What TCU can learn from other underdogs that won championships

Could TCU upset Georgia? History says yes

The 2022 TCU Horned Frogs are a case study in beating the odds, across the board. The team was listed at 200-1 to win the championship as recently as Week 5. (Georgia, by contrast, was already better than 2-1 at that point.) Sonny Dykes outperformed all expectations for a first-year head coach working with players largely inherited from last year’s 5-7 team. Max Duggan beat whatever odds you want to list, rebounding from a health scare and playing his way from the bench to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

So, yes, the Frogs know a thing or two about overcoming negative expectations. And they’ll need every bit of preparation, momentum, mojo, good will and luck that they can muster on Monday against the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff national championship. TCU comes in as a 13 1/2-point underdog, yes, but history is stuffed with tales of underdogs who triumphed over far longer odds.

There’s the David and Goliath tale, of course, which teaches us that a strong passing game and a high completion percentage greatly increase one’s chance of victory. Plus, David won without any advance scouting or seeing any film on Goliath, so TCU will have that advantage, too. But let’s look past the most obvious underdog tale and see what other lessons are available for TCU:

New York Giants defeat New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII, 2008

The story: The Patriots, led by Tom Brady and Randy Moss, rolled into the Super Bowl needing only one more win for an unprecedented, 19-game undefeated season. The Giants stumbled into the postseason as a wild card and into the Super Bowl as 12-point dogs. But New York kept things close going into the fourth quarter. You probably remember what happened then: Eli Manning threw one of the most famous passes, and David Tyree made unquestionably the most unique catch in Super Bowl history.

What TCU can take from this: Don’t believe the pregame narrative, keep things close, and always throw downfield. You never know what might happen.

Buster Douglas defeats Mike Tyson, 1990

The story: Tyson famously said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, and he found himself on the receiving end of his own maxim. Douglas beat the hell out of Tyson in a match so lightly regarded that no one expected Douglas to last longer than 90 seconds. He did more than that, knocking Tyson to the canvas — and, a 10-count later, out of the fight — for the first time in Tyson’s career.

What TCU can take from this: Douglas was a 42-1 underdog coming into the fight. By that measure, TCU’s odds of 7-2 don’t look bad at all.

Rich Strike wins Kentucky Derby, 2022

The story: The 80-1 longest of long shots, Rich Strike wasn’t supposed to be in the Derby but was included in the last few minutes. Rich Strike started the race back in the pack but began making moves in the final turn and took the lead with just a few lengths to go.

What TCU can take from this: Early pacing is key, as is a good, strong stretch kick. And when all else fails, just run like hell.

Max Duggan and TCU took down Michigan. Could Georgia be next? (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Max Duggan and TCU took down Michigan. Could Georgia be next? (Chris Coduto/Getty Images) (Chris Coduto via Getty Images)

Leicester City wins Premier League, 2016

The story: To call Leicester City “lightly regarded” among Premier League teams going into the 2015-16 season would presume that the 5,000-1 underdogs were regarded at all. They weren’t, and then they proceeded to go out and shock the world by winning the championship of the planet’s wealthiest league.

What TCU can take from this: Regardless of how Monday turns out, be careful how next season goes. Leicester City very nearly got relegated just one year after winning the title.

The Avengers defeat Thanos, 2019

The story: As recounted in the documentary “Avengers: Endgame,” Earth’s mightiest heroes were decimated by injury and losing badly to Thanos on their home field when transfer portals opened all over the place, allowing the Avengers to stage a miracle fourth-quarter rally.

What TCU can take from this: Sadly, it’s unlikely that TCU will be able to summon a collection of Big 12 Avengers, such as Texas-era Vince Young, Oklahoma-era Adrian Peterson or even their own LaDainian Tomlinson, to suit up against Georgia. (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III might be gettable.) Still, a cry of “Horned Frogs: Assemble!” would be awesome.

Cleveland Cavaliers defeat Golden State Warriors, NBA Finals, 2016

The story: The Warriors were a fully operational behemoth; the Cavaliers were pretty much LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and some dudes. When Golden State took a 3-1 lead, pretty much everyone assumed that Cleveland had gone full Cleveland. Not so! The Cavs stormed back to take the series in seven.

What TCU can take from this: Never give up, no matter what. Also, the game’s in Los Angeles, and LeBron, now with the Lakers, still has eligibility left; see if he’s available to take a few snaps.

The overriding message: Don’t believe the pregame picks and pundits. A break here, a big play there, and TCU could be right here on this list the next time an underdog challenges a champion. Easy enough, right?


Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.