For TCU and Max Duggan, Michigan CFP matchup provides ‘satisfaction’ and opportunity


FORT WORTH, Texas — Nineteen hours after he left the AT&T Stadium interview room, spent and emotional after TCU’s overtime loss in the Big 12 championship, quarterback Max Duggan sat in the front row of the Horned Frogs’ watch party Sunday morning. He and his teammates waited to hear if they’d get the chance they so desperately wanted.

After giving everything he had a day before, Duggan looked anxious. He said his heart raced and he hadn’t slept well after staying up late. Sporting a grey hoodie and gym shorts, seated between offensive linemen Alan Ali and Brandon Coleman, Duggan leaned back in his chair, arms folded, right leg crossed over his left and chatted with his teammates briefly while the top four College Football Playoff teams were unveiled.

When TCU’s logo flashed across the big screen, the hundreds inside Amon G. Carter Stadium’s legends club erupted. Most teammates leapt from their seats; Duggan jerked forward in his chair and looked to his left, almost in disbelief, before leaning back and returning his eyes to the screen.

It happened. TCU is going to the Playoff.

“It’s surreal,” Duggan said afterward. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do, a great Michigan team is going to be a great opportunity for us.”

The No. 3 Horned Frogs (12-1) will meet the No. 2 Wolverines (13-0) on New Year’s Eve in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal.


Duggan took the customary group pictures, shook hands and shared hugs, but his focus is forward. The Horned Frogs heard pundits attempt to poke holes in their Playoff case in recent weeks, and the early betting odds have Michigan as a 9.5-point favorite, according to BetMGM. ESPN’s five-member panel on its Sunday selection show all picked Michigan to win.

Still, after experiencing some unease about getting in following Saturday’s loss, the Horned Frogs did not even drop in the rankings — sliding to No. 4 would have set them up with No. 1 Georgia.

The coming weeks will undoubtedly bring more underdog talk, and that’s fine with them. They’re grateful to have a chance.

“It’s a goal … to have a chance to go and play for a national championship,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “Just a great feeling of satisfaction. At the same time, I think we’re excited for the challenge.”

TCU made a steep climb to get here, eight years after being on the cusp of the Playoff. Fans still loathe the memory of 2014, when the Horned Frogs fell from third to sixth in the final ranking and missed the bracket.

The team logged two double-digit win seasons in the next three years and made a Big 12 title game appearance in 2017 but regressed in 2018 and stagnated in Gary Patterson’s final four seasons. That led to his ouster in 2021, clearing the way for Dykes, who arrived in Fort Worth after four years of elevating rival SMU, a stint that included two consecutive wins over Patterson’s Frogs.

Dykes was introduced to TCU fans and alumni a year ago in same room where he celebrated with his team Sunday. Nobody knew what to expect then, but simply contending for the conference title would have been a massive success. Instead, TCU’s magical run led to it becoming the first Big 12 team not named Oklahoma to make the CFP and the first team from Texas to make it.

“It’s been quite a journey from where we were this time last year to where we are today,” Dykes said. “You got to give our players and everybody associated with our program a ton of credit for just believing and doing things the right way.”

Conjecture aside, Michigan poses a stiff challenge. The Wolverines haven’t had as many close calls en route to their perfect season as TCU had in its path. The Big Ten champions defeated No. 4 Ohio State and No. 11 Penn State in decisive fashion. Michigan has one of the best defenses in college football, allowing the fifth-fewest points per game (13.4) and third-fewest yards per play (4.45).

Jim Harbaugh’s team went to the Playoff last year, so there’s a built-in experience edge, too.

After TCU’s loss on Saturday, Duggan spent his night watching Michigan beat Purdue, not for scouting purposes, but because “I’m just a college football nerd,” he said.

“You get to play a great program that has so much history, and that’s what you want,” Duggan said. “You want to play the best.”

In the coming days, the Horned Frogs will take a much-needed breather and reset. They haven’t had an off week since September, a stretch that took its toll physically and mentally as the stakes rose in their Playoff chase. Duggan certainly needs it, showing his exhaustion on Saturday, getting up more slowly each time he hit the turf.

His right elbow, which was bloodied on Saturday from a turf burn, “won’t stop bleeding,” he joked.

“I’m not feeling great,” he said. “I had to be in the training room quite a bit this week.”

Of course, he may have to make a trip to New York this week if he’s announced Monday as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Soon enough, they’ll get back to work, looking to prove themselves at least one more time.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Duggan said. “This is going to be a great opportunity for us.”

(Photo: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)


Related posts

Leave a Comment