As the TCU Horned Frogs make final preparations to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game Monday night, the question of fatigue is front of mind.
The 13-1 Horned Frogs, coming off a taxing 51-45 victory over Michigan in the semifinals, have been asked repeatedly about finding enough gas left in the tank for what on paper appears to be an even bigger challenge in Georgia, the defending national champion.
First-year head coach Sonny Dykes knows that the grind of the season, while not a challenge unique to his team, is still something that needs to be overcome Monday.
He hopes that thoughtful management of workload all season will pay dividends against Georgia (14-0).
“Look, we’re getting ready to play our 15th ball game. I think this is 22 consecutive weeks that our players have been practicing,” Dykes said. “It’s been a grind. It’s a long process. There’s lots of factors to consider, not only physical health but mental health as well when it comes to that type of grind with 18- to 22-year-old kids and the emotional toll and mental health toll that it can take on them.
“These guys are preparing to take big ball games but they’re also preparing to take final exams. And they’re also dealing with issues off the field with family and friends and all the different things that these young men are exposed to on a daily basis. So it can be a very complicated thing. And we’ve got to do the very best we can to look after not only our players mentally but also physically and their mental health because that’s the most important thing at the end of the day.”
The biggest personnel question for the Frogs entering the game might be the status of star tailback Kendre Miller, who suffered a knee sprain early on against Michigan and is questionable to play.
Miller, who still managed to gain 57 yards on over seven yards a carry before exiting, could provide the TCU offense a jolt if he can go.
“We’ll get a really good sense of what he can and can’t do today, and then make a decision going into tomorrow,” Dykes said. “When you start talking about a knee and a sprained knee and the things that go along with that, potentially, then you’ve got to be very, very careful.
“And obviously Kendre is going to want to play. It’s a big stage. He’s a tough kid. But he’s a young man and our job is to take care of him and make sure that we don’t just see Monday night, that we see the big picture as far as taking care of Kendre’s health and in doing the right thing for him.”
If the country is hoping for a clue as to TCU’s likely response to dealing with adversity or exhaustion, the team’s comeback against Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game might provide some context.
Despite playing in their eleventh game in 11 weeks and facing an 11-point fourth quarter deficit, a visibly exhausted Max Duggan led the Horned Frogs on two scoring drives, pacing the team with big plays on the ground to tie the game and send things to overtime.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up, Duggan again made several big plays versus Michigan a week ago and figures to be among a group of players who understand the opportunity in front of them, having already shocked the nation by even reaching this point.
“You look around college athletics and look at the NCAA basketball tournament, and you see teams that you don’t expect to be there, end up in the top eight or Final Four. That’s something that’s an annual occurrence these days,” Dykes said. “You know, college football is different. It just is. There’s a lot of plays that go into that game. There’s a lot of players. Instead of five guys and one or two guys get really hot, you’ve got to have an entire team doing it and execute at a high level. So I do think it’s more difficult to kind of emerge from the shadows in football than it is maybe in basketball.
“Our group has had a little bit of a magical ride … Our guys were hungry and they were mature. They had a chip on their shoulder. And they bought in quickly.”
Whether that winning culture ultimately results in another win Monday or not, Dykes sees the opportunity that the stage presents.
“There’s some doors open to us now, because of this success, that have been closed for a long time. And it’s up to us to figure out how to reap the benefits from — when it comes to recruiting, the opportunity to recruit a different kind of player, when it comes to the opportunity to have access to staff members and additional staff and just all the things that can help you take the next step as a program.
“It’s been a journey to get here. But we’re excited about not only Monday night, but where do we go from here, and how can we continue to build our brand from a national standpoint.”
–Field Level Media