Without Max Duggan, the fourth-year quarterback who had lost his starting job going into this season, third-ranked TCU might not be undefeated, getting ready for the Big 12 championship game and on the verge of making the College Football Playoff.
“It’s just our guys’ undying belief in him, and our guys trying to play their tails off for him because they have so much respect and admiration for what he brings to our football program every day,” first-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes said.
“I’d do anything for that guy,” sixth-year senior offensive lineman Wes Harris said. “He’s got the heart of a warrior and he’s just a leader.”
Since taking over in the second half of the season opener, after redshirt freshman starter Chandler Morris sprained his knee, Duggan has been one of the nation’s most efficient passers. He has completed two-thirds of his passes, leads the Big 12 with 3,070 yards and 29 touchdowns, and has thrown only three interceptions.
Duggan is set for to make his 41st career start for the Horned Frogs (12-0) in the Big 12 title game against 13th-ranked Kansas State (9-3). They have already made a strong case to be part of the four-team playoff, though a win Saturday would guarantee that.
While disappointed when finding out from the new coaching staff about a week before the opener that he wouldn’t take the first snap of his senior season, Duggan never considered leaving.
“Maybe that might have been the last time I was playing, might have been my last snap, but there was never a thought of me leaving,” Duggan said. “I was going to be here. I wanted to make sure I graduated here. I wanted to make sure that I was here when TCU was back on top.”
And he certainly has had a huge part in making that happen. Duggan could go from losing his starting job to TCU’s first playoff, and maybe a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
TCU, picked seventh in the league’s preseason poll, is the first Big 12 team since Texas in 2009 to complete a regular season undefeated. They won seven consecutive games by no more than 10 points before last week’s 62-14 win over Iowa State.
“The entirety of what’s happened to us this season, it’s hard not to go, well, there’s got to be a reason this happened,” Dykes said. “It’s almost like an act of God that this has happened, and then you go, OK, why? … Well, here’s this guy that’s played incredibly well at an incredibly important position.”
Dykes got emotional even before the first Big 12 game, saying then that he was as proud of Duggan as any player he has ever had because of how he handled the entire situation. The coach said Duggan never pouted, never had a bad practice and was always thinking about the team.
The Iowa Gatorade player of the year and a four-star recruit, Duggan started 10 games for TCU as a true freshman in 2019. But he missed the start of the following season because of a previously unknown heart issue discovered during enhanced preseason testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two days after a procedure to fix the heart issue, Duggan had to have an emergency surgery because of a blood clot. He didn’t miss a game, though he didn’t start the delayed opener before coming in to throw for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
Duggan then played most of last season with a broken bone in his foot, limping to class without a protective boot to avoid having pictures taken and posted on social media.
“I don’t think a lot of people know I didn’t practice at all,” he said. “So I literally would just stand there and then Saturday, I’d get shot up and hopefully try to gut it out. So it was it was pretty difficult.”
Even though he is a senior who has played four seasons, Duggan still has another year of eligibility since 2020 didn’t count against any player. He insists he hasn’t really thought about if he will enroll in graduate classes and return to play again next season, though he will have to decide soon.
The business major graduates Dec. 17, two weeks after the Big 12 title game and exactly one month before the start of TCU’s spring semester.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “It really never crossed my anything. I’ve just been focused on too many other things.”
Like winning games.