TCU was predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12 this season and nobody expected to see the Horned Frogs as one of the last two teams standing in the College Football Playoff title game.
Quarterback Max Duggan wasn’t even picked as the opening-game starter by first-year coach Sonny Dykes, so his second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting was just as unexpected.
Yet nothing about the third-ranked Horned Frogs feels the least bit astonishing as they try to tame top-ranked Georgia in the national championship game on Monday in Inglewood, Calif.
The Bulldogs (14-0) are vying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in the CFP era that began in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs (13-1) are looking to finish off an improbable ride.
“I think, in some ways we probably viewed ourselves as (a Cinderella team) early on because we were figuring this thing out,” Dykes said. “I think that if you had asked us before the season started — ‘Would we play for a national championship?’ — most of us probably didn’t think that we would.”
Georgia opened as a 13.5-point favorite at BetMGM. The line shifted to 13 with the public heavily backing the Horned Frogs, but it moved to 13.5 by Monday despite 71 percent of the spread bets and 58 percent of the handle still supporting TCU.
DraftKings reported spread at 12.5 points Monday morning but had also seen a shift to 13.0 by the afternoon, with the Horned Frogs drawing 66 and 51 percent of the spread action, respectively.
Georgia was garnering more support at BetRivers, where the Bulldogs had been backed by 53 percent of the money as 13.5-point favorites. TCU was still drawing 62 percent of the tickets.
The Bulldogs have their own motivation: winning a second straight title. Their championship last season was the program’s first since the Herschel Walker-led team won the 1980 crown.
Despite allowing 71 points over their past two games, Georgia still ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense at 14.8 points per game. The Bulldogs allowed 14 or fewer points eight times, including two shutouts.
TCU is tied for fourth nationally at 41.1 points scored per game but might not have standout running back Kendre Miller (1,399 yards, 17 touchdowns) due to a knee injury sustained in the Michigan game.
Emari Demercado will be the lead back if Miller can’t play. Demercado, a senior, had a career-best 150 rushing yards against Michigan.
Georgia has won all four meetings with TCU, including a 31-23 triumph in the 2016 Liberty Bowl in the most recent clash.
“I know everyone wants to act like they’re this myth or this Cinderella story, but the truth of the matter is that they’re one of the best teams in college football,” Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran said. “So they’re there for a reason. So we’re taking it like that.”
Georgia TE Brock Bowers Under 64.5 Receiving Yards (-132 at BetRivers): This has drawn the most money among player props at the sportsbook. Bowers has been extremely consistent this season, catching multiple passes in every game and at least four in nine of his past 12. However, he has topped 64.5 receiving yards in only two of his past nine games and four times overall this season.
Over 63.5 Points (-105 at BetMGM): The same total at DraftKings had -110 odds on Monday at DraftKings, where the Over had drawn 77 percent of the bets and 52 percent of the money. Meanwhile, BetRivers was offering a 63.0-point line with the Over backed by 71 and 63 percent, respectively. With a slightly better winning payout, BetMGM was reporting 71 percent of the bets and 68 percent of the action backing the Over after the line opened at 61.5.
TCU QB Max Duggan Over 0.5 Rushing TDs (+120 at DraftKings): This has been the fifth-most bet player prop at the sportsbook. The Horned Frogs have increasingly relied on Duggan’s legs since the regular season ended, as he had three touchdowns on 30 carries between the Big 12 Championship and the CFP semifinal games. With Miller’s status uncertain due to a knee injury, Duggan’s legs could factor even more heavily into the game plan. And near the goal-line in crunch time, who does Dykes trust more than Duggan with the ball in his hands?
TCU is embracing the underdog role and the semifinal win over Michigan showed that the Horned Frogs are worthy of their title game appearance. Winning it is another matter.
Georgia’s defense will bounce back from a pair of sub-par games while Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett continues to defy skeptics as one of the nation’s most efficient signal-callers.
–Georgia 42, TCU 27
–Field Level Media