This is it. Everything that the 128 FBS teams have gone through has culminated in this moment. Now, only two teams remain. One of them is a juggernaut SEC champion. They’re 14-0 and the defending national champions. The other is a Cinderella story with a first-year head coach. They are relying on a QB who was the backup in week 1 until an injury to the starter but then became the Heisman runner up. That’s right: it’s Georgia and TCU! Both deserved to be here, but only one can take home the Dr. Pepper trophy. Let’s see what went down in my CFP National Championship takeaways!
(1) Georgia 65, (3) TCU 7
Sorry guys; I tried to build up the drama in the intro, but the game just wouldn’t allow it. We seemed to have some jitters at the beginning, with each team committing a false start on their first offensive play. From that point on, the game became a complete laugher, as Georgia dominated and refused to relent. After a 3 and out by TCU, the Bulldogs struck immediately, scoring in just 5 plays on a drive capped by a 21-yard TD run from QB Stetson Bennett. TCU earned a first down on 3rd and 14 during their next possession due to a borderline holding call, and Georgia was not please. The defense forced a fumble on the next play, and Javon Bullard, the man called for the hold, recovered the ball. The Horned Frogs looked to be coming back, holding UGA to an FG and scoring a TD on their own. The big play was a 60-yard pass to WR Derrius Davis (5/101) when Georgia had a coverage bust. That was really their only blemish of the entire first half.
Georgia scored 4 straight TDs to close the half, the latter two of which came after Max Duggan INTs. Duggan (14/22, 152 yards, 2 INTs) threw both errant passes under intense pressure from the Georgia front, with one overthrow missing a wide open Quentin Johnston. TCU had a coverage bust of their own, leading to an easy 37-yard TD for Ladd McConkey (5/88/2). Johnston actually finished with just 1 catch for 3 yards despite running good routes and gaining separation. He’s my #1 WR in the draft as you undoubtedly already know. This was more about Duggan’s issues with the UGA defense. Georgia TE Brock Bowers was an absolute force. He had 102 yards receiving in the first half alone and finished with 7 catches for 152 yards and a TD. I believed that he was the best TE prospect in a decade, but I can’t remember anyone better even before that. He has to go back to school for 1 more year, but he’s a top 10 pick in the 2024 draft for sure.
The Bulldogs dominated this game so much that Bennett was pulled early in the 4th quarter. He ended the game with a pristine line of 18/25 for 304 yards and 4 TDs, plus 3 rushes for 39 yards and 2 TDs. Six different players had 30 or more rushing yards. The defense did not allow a single passing TD. It was a masterful performance to wrap up a perfect 15-0 season. Even last year’s dominant team did not do that. That squad lost in the SEC title game; this one won everything. It’s hard to lose so many talented players to the NFL and come back just as strong. It may be even harder for returning players to come back hungry after winning it all once already. Coach Kirby Smart has produced a college football juggernaut, and they’re ready to reload for next year. TCU is likelier to take a step back because their high-end talent isn’t replenishing as quickly. Additionally, those 1-score wins usually regress to the mean.
Both teams will have to replace their QBs next season, as their starters are out of eligibility and will head to the NFL draft. Though their fans won’t like it, neither QB is an early-round prospect. Duggan is considered a 4th-round pick, while Bennett is being graded in round 6. The truth is, while Duggan has had a great college season, his running is more advanced than his passing. He reminds scouts of a taller Tim Tebow with a bit more upside, but he’s viewed as a backup-caliber player. I’d argue that he has a ton of starting experience and should be viewed as a high-floor prospect with developmental potential, so the 3rd or 4th round seems about right. That said, Duggan will be difficult to replace, though the team was high enough on Chandler Morris to name him the starter THIS year.
Bennett will probably be more pleased despite the inferior draft grade. This is a 5’11” QB who was a former walk-on. He was cast aside by Georgia numerous times, even during his first championship season. Nobody thought he was a draftable prospect even when he won the title, so his stock has clearly risen. It’s a great story, and his confidence and belief have powered him to this point. His arm isn’t elite, but it’s probably good enough. Bennett’s accuracy has improved greatly, and his ball placement was at its finest in this game. Mobility is his greatest strength; no one expects him to be quick, but he’s sneaky fast. He moves well in the pocket and in the zone read game. Most importantly, he has protected the ball much better than he did earlier in his career. His skillset probably leaves him as a backup at the next level, but he’s proven the “experts” wrong quite a bit already.
The main takeaway here is not that TCU underwhelmed. Yes, they had 6 turnovers in their 2 CFP games, but they were good enough to make it there and beat a talented Michigan team. The story is all about Georgia. At two moments, they were fallible. Those came against Missouri and Ohio State. As all great champions do though, they rose to the challenge and found a way to win. Their absolute best was on the field at SoFi Stadium, and they left no doubt about who the best team in the country is. These Bulldogs might even have a chance against the Chicago Bears. Like I said several weeks ago, Georgia belonged at #1 until they no longer did. The time to remove them from that ranking never came this season, and they earned it through the very end.