In an attempt to turn chips into a chip, TCU could change the sport with a win in the College Football Playoffs title game

In an attempt to turn chips into a chip, TCU could change the sport with a win in the College Football Playoffs title game

In an attempt to turn chips into a chip, TCU could change the sport with a win in the College Football Playoffs title game

LOS ANGELES — Johnny Hodges loves his chips.

“We’re a team full of chips,” said the TCU linebacker.

In Hodge’s shorthand, this means “chips on shoulders”. A cliché, sure, but an entry into the heart of the No. 3 Horned Frogs. They shouldn’t be in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

In fact, the last team in a similar position was BYU in 1984. These cougars are the youngest national champions to come from outside of the current Power Five.

TCU as a member of the Big 12 is clearly a Power Five team these days, but it’s been a league hopper for the past quarter century. When the ancestral Southwestern Conference dissolved, TCU was passed over for Big 12 membership. This was followed by a purgatory of stations in the WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West.

The desperate little purple engine that finally got to hit its Power Conference brass ring when the Big 12 opened their doors to TCU in 2012.

There’s a reason No. 1 Georgia is favored by nearly two touchdowns, the greatest line in CFP National Championship history. TCU is a long shot. If the Frogs win, they might defeat the best program in the sport. If the Bulldogs aren’t already holding that mantle, Monday Night could go a long way in building that narrative.

TCU is only trying to hold out if you believe the recruitment rankings. The Frogs have 17 blue-chip recruits on their roster, four of which are transfers. The Dawgs have four times as many.

“I can’t overstate what they did,” said former Texas A&M coach RC Slocum, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, of TCU. “They just keep following you. They’re not an ebb and flow type team. They just stay the same all the time, whether things are going well or not. It’s hard to beat a team that can’t be beaten.”

That explains the frogs’ late-game comebacks. That explains that TCU 55 is attached to Oklahoma. That explains how to run 263 yards into a shocked Michigan. This explains why the impact of the TCU cannot be ignored.

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark bounced around Saturday’s CFP National Championship media day like his conference had already won. Yormark has already announced its intention to expand the Big 12 to the Pacific time zone. With USC and UCLA departing for the Big Ten, TCU and Big 12 entered the LA market this week.

Type of.

About 27 miles north of SoFi Stadium, the venue for Monday’s game, is a niche community called Frogtown. It’s not a city in itself, but — as the website proclaims — “a progressive, small community … where socially conscious hipsters and multi-generational families live together and call home.”

Frogtown is also the scene of a takeover by the Big 12 this weekend. Really, that’s what they call it: a “takeover”. The Frogtown Brewery has purple beer. There are 200 free Frogtown tacos at the Santa Monica Pier on Sundays.

Star sneaker artist Kickstradomis designs a pair of Horned Frog themed kicks.

What does that have to do with beating Georgia? You miss the point. Yormark is trying to take over the world and the frogs are his invading army.

“Think about where this conference was six months ago, 12 months ago, 18 months ago,” Yormark told CBS Sports. “It was a transformative moment. Obviously this is a big endorsement.

“It also confirms the makeup and makeup of our conference. I’m sure there are people who have worried. What will happen if Texas and Oklahoma drop out? Nobody talks about it anymore.”

No they are not. This game could define the hopes and dreams of similar hopefuls once the CFP expands in 2024.

Slocum trained against TCU in the SWC several times during his career. He was also close friends with former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, father of current TCU coach Sonny Dykes. They were as close as Sonny recalled coming home from high school baseball practice in West Texas to find his father and Slocum enjoying an afternoon drink.

Slocum has watched Sonny, who took over as head coach in 2022 with just five winning seasons in 12 years, unleash greatness. Dykes brought a squad put together by former coach Gary Patterson to the brink of a championship.

What would it mean for TCU, the Big 12 and college football if TCU actually did win it all?

Las Vegas answered part of that question earlier this month when the TCU installed with the longest odds (16-1) to win the championship when the bracket debuted, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Those who had the foresight to bet $100 on the Frogs would cash in $1,600 if TCU wins Monday night.

“It’s saying again that no one has a win lock,” Slocum said. “Just because you have good players doesn’t mean you’re going to win. The challenge is to get these guys all together and all play for each other. That encourages a lot of schools out there that may not be up there. It gives them hope.”

It would mean a lot of chips would be redeemed. Hodges is one of 14 TCU transfers. Frustrated with himself and Navy, he started looking for a new home after last season. His father took on the task of emailing each of the other 131 FBS programs. There were no takers.

“I couldn’t even watch a football game over the weekend without getting sick because I knew I hadn’t accomplished that much,” Hodges said. “I didn’t believe in myself. In life, more than anyone else, you have to believe in yourself. … But when I left high school, I didn’t think I was good enough to play college football. I didn’t think I was good enough to play on a Power Five [program]. My father did it. He brought me here.”

TCU defense coordinator Joe Gillespie became aware of this because he played against Navy in Tulsa before he was hired by Dykes. Hodges’ addition turned the defense into an opportunistic unit. TCU was surpassed by Michigan last week (528-488), but the game difference may have been two pick-sixes.

“We have a lot of guys on this team who are three-star, two-star players who didn’t have a lot of offers from high school, so I feel like everyone already had a chip on their shoulder when he did came in,” said cornerback Tre’Vious Hodges-Tomlinson.

“It’s time to take ourselves very seriously. We’re no joke.”

Not when Hodges-Tomlinson, nephew of the great TCU LaDanian Tomlinson, is the reigning winner of the Jim Thorpe Award for the Nation’s Best Defenseman. Not when quarterback Max Duggan is a former state high school 200-yard champion. (It surprised everyone from Oklahoma to Michigan when Duggan led all Big 12 quarterbacks in rushing.) Not when Hodges went from No Takers to TCU leader in tackles.

“The media wants the Bluebloods to win,” Hodges said after the Michigan game. “They want the Bluebloods to play each other. The schools are bigger – bigger fan bases. That’s what they want. For us, [it’s] to put us on the map, make some money, and instill some respect in your family name.”

That motivates Emari Demercado. In his sixth season, he’s made his way back home. Outside of high school, his only FBS offers came from the Army and Navy. That led him to start at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. Once at TCU, he played on the depth chart for most of his career.

When lead rusher Zach Evans switched to Ole Miss, Demercado backed workhorse Kendre Miller. Suddenly, Demercado, as the central character in the game, can’t find enough tickets for his family and friends to watch him play for the national title on Monday.

Despite growing up in nearby Inglewood, 5 minutes from SoFi Stadium, he has never set foot inside the venue.

Life was sparse, not glorious. In high school, Demercado lived with a friend’s family because practice at Downey High School started at 5 a.m. In LA, where a massive city is connected by sprawling highways – and traffic – it made sense.

“My mom bought me a little ’97 Lexus,” Demercado said. “For me it was just perfect to stay with them.”

Prior to the Fiesta Bowl semifinals, Michigan had given up a 100-yard rushing performance all season (Chase Brown, Illinois). Demercado rumbled for a career-high 150 yards in a backup role after Miller was injured.

Oh, and in that sixth year, Demercado was able to get his Masters in Business Analytics.

“I grew up here,” Demercado said. “I spent my whole childhood here. I’m going to Texas and I can finish my college career here. It’s almost like the script.”

Chips for everyone.

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