Gold: With title game in its backyard, Conference of Champions has several championship game connections
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad if the College Football Playoff title game weren’t in Pac-12 territory. Well, at least, Pac-12 territory for now.
But just because it won’t be represented in the championship matchup, that doesn’t mean the league is without close connections to the big game, which pits defending national champion Georgia and upstart TCU and comes to Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
From TCU’s offensive brain trust to a Georgia Bulldog-turned Arizona Wildcat, the Pac-12 has its fingerprints all over the title game.
Here’s a look at the links between the Conference of Champions and the championship game:
TCU head coach Sonny Dykes — former Cal head coach, former Arizona offensive coordinator
Those who remember Dykes from his Cal days are probably surprised to see the Horned Frogs in the championship and on the verge of history. Yes, Dykes lifted the Bears from 1 win in his first year in 2013 to 8-5 and ranked as high as 19th two years later. Yes, he helped turn Jared Goff into the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But he went just 19-30 in 4 years at the helm and 1-11 against other California teams. He was unceremoniously fired in Jan. 2017, a month after the end of the season, after he reportedly interviewed with Baylor.
“We want someone who is committed to the university long term,” Bears athletic director Mike Williams said.
After serving as an offensive analyst with TCU in 2017, he was hired by SMU in 2018 and went 30-18 in 4 years, peaking in 2019 with a 10-win season. It would be his 3rd head coaching job, as he first went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech from 2011-13.
He joined the Bulldogs after his first stint in the Pac-12 as offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09, helping lead the Wildcats to a pair of 8-win seasons and its first ranking in 9 years.
TCU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley — Lincoln Riley’s brother
There’s something almost biblical about what’s going down this weekend in Los Angeles.
In the same city in which his brother serves as USC head coach, Horned Frogs offensive coordinator Garrett Riley will vie for the national championship, a little over a month after the Trojans were denied a possible CFP berth themselves? OK, so maybe it’s not quite Cain and Abel, but it’s at least a bit awkward.
Just imagine if you’re Lincoln Riley right now. You’re excited, sure, and proud. Definitely proud. But coming so close to the playoff after near-misses at Oklahoma, it’s got to hurt in a different way.
If you’re Garrett Riley, the 33-year-old wunderkind, you’re wondering if this is the resume-padder that gets you a head coaching gig in a high-profile conference.
#TCU quarterback Max Duggan talking about what offensive coordinator Garrett Riley has done to put them in a position to be successful this year. #FiestaBowl | @HigginbothamIns pic.twitter.com/EQqz5V5s2i
— Frogs Today (@frogstoday) December 28, 2022
The Horned Frogs’ two brilliant offensive minds aren’t the only coaches with a Pac-12 title-game tie-ins…
TCU special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl — former Cal special teams coordinator
A member of Dykes’ staff in Berkeley, Tommerdahl helped turn the Bears into a force in both the kicking and return games. He rejoined Dykes after serving as special teams coordinator at Texas Tech the past three seasons.
Georgia outside linebackers coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe — former Colorado star linebacker
The 1st-year Bulldogs coach was a stud for the Buffaloes in the mid-2000s, finishing his Colorado career tied for 2nd in forced fumbles (10), 6th in program history in sacks (20) and tied for 17th in tackles for loss (31).
And the ties that bind don’t end there. In addition to the coaches with Pac-12 connections, a handful of players do, as well.
USC defensive lineman Earl Barquet
Transferred from TCU in 2022
Barquet made an instant impact for TCU, totaling 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks in his two years with the program. But he did little in his first year with USC this year, stuck behind an impressive array of defensive end talent, including star pass rusher Tuli Tuipulotu.
USC running back Darwin Barlow
Transferred from TCU in 2021
Like his former TCU teammate, the Trojans running back was buried on the depth chart behind Travis Dye, Austin Jones and Raleek Brown. But he had his moments, scoring 3 touchdowns on his 16 total carries for 96 yards.
.@darwin_barlow with the strong finish on this touchdown run! 💪
📱: https://t.co/QwAZd9IYd4 pic.twitter.com/RTcTyiF0WD
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) November 20, 2022
Washington State linebacker Ben Wilson
Transferred from TCU in 2021
A special teams ace for the Cougars, Wilson got some run at outside linebacker in his senior year, including a start in Wazzu’s big loss to Fresno State in the L.A. Bowl.
Arizona defensive lineman Bill Norton
Transferred from Georgia in 2022
— Bill Norton (@billlnorton) December 7, 2022
Norton was the 1st transfer portal entrant for Georgia, landing with Jedd Fisch in Tucson. Although he primarily played special teams for the Bulldogs, he’ll get a chance to compete for major playing time with the talent-starved Wildcats.
TCU safety Mark Perry
Transferred from Colorado in 2022
A top recruit for Colorado in 2019, Perry starred for the Buffaloes in 2021, totaling 72 tackles, a team-high 3 interceptions and 4 pass breakups. Perry made a splash with the Horned Frogs this year, as well, finishing with 78 tackles including 6.5 for loss and 2 pass breakups.
TCU center Ezra Dotson-Oyetade
Transferred from ASU in 2022
The former Sun Devils star recruit was not long for Tempe transferred back to his home state before playing a snap for Arizona State. He serves in a backup capacity but should get a bigger role next season.
Former ASU OL Ezra Dotson-Oyetade (52) now with TCU pic.twitter.com/blZ8QvvslC
— Brad Denny (@BDenny29) December 31, 2022