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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Benjamin Hochman

Benjamin Hochman: What TCU football's rise could mean to Mizzou and other average teams

This would be like the 2022 Colorado Rockies winning the World Series.

Or the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Cup in 2023.

When the college football season began, Texas Christian University had the same championship odds as those teams had — 200-1.

And after this past weekend's fireworks, TCU will play a week from Monday in the College Football Playoff national championship.

For the second year in a row, a team with crazy title odds cracked college football's version of the Final Four. Last season, it was Cincinnati, which had 150-1 title odds, per the Action Network.

Now, modern college football is fueled by the quick fix. It's even easier for great teams to remain great. The transfer portal — and NIL money that is available for transfers — allows lucrative and alluring programs to replenish themselves with top talent. No. 1 Georgia will play TCU for this season's championship. Joining Georgia for next season? An Associated Press first-team All-SEC receiver in Mizzou's Dominic Lovett.

But another aspect of the transfer portal's power is how it can accelerate a team's growth.

And that can give hope to fans of, say, Mizzou.

TCU was terrible. The Horned Frogs went 5-7 in 2021 and hired a new coach, Sonny Dykes, for 2022. Dykes and his staff gathered 14 transfers before this season. Their talents made up for the 13th-best transfer class, per 247Sports.

And even though TCU was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 Conference, the ignited Horned Frogs catapulted toward the top of the conference and even the national rankings. TCU is 13-1 and currently No. 3 nationally.

Let's take a look at that list from 247Sports.

Sure enough, the No. 1-ranked transfer class belongs to Southern California, which nabbed two five-star transfers, including, notably, 2022 Heisman winner Caleb Williams (from Oklahoma). The Trojans went 4-8 in 2021 ... to 11-2 in 2022.

The No. 3-ranked transfer class? Louisiana State. The Tigers enter Monday's Cotton Bowl at 9-4, following a 6-7 record the year before.

The Texas Longhorns' transfer class was No. 5 — they went from 5-7 to 8-4.

And No. 9 was South Carolina, a Southeastern Conference school with many similarities to Mizzou. Last year, the Gamecocks entered their bowl game with a 6-6 record, while this year they entered their bowl game at 8-4.

Obviously, not every just-OK team will take a leap like the aforementioned four did. But the transfer portal provides a new avenue for average teams to get good sooner. And the transfer portal sure could make it harder to handicap college football preseason odds.

This Horned Frogs story really is flabbergasting. Other teams with 200-1 odds to win a championship this season, per ESPN? The Charlotte Hornets and the Seattle Seahawks. Yet here are the Horned Frogs. Sure, one minor hurdle — knocking off No. 1. And the odds are against them again — the opening lines seem to be around 13 points.

But TCU was a huge underdog against mighty Michigan in the New Year's Eve semifinal. The game was bananas. While TCU never trailed, the Wolverines roared back, ultimately falling to the Frogs, 51-45.

"What a hell of a football game," Dykes told ESPN. "Big play after big play after big play, after momentum swing. But the big thing we did: We answered. ...

"I thought we were definitely the most physical team on the field tonight. We almost outrushed Michigan by 100 yards. Our ability to stop the run I think was a difference in the ballgame."

Michigan had allowed 27 or fewer points to every opponent before the TCU game.

"We just played really tough football, hard-nosed football. Believed in each other, believed in their teammates, and just found a way to overcome and persevere," Dykes told reporters. "It's kind of what we've done all year. We did it tonight. That's who we are. ...

"At some point, you just kind of quit listening to what everybody says."

It makes for a wonderful sports story. A win against Georgia and TCU is the first team since Georgia Tech in 1990 to start the season unranked in the AP and win the title. And, of all the big-name schools in the Big 12, TCU is the first to win a game in the College Football Playoff.

Now, TCU does have a first-round receiver in the electric Quentin Johnston. And a Heisman finalist in one-time backup quarterback Max Duggan, who threw for four touchdowns against the Wolverines. But this team is loaded with guys who were key players on a 5-7 team in 2021.

Then again, this team is also infused with contributors who weren't even on the team a season ago.


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