Never Bet Against David: TCU Faces Georgia In National Championship Game

We don’t normally like to make predictions in this space, but here’s a prediction ahead of next Monday evening’s NCAA National Championship Football game between the defending National Champion Bulldogs of Georgia and the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University.

Are you ready?

In the next week, you will not hear any player or coach from the University of Georgia attempt to intimidate their opponent by referring to TCU’s “lack of bowl experience” or showing TCU the superiority of “SEC football.”

There it is. Next Monday’s game offers a quintessential David versus Goliath contest, and the last thing the Goliath in this game wants to do is get in little Davy’s grill. Another Goliath dressed in the blue and gold of Michigan tried it when Wolverine quarterback J.J. McCarthy said he would be happy to face Georgia or arch-rival Ohio State in the Championship game—before Michigan had even played TCU.

Apparently, nobody told McCarthy about putting the cart before the horse or about arming the underdogs with another reason to play the game of their young lives. The Michigan players and coaches did a lot of yapping all week with anyone who would stick a microphone in their faces. The suggestion was even made that Big 12 TCU had never faced the likes of Big 10 football before and would be sorry they did.

At last weekend’s Fiesta Bowl, which hosted a semi-final game of the National Championship, Michigan did go on to score a bunch of points against TCU—45 of them—but TCU found an extra stone in its slingshot and scored six points more than Michigan, earning the right to face the winner of the Peach Bowl (the other semi-final game) featuring two Goliaths in Ohio State and Georgia. With footage of his team and their fans whooping it up on the confetti-strewn field of victory, the laidback and affable TCU coach Sonny Dykes related how “all week we heard about Big 10 football and how they were going to line up and run over us. They made some great plays, but defensively we stopped the run and forced them to do some things they weren’t comfortable doing.”

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Well, it was a bad weekend for Big 10 football all around as Georgia beat Ohio State. Now, Dykes and the mighty Horned Frogs of TCU face an even bigger Goliath, a program that oozes Blue-Chipiness: from its head coach, Kirby Smart, a protegee of Nick Saban’s factory in Alabama, to Heisman Trophy finalist Stetson Bennett at quarterback and its roster of future first round draft picks and All-American athletes.

The Championship pits a Georgia team that has, with a few hiccups along the way, been ranked number one in the country since the opening kickoff back in September against a TCU squad that was predicted to finish seventh its own conference! Even now, few prognosticators are betting on their success against Georgia.

Just don’t ask anybody on Georgia’s team to confirm this.

This game offers a reversable lesson for leadership. If you are the underdog, do what TCU quarterback Max Duggan said Coach Dykes did and tell your team, “People are going to say all kinds of things about you, but what matters is what we say to each other.” The only story that matters is the one you tell yourself, so tell a story about doing something better than you’ve ever done it before.

And if you’re the favorite, as Michigan was, remember that what got you to where you are was not taking anything for granted, like the superiority of your people, program, conference or style of play, but your competitive focus and passion.

Did McCarthy learn his lesson. It seems he did, at least if the viral photo of him, in which he appears to be forcing himself to stand alone and watch TCU’s delirious celebration, is any indicator. It looks for the all the world as though he’s searing the moment into his brain to use as fuel for the next year, an interpretation he reinforced with his curt, one-answer performance at the post-game presser. When he entered the room where he and his teammates had spoken so volubly in the leadup to the game, in defeat McCarthy kept things short.

“There’s a lot of things that we could have done better,” he said. “Can’t wait to watch the tape, but we’ll be back. And I promise that.”

In the meantime, maybe the best thing he and his Michigan teammates can do is figure out to turn themselves into the underdog, if only in their own minds, because a properly inspired David is rarely someone you want to bet against.

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