Hayes: Georgia vs. TCU is exactly what college football needed -- January Jubilation
We’ve waited 9 years for this defining moment, a day when the College Football Playoff truly became the spectacle it was meant to be.
Rejoice, everyone. We finally have March in January.
Two thrilling semifinal games in the greatest day in the history of the Playoff semifinals.
And more important: a real, live tournament bracket buster.
“All week, all we heard about was Big Ten football,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said.
Get ready to hear about the SEC, newbie.
If TCU, the first Big 12 team to advance to the Playoff National Championship Game, is going embrace that March Madness — wait, January Jubilation? — vibe at the end of the night on Jan. 9, it may as well do it by beating the defending national champions.
You want Madness? If TCU’s wild 51-45 victory over No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal was a white knuckle ride, what No. 1 Georgia did to No. 4 Ohio State in the Peach Bowl was downright inhumane.
All of this happened in a surreal 4th quarter when the Dawgs trailed by double digits and were left for dead over and over:
— A potential targeting call that wasn’t, which took Ohio State star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. out of the game — and forced Ohio State to settle for a field goal when a touchdown (it would’ve been 1st-and-goal from the 3) would’ve been a critical blow.
— A deep ball touchdown when Ohio State safety Lathan Ransom fell down while covering Arian Smith.
— A 2nd-and-long throw from Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett to tight end Brock Bowers on the final drive that was thisclose to disaster.
— The game-winning points on a perfectly-thrown touchdown pass from Bennett, who struggled for 53 minutes but made key throws when it mattered most. Like he always does.
— A badly shanked, potential game-winning 50-yard field goal from Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles — who was 7-of-7 this season from 40-49 yards — with 2 seconds remaining.
And 1 more thing: a timeout from Georgia coach Kirby Smart midway through the 4th quarter to negate a gutsy fake punt that stemmed critical momentum.
Better put on your big boy pants, TCU. The Dawgs aren’t going down without taking a few more big swings.
“We’ll prepare like we have every week,” Dykes said. “We’ve kind of been in this situation the whole year.”
And what a ride it has been.
TCU won 5 games last year and eventually fired beloved, longtime successful coach Gary Patterson. Dykes was hired, and the Horned Frogs were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 — and were 200-to-1 odds at most sports books to win this year’s national title.
Dykes chose Chandler Morris as his quarterback over journeyman senior Max Duggan, and before you could say controversy, Morris got hurt in Week 1 and Duggan proceeded to orchestrate the season of a lifetime.
By mid-October, it was clear the Horned Frogs were the only hope for the teetering Big 12 — which was gutted 18 months ago when Texas and OU agreed to leave (at some point) for the SEC.
New coach, nearly the same roster from 2021 and the weight of a failing conference on its shoulders.
“We’ve said all season, ‘let’s just play the game in front of us,’” Duggan said.
Like a last-second win over Kansas. Or a double overtime win over Oklahoma State. Or a last-second, game-winning, fire-drill field goal win over Baylor.
Or scoring 51 points on a Michigan defense that was giving up 13.4 points per game.
At one point earlier this season — before the 2 pick-6’s against hot Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy, and before stifling the Wolverines’ stout run game — the biggest battle was off the field.
The Playoff selection committee in November proclaimed TCU had to come from behind to win multiple games — and that specific “problem” was a reason the committee wasn’t thrilled with their resume.
In any other world, that’s a team that knows how to win games. In the Playoff committee world — where the blue-bloods of the sport have dominated the Playoff era — that was a ready-made excuse until the elite of the sport took control in late November.
Only TCU never folded.
After the celebration in the desert, after Dykes stood on the stage in the middle of field at State Farm Stadium and held the gold Fiesta Bowl trophy high over his head, he addressed his team in the postgame locker room.
“I’m proud of you guys, I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of our conference,” Dykes said. “We’ve got 1 more to go.”
Four hours later, Georgia would complete the comeback win over Ohio State and immediately be listed as a 13.5-point favorite.
It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t the dominance we’ve seen from Georgia over a 16-game winning streak — or 32 wins in its past 33 games.
But it did give a surge of drama to the biggest game of the season.
And maybe even some January Jubilation.