing early on really gave me a lot of encouragement. Michigan could not get pressure on Max Duggan with only sending four linemen. I mean, the run game – they ran for over 250 yards. Even before Kendre Miller got hurt, he was popping off six, seven yards per carry. So when I saw that their offensive line was kind of able to handle Michigan, trying to give Max Duggan time to create open lanes in the running game, I said “TCU’s gonna be able to score.” And they can score, man. They’re going to be in til the very end.
When we last spoke with you, you mentioned that the success of the Horned Frogs sort of put them in a position to be the new face of the Big 12. Does this win do that ultimately, or do you think they’re going to have to win the national championship to get that kind of recognition?
No, because I still think right now, like you said, they’re the first team from Texas to win a playoff game. First team from the Big 12 to win a playoff game. What they’ve done – Oklahoma hasn’t done it, and Texas hasn’t done it. And as you know, those two teams are going to be leaving very soon. So I think what TCU’s done right now, we’re seeing it on the recruiting trail. They already have their best class lined up – brought in four SEC transfers – and I don’t think they’re finished. So I think they’re already kind of starting to move into that position of being the next banner team for the Big 12. And whenever Oklahoma and Texas leave, I think TCU’s going to be in a really great position to kind of be the top team in the conference.
And as we know, when they expand the playoff, they won’t necessarily need to have these magical seasons. They just can win the Big 12 and they’ll be right back in the College Football Playoff.
Well, as Georgia fans say, “how about them Dawgs?” They’re looking for a repeat championship here. You think TCU has to shift their game plan ahead of that matchup?
Oh, I’m not sure about shifting the game plan. I think they’ve just got to come in with the same similar mindset that they came in against Michigan, same against Texas. Just really be ready to play a physical game. If they can hold up, I think they have a chance, man. I think this Georgia team isn’t as good as the one from last year, especially defensively. So I think they can be had in certain areas. There’s a path for TCU to win this game. It’s still going to be daunting. There’s a reason Georgia has been viewed as a No. 1 team all year, so I’m not saying this is going to be a pushover game.
But if you’re TCU, the biggest thing is they’re going to come to their game believing they can win. And I think the coaching staff has shown they do a great job of scheming up games, man. So I think TCU has a great shot and I don’t think they need to do anything crazy but just do their job – that’s been their mantra. I just think they have to do their job, man. They do that, I think they could be in the fourth quarter in this game still in the balance.
You think it’s going to be a high-scoring game like what we saw with the semifinals?
Normally the trends suggests that, after we have those crazy high-scoring games, the national championship game is going to be in the 20s. So if I had to pick, I would lean towards the under and think this is going to be a game played in the 20s. But if TCU could just find a way to score 30 points again, then I think the odds are they could be a winner in this one.