TCU takes on blueblood Georgia with few blue-chippers

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia has more former five-star recruits starting on its defensive line than TCU has signed in the 22 years that 247 Sports has kept track of such things. The Bulldogs have four times as many players with four- and -five star pedigrees. And yet the Horned Frogs will play Georgia for the national championship on Monday in Southern California.

TCU isn’t supposed to be here. Seriously contending for a national championship essentially requires signing more blue-chip recruits than not over a four-year span. The recruiting analysts at 247 Sports call that a “Blue-Chip Ratio.” Every team to play in the CFP title game has been 50% or better and all but two of the 20 teams in the last four CFP fields met that mark.

Georgia (77%) easily clears the bar this season. So does Ohio State (80%), the team the Bulldogs vanquished in the Peach Bowl. TCU’s ratio is just 19%. The Horned Frogs beat Michigan (59%) in the CFP semifinal. They also beat Oklahoma (71%) and Texas (68%) this season.

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Of course, winning big in college football requires more than signing good players. But not having enough top recruits usually means being shut out from the top level. TCU has broken through that barrier. First-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes getting the Horned Frogs this far is much more impressive than if he’d stacked his roster with the best recruits and overwhelmed opponents with superior talent.

“I never look at it through the perspective of (like) a lot of people look at it, as it’s all about what your kids were rated when they came in,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Coach Dykes inherited a lot of those players and got some through the portal. But you got what you got, and what you do with what you have is what makes you a coach.

“(Dykes) has done a tremendous job with the players that he has and has inherited. I feel like we’ve done the same with the ones we’ve gone out and recruited. So, I never get too caught up in how it was built. It’s kind of like, okay, you gave me my mold and now I’ve got to go try to make something out of it.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Sure, but the quality of the clay matters a lot. Smart knows that. There’s a reason why Smart offered a scholarship to just one of the 14 high school players that TCU signed for the 2022 class. The players that Dykes inherited were hardly considered by Smart and his staff as they traveled the country targeting the best recruits.

The Bulldogs defeated four opponents with a positive Blue-Chip Ratio. That’s expected. College football is the ultimate gatekeeping sport and Georgia is part of its aristocracy. The Horned Frogs are relative commoners.

The gap in player talent is one reason why I believe the Bulldogs will handily beat TCU. It’s one thing for the Horned Frogs to handle Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma. Now they will face a team that boasts much more player talent than those outfits and with a coaching staff that knows how to get the most out of it.

Ohio State could match Georgia in those areas. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 66 blue-chip recruits on Ohio State’s roster are second only to Alabama. Georgia has 64 players who were four- and five-star recruits. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day equaled Smart’s tactical acumen in the Peach Bowl.

Dykes might also be Smart’s equal with X’s and O’s, but that won’t be enough to overcome the talent disadvantage. TCU has 16 former blue-chip recruits on its roster by my count. Three of those players are freshmen who haven’t played, five others don’t play much, and another is out with an injury

Thus, Georgia is favored by two touchdowns. Then again, Michigan was supposed to have a huge talent edge in the Fiesta Bowl. TCU’s collection of former three-star recruits beat the Wolverines, who were favored by 7 ½ points.

“They were told we were small, and they were big,” TCU linebacker Dee Winters said. “That’s all they’ve been hearing. So, I think once they realized that we were there to tackle and they felt our strength, they were, like, ‘These guys came to play.’ And I think they were shocked.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Horned Frogs have been surprising a lot of people. Big 12 media picked them to finish seventh in the 10-team league. They were getting 200-1 odds to qualify for the CFP before the season. TCU is the longest shot to make it this far. Cincinnati, the lone Group of Five team to play in the CFP, was 150-1 before the 2021 season.

I’m interested to see what Dykes can do once he’s had time to build his program. He’s got deep ties in Texas. Most years it is at or near the top of the list of states that produce the most blue-chip recruits. Dykes must compete for those players against Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M in addition to the top programs from outside of the state.

Dykes has proven he can win big without many top recruits on his roster. That’s a hard formula to repeat over the long term. He’s done it this season. The odds say the Horned Frogs aren’t supposed to be here, but they are.