Looking to turn chips into ‘tokens,’ TCU could change the sport by winning the College Football Playoff title game

LOS ANGELES — Johnny Hodges loves his chips.

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

In Hodges’ shorthand translation, it means chips on the shoulders. Cliché, of course, but an appetizer to the heart no. 3 Horned Frogs. They weren’t meant to be here in the College Football Playoff.

In fact, the last team in a similar position was BYU in 1984. Those Cougars are the most recent national champions to come from outside the current Power Five.

TCU as a member of the Big 12 is clearly a Power Five team these days, but it has been a big leaguer for the past quarter century. When the Southwest Conference folded, TCU was relegated to the Big 12. From there, a purgatory of stops in the WAC, Conference USA and the Mountain West followed.

A desperate little purple engine who could finally achieve his conference brass ring power when the Big 12 opened its doors to TCU in 2012.

There’s a reason No. 1 Georgia is favored by nearly two touchdowns, the largest line in CFP National Championship history. TCU is a big chance. If Žapci win, perhaps the best program in sports will win. If the Bulldogs don’t already hold that mantle, Monday night could go a long way toward building that narrative.

TCU is just trying to hang on, if the recruiting rankings are to be believed. The Frogs have 17 blue-chip recruits on the roster, four of which are transfers. The Dawgs have four times as many.

“You can’t overstate what they did,” said former Texas A&M coach RC Slocum, a College Football Hall of Famer from TCU. “They just stick with you. They’re not an ebb and flow type of team. They just stay the same all the time whether it’s going well or not. It’s hard to beat a team that won’t beat itself.”

That explains the Frogs’ late-game comebacks. That explains TCU hanging 55 on Oklahoma. That explains the 263-yard run against shocked Michigan. This explains why TCU’s influence cannot be ignored.

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark skipped Saturday’s CFP National Championship media day as if his conference had already won. Yormark has already stated his intention to expand the Big 12 to the Pacific time zone. With USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten, TCU and the Big 12 entered the LA market this week.


About 17 miles north of SoFi Stadium, where Monday’s game is played, is a niche community called Frogtown. It’s not a city unto itself, but — as its website proclaims — “a progressive, pocket-sized community … where socially conscious hipsters and multigenerational families live together and call it home.”

Frogtown is also the site of a Big 12 takeover this weekend. Really, that’s what they call it: “taking over”. There’s purple beer at Frogtown Brewery. On Sunday, 200 free Frogtown Tacos will be available on the Santa Monica Pier.

Celebrity sneaker artist Kickstradomis designs a pair of Horned Frog themed sneakers.

What does that have to do with a win over Georgia? You’re missing the point. Yormark is trying to take over the world, and the Toads are his army of conquest.

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

“It also validates the makeup and makeup of our conference. I’m sure there are people who were concerned. What’s going to happen with Texas and Oklahoma? Nobody’s talking about that anymore.”

No they didn’t. This game could define the hopes and dreams of similar hopefuls when the CFP expands in 2024.

Slocum coached against TCU in the SWC multiple 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 so close. Sonny recalled coming home from high school baseball practice in West Texas and seeing his father and Slocum enjoying an afternoon of grown-up drinks.

Slocum watched Sonny, who entered 2022 with just five winning seasons in 12 as a head coach, discover greatness. Dykes led a roster assembled 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 won it all?

Las Vegas answered part of that question earlier this month when TCU was installed as the top odds (16-1) to win the championship when the group debuted, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Those who had predictions and bet $100 on the Frogs would cash out $1,600 if TCU wins on Monday night.

“It again makes a statement that no one is certain to win,” Slocum said. “Just because you have good players doesn’t mean you’re going to win. The challenge is getting those guys all together, all playing for each other. It gives a boost to a lot of schools out there that maybe aren’t at the top level. It gives them hope.”

This would mean that many tokens would be cashed out. Hodges is one of 14 TCU transfers. Frustrated with himself and Navy, he was 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 recipients.

I couldn’t even watch a football game on the weekend without getting sick to my stomach knowing I failed so badly, Hodges said. “I didn’t believe in myself. In life, you have to believe in yourself more than anybody. … But coming out of 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 the Power Five [program]. My dad is. He brought me here.”

TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie took notice because he played against Navy while at Tulsa before being hired by Dykes. The addition of Hodges turned the defense into an opportunistic unit. TCU was outscored by Michigan (528-488) last week, but the difference in the game may have been two pick sixes.

“We have a lot of guys on this team that are three stars, two stars that didn’t have a lot of offers out of high school, so I feel like everybody already had a chip on their shoulder when they came in,” the cornerback said. Tre’Vious Hodges-Tomlinson.

“It’s time you start taking us very seriously. We’re no joke.”

Not when Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of TCU great LaDanian Tomlinson, is the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. Not when running back Max Duggan is a former state high school 200m champion. (It surprised everyone from Oklahoma to Michigan when Duggan led all Big 12 quarterbacks in rushing.) Not when Hodges went from a no-hitter to leading TCU in rushing.

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

This is what motivates Emari Demercado. In its sixth season, it made a crooked return home. Out of high school, his only FBS offers were from Army and Navy. This led him to study at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. After coming to TCU, he played low on the depth chart for most of his career.

When leading rusher Zach Evans transferred to Ole Miss, Demercado backed workhorse Kendre Miller. Suddenly, as the centerpiece of Monday’s game, Demercado can’t find enough tickets for his family and friends to watch him play for the national title.

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

Life was meager, not glorious. In high school, Demercado lived with a friend’s family because practices at Downey High School started at 5 a.m. In LA, where the vast city is connected by vast freeway tracks — and traffic — it made sense.

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

Prior to the Fiesta Bowl semifinal, Michigan had given up one 100-yard rusher 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 managed to get a master’s degree in business analytics.

“I grew up here,” Demercado said. “I spent my whole childhood here. I’m leaving and I’m going to Texas and I’ll be able to finish my college career here. It’s almost scripted.”

Chips for everyone.

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