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TCU-Georgia College Football Playoff Final Preview

techsm5

I promise to keep the intro short and sweet. After all, we have a national championship to discuss. But as we bid farewell to another season of football, full of upsets, bad beats, a storied national championship and a pair of superb (finally) playoff games, one point stands above all.

No matter how much college football changes, it will always remain the purest, weirdest, and most exciting sport on the planet. Oh, this is getting confusing. The transfer portal, expansion and NIL are slowly transforming the CFB into the NFL. At least in some ways.

Saturdays, however, are still sacred. And the energy and excellence that we have enjoyed this year, despite the dramatic evolution of the sport, has never been better.

Thank goodness for that. I can tolerate everything else. I can study the listings a bit more if that means the games themselves will stay spotless. And as we enter a National Championship that feels somewhat lopsided in nature, I’m reminded of just how much beautiful chaos had to take place for this game to happen.

Long live college football. Well done for this year. Long live the national championship.

The Appetizer: Tidbits and Observations from the College Football Playoffs

Before we get to the title game, let’s reassess some of the major moves around the sport.

1. It really feels like Jim Harbaugh is seriously considering a return to the NFL. Whether it’s the Panthers or the Broncos or another team, Harbaugh’s flirtation with the league is very real. And if it’s not this year, just like it wasn’t last year, it seems like a matter of time. On the CFB front, Michigan would be a fascinating opening. It’s a superb job with a deep and talented roster. Although the timing of the opener isn’t ideal, Michigan could be swinging for the fences trying to find a replacement.

2. USC’s defense will keep it from winning big until further notice. That says it all, really. The Trojans allowed Tulane to score 16 points in the final four minutes of the Cotton Bowl, and the Green Wave ultimately won 46-45. (They also, clearly, covered the two-point spread.) In the final two games of the season, the Trojans’ defense allowed a combined 1,072 yards against Tulane and Utah. Now the future of DC Alex Grinch, who has followed Riley from Oklahoma, is uncertain. As it should be. USC has one more season with Caleb Williams. He needs to do everything he can to maximize his time before heading to the NFL, likely as the No. 1 overall pick in 2024.

3. Penn State is likely to be a hot team this offseason. The Nittany Lions took a betting lead before kickoff, and they finished as 1.5-point favorites over Utah. They kept hitting the Utes, though an injury to Utah QB Cam Rising seriously affected that game. Either way, James Franklin’s roster is young, talented, and potentially emerging. Prepare for eight months of hype, which could be legitimate, heading into next year.

4. If you bet Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl, I want to give you a hug. Seriously, come in here. The Illini lost 19-10 to Mississippi State after leading 10-3 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs went on to score 16 points, headlined by a monstrous fumble return with no time left to move the score from 13-10 to 19-10. Illinois closed as a four-point underdog and failed to cover as a result. There are bad beats, and then there’s everything it was. yuck.

5. I will attend the national championship and I am very happy to visit SoFi Stadium for the first time. So far, I’d say Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is the best facility I’ve watched a football game at. But people who travel far more than I have loved SoFi, minus the fact that a hot dog costs around $700. Either way, a full review is coming next week.

Where will the number land? We will see as the money comes in.

At the start of the week, Georgia stabilized as a 13-point favorite on TCU. The number fell to 13, then to 12.5 on Wednesday evening. There are also a few 12s there. The total rose slightly to 63.

Both teams have been great ATS all season. Georgia is 10-4 ATS, while TCU is 10-3-1 ATS. (Depending on your number in the TCU-Kansas game, this push could have gone either way.)

In terms of totals, it’s been a wild ride. The Horned Frogs have gone over the total in six of their first eight games. More recently, under bets have hit in four of TCU’s last six matchups. Georgia started the year five under in the first six games. The Bulldogs have finished with four overs in the last five games.

A Quick Word on Recruiting: Georgia vs. TCU

I won’t bore you with how both teams are doing on the scouting track now. It will do you good here. But to understand how different these teams are, you have to look at what the past five years have looked like.

