INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Max Duggan sat facing reporters late Monday at SoFi Stadium trying to explain the unexplainable.
The TCU senior quarterback and his teammates had just been shellacked by Georgia in the College Football Playoff championship game, 65-7, and Duggan was searching for a positive takeaway.
Even though his time at the school is done, Duggan remains convinced that TCU will return to the biggest of stages at some point and be better prepared because of what happened against Georgia.
“I think when stuff like that happens you’ve got to go back to your roots, go back to your values, the culture that we set,” Duggan said. “It was frustrating. Haven’t been in a situation like that. But you’ve got to dig yourself out of a hole. You’ve got to believe. …
“I know going forward, this program is going to get on this stage again. And if we’re ever in a situation like that, I know we’re going to be able to get out of it [and] have some success. I’m pretty positive in that.”
Getting TCU back in that position or even something close to it is the challenge for coach Sonny Dykes and his staff for next year.
Rather than burn the game film and scatter the ashes – a normal coaching reaction – Dykes’ plan is to salvage anything usable. His message to his staff and players will be to look in the mirror for a candid self-assessment, he said.
“We’ll certainly sit down as a staff and watch the film, talk about it, go through every single call we made in the game and say, ‘OK, look, why didn’t this work? Where did this go wrong? What could we have done better?’” Dykes said.
“Talk about preparation. Talk to some of our players, get some feedback from those guys about how they felt coming into the game, Did we feel like there was too much of the game plan, not enough in the game plan? Just all those things.”
The biggest question for TCU now is sustaining the unprecedented success. After the Horned Frogs nearly made the CFP in 2014 under Gary Patterson, the program remained on a high plane for a few more seasons before tailing off.
A whole lot of impactful seniors will be exiting and several standout underclassmen have NFL decisions to make, including receiver Quentin Johnston, running back Kendre Miller and cornerback Josh Newton.
The most watched position will be quarterback with Duggan departing. Chandler Morris, who began the season as the starter before being injured, seems to be the heir apparent.
While Morris probably won’t be a Heisman finalist, he could be a very good fit in Garrett Riley’s offense scheme. At the Fiesta Bowl, Morris talked about his mindset this season watching Duggan.
“Just understanding that your time is coming,” Morris said, “and just believing that and just working and staying ready for whenever your number is called.”
TCU will have to deal with being the hunted now in the Big 12 and for every team on its schedule, beginning with Colorado and new coach Deion Sanders to open the 2023 season. It’s now part of Horned Frogs lore that TCU was picked seventh in the Big 12 to start the season. Guaranteed that won’t be the case next year, even in the new look (for a year or two) 14-team Big 12.
The good news is that that come 2024, the CFP will expand to 12 teams. The Big 12 will be pretty much assured of one team in the playoff every year and sometimes two. The conference should also be very competitive even with the upcoming loss of Texas and Oklahoma.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, the former AD at TCU, firmly believes that the Horned Frogs have staying power under Dykes.
“This team was really built by Gary’s players. Sonny molded them into his image and likeness and they’ve had this run,” Del Conte said.
“This is not a one-trick pony.”
Charles Baggarly in Inglewood, Calif., contributed to this report.
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