National Championship preview: Georgia vs. TCU
There are many questions to ponder heading into the game:
But now it’s time to answer the most important question of all: Who is going to win?
We asked our experts to predict how the matchup will turn out.
Who will win the CFP Championship Game, and why?
Georgia is too big, too fast, and too talented. When the game kicks off, UGA will field a roster with 15 five-stars and 78 total blue-chip recruits — four- and five-star — while TCU will field just one five-star and 16 blue-chip recruits.
While both programs feature a Heisman finalist at quarterback in Stetson Bennett and Max Duggan, Duggan might have the best player on the field on his side in wideout Quentin Johnston. If UGA can take Johnston away and force Duggan to run away from pressure, they can sit on the ball on the offensive side and watch the clock tick as they use running backs Kenny McIntosh, Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton to eat up time of possession.
TCU will need more magic than UGA — like two pick-sixes — to pull off the biggest upset in the history of the College Football Playoff era and become the most unlikely national champ since 1990 Georgia Tech.
For Georgia to become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Alabama did it in 2011 and 2012, it will have to do the opposite of what Michigan did in the Fiesta Bowl. And that’s stop TCU’s run game.
The Wolverines came into the College Football Playoff semifinal with the Big Ten’s No. 1 run defense, and the underrated Horned Frogs ran for 263 yards and three rushing touchdowns. And that was despite losing star RB Kendre Miller to an injury in the first half (he’s currently listed as questionable for Monday). Georgia has the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. It’s held opponents this season to 3.0 yards per carry and just six rushing touchdowns. It kept Ohio State in check, limiting the Buckeyes to 119 rushing yards and one TD. So this will be an intriguing matchup.
The way TCU pulls off an upset at SoFi Stadium is if quarterback Duggan can make plays, of course, but also if the Frogs can establish that running game, which will open up the passing game for all of its talented receivers like Johnston. It will be a tricky task against Georgia’s defensive front, which includes Jalen Carter, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound star in the middle who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
While he didn’t cause the Buckeyes too many nightmares, it seems unlikely that the Frogs can neutralize Carter in the same way. While Duggan, who is more mobile than C.J. Stroud, might be able to evade Carter for a while, it won’t be a sustainable effort.
When Georgia captured its first national title under head coach Kirby Smart last season, the Bulldogs advanced to the championship by thoroughly outclassing a Michigan team that had its way with nearly every team on the schedule in 2021. The Bulldogs proved they were bigger, stronger, faster and better coached than the Wolverines, who entered their offseason workouts hellbent on narrowing the physical gap between themselves and one of the best programs in college football.
That both schools returned to the CFP in 2022 speaks to the talent on both rosters and the sustainability of the coaching models employed by Smart and Jim Harbaugh, respectively. Michigan rolled through its regular season and conference title game undefeated by bludgeoning opponents in lopsided games and crediting their director of strength and conditioning, Ben Herbert, every step of the way. But a familiar story unfolded in the national semifinals when TCU — a relative guppy in the CFP era — proved it was another program with more speed, power and strength than the Wolverines. And that’s why they have a real chance against Georgia.
Head coach Sonny Dykes’ squad has produced 21 plays of at least 50 yards this season and 12 plays of at least 60 yards to lead the country in both categories. The Horned Frogs’ commitment to a downfield passing attack anchored by Duggan means they’ll always be threatening Georgia’s secondary regardless of down, distance and score. It feels like they have enough athleticism and will to move the ball on a Georgia defense that is arguably the best in college football thanks in part to the well-rounded game plans of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. And if the 3-3-5 defense proves as confounding for the Bulldogs as it did for Michigan, which allowed a staggering 13 tackles for loss, then that’s a recipe to keep this close well into the second half.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Tiny Texas Christian gets it done.
It feels rare that we head into the national championship game with two teams that feature quarterbacks who didn’t really play their best in the semifinals, yet delivered clutch performances to find themselves on the brink of a historic title. Both TCU’s Duggan and Georgia’s Bennett have shown they can be more accurate with the football and play at an even higher level than their previous outings, all of which adds plenty of variance to what could end up playing out on Monday night in SoFi Stadium.
That said, ensuring manageable third downs and staying on schedule are going to be critical for both sides so that they don’t need either signal-caller to be heroic on every dropback. It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs adjust to playing without (or with a limited) TE Darnell Washington, as he was such an asset in allowing the offense to get into advantageous formations and free up Brock Bowers. The Horned Frogs proved against Michigan that they can be a physical group, so I’m not too worried about them holding up defensively, plus that 3-3-5 alignment has a chance to force a key turnover or two at an opportune time.
That said, I think the lean here is with UGA in a game that’s tight but high scoring for three quarters before it ends up being a little more comfortable margin in the end. TCU doesn’t have that look of being just happy to be here and legitimately has a shot, but it’s hard to overlook the experience Kirby Smart’s crew has in moments like this as they lock up back-to-back national titles and ensure their place in the history books.
The pick: Georgia (three of four votes)
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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