Using the 247Sports database, between 2022 and 2021, Georgia had the No. 3, No. 4, No. 1, No. 2, and No. 1 recruiting classes in the nation. During that time, they landed 25 five-star prospects.

TCU, during the same period, landed the No. 45, No. 54, No. 23, No. 32, and No. 25 classes. They landed a five-star prospect in that time.

The difference between these two programs is seismic. Georgia’s roster is drastically different from top to bottom. This can be said about Georgia and basically every team not named Alabama, Ohio State and maybe a few others.

Recruitment Is win championships. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That doesn’t mean TCU can not win this game. But it shows you what they’re up against and how historic this race really is.

How TCU can win the national championship

It starts with the quarterback, obviously, because if Max Duggan plays well, TCU has a chance.

For the Horned Frogs to win this match, Duggan must be his normal dynamic self. (Unlike the semi-final, he can’t return the ball this time around.)

For Duggan to play his game, however, the offensive line has to hold up. This could be the most important game of this title match. Considering Georgia has allowed 850 passing yards in the last two games, it has to start here.

That’s not a typo; the Bulldogs’ secondary has been on display for the past few weeks and TCU is in a position to take full advantage of it.

(Well, if they can protect the QB.)

Running the ball will also help, although that aspect of TCU’s game plan is still to be determined. Star running back Kendre Miller is officially questionable to play in this game after injuring his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. Whether he plays or not, it’s fair to assume he probably won’t be 100%. It is significant.

Emari Demercado replaced Miller once he went down. Demercado delivered a slew of explosive plays, though pass protection was a concern. Against a team like Georgia, well, pass protection has to be solid.

Defensively, the Horned Frogs must find a way to disrupt Georgia like they disrupted Michigan. Linebacker Dee Winters was a wrecking ball against the Wolverines, and he could do the same here. The negative games were huge, especially in the beginning.

Besides disrupting, however, Sonny Dykes’ team must find a way to eliminate the big plays that plagued this team last time out.

And yes, TCU needs a few breaks. This is no affront to horned frogs. It’s a reality of their situation given the difference in talent. They can create those breaks, and they did a great job of doing that against Michigan.

One last piece: TCU can’t fall behind. The regular season formula, which has been a resounding success, will be of no use there. A quick start like they experienced in the semi-finals is a must.

Desync Georgia, keep scoring and that might be enough.

How Georgia can win (and cover) the national championship

Like TCU, it starts with the quarterback. Stetson Bennett fell completely out of rhythm against Ohio State in the middle of their game. He eventually found that rhythm again and threw for 398 yards along the way. He also scored four touchdowns.

The return of Adonai Mitchell gave a boost to an arms-laden reception group. For Georgia, however, the game plan should be simple: give the ball to tight end Brock Bowers as often as possible, as a wideout and runner. It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs’ offense opened up the moment Bowers got involved. It cannot be overstated how important he is to this team (and this game).

The other element I expect Georgia to rely on is the running game. Kirby Smart’s team averaged over five yards per carry against Ohio State, and I expect we’ll see RB Kenny McIntosh averaging a lot more than five carries.

That should be the overall strategy: wear out the TCU. Lean on them for as long as you can. Big plays are wonderful, although Georgia prefers to play a more boa constrictor type of game. Keeping the ball away from the TCU offense is indeed a wonderful idea.

In defense, it’s all about the pass rush. At this point, I don’t expect the secondary to be fixed. Generating pressure up front without blitzing is the best option. Trying to blitz, which Michigan did, comes with a lot of risk.

Still, Georgia may have no choice if they can’t move Duggan. And if he takes off, they can’t let him pick up pieces of rods. He killed Michigan in the big moments and he killed other teams along the way. Containing Duggan will be key. Few, so far, have been able to pull it off.

At almost every position, Georgia will have a physical advantage. He has to treat this game as such. Smart, who hails from Nick Saban’s coaching tree, doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.

Before Lane Kiffin changed the offense to Alabama, Smart was part of many meat grinder football games. It will not be this type of game. There will be points. But Georgia should try to do what Michigan couldn’t: use years of dominating recruiting and overwhelm the opposition.

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techsm5

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