The college football season comes down to this: No. 1 seed Georgia will play No. 3 seed TCU in Los Angeles for the national championship on Monday night. Stetson Bennett and the Bulldogs roll in undefeated and seek their second straight title, having not lost since the 2021 SEC Championship Game. Max Duggan and TCU, meanwhile, aim to complete one of the greatest underdog stories in the history of the sport, going from unranked in the preseason to a national title that no one saw coming.
The Bulldogs are the clear front-runners on paper and in Vegas; they are favored to win by 13 points at SI Sportsbook. But the Horned Frogs were also an underdog against Michigan and won that semifinal by six. Can the Hypnotoad-inspired school make amazing history, or will Kirby Smart’s Dawgs end an incredible two-season run with more red and white confetti? Sports Illustrated’pp college football writers — Pat Forde, Ross Dellenger and Richard Johnson — have made their picks.
Pat Forde: Georgia 38, TCU 31
I expect both offenses to have success moving and scoring, primarily through the air. Like Ohio State, TCU presents a challenge with its dynamic quarterback, who is capable of making big throws to very good receivers and is also a threat running the ball. Max Duggan will have some players open, and he has some receivers capable of winning 50-50 balls (especially 6’4″ Quentin Johnston). But Duggan can also be pressured into the occasional mistake, and I expect that The Bulldogs’ pass rush to be more effective in this game than it was against the Buckeyes in the semifinals.Jalen Carter was rightfully criticized for his lackluster performance against Ohio State; don’t expect that to happen again.
Conversely, Stetson Bennett and the Georgia offense will have some big-play opportunities against a TCU defense that takes some risks to wreak havoc. The Horned Frogs were in the backfield the entire game against Michigan, recording a total of 13 tackles for loss, four of them sacks. Bennett should have some hot-read options in the rushing passing game, and his receiving corps continues to get healthier (Adonai Mitchell had his best game since the season opener in the Peach Bowl) and better (rusher Arian Smith is breaking out). A total of 10 Bulldogs caught passes against Ohio State. But Georgia’s ability to punt and run the ball is in doubt if massive tight end Darnell Washington’s sprained ankle prevents him from playing.
On special teams, Georgia may have a creeping concern about kicker Jack Podlesny, who has missed three of his last five field goals at the end of what has been a very good season for him.
From a coaching standpoint, both Kirby Smart and Sonny Dykes are at the top of their games. But Smart and his staff have been there and done that, while Dykes and the TCU assistants are in a new realm now. We’ll see if it has any impact on the crisis.
Ford’s pick for game MVP: Who else? Bennett. Give him one more award and one more national championship on his way out the door as the most decorated quarterback in Georgia history, and one of the most accomplished in college football history.
Ross Dellenger: Georgia 38, TCU 20
The simple rationale for choosing the Bulldogs is the amazing talent difference between the two teams. Get this: The Horned Frogs have signed a five-star prospect over the past four classes and finished in the top-25 in team recruiting rankings once. Over that same span, Georgia has signed 18 five-stars and has finished in the top five every year.
In this magical run, however, TCU has beaten teams with far superior talent. It throttled Oklahoma, beat Texas and downed Michigan last week in the CFP semifinals. That said, coach Sonny Dykes and the Frogs face their toughest competition of the season in the SEC champion Bulldogs, equipped with arguably the nation’s best defense (fifth in scoring D), most veteran quarterback (Stetson Bennett is 25) and a program accustomed to this setting (UGA won it all last year).
The bottom line: Georgia is more talented, more experienced on such a stage and, I think, will kiss for a second straight national title — barring more magic from the Frogs.
Dellenger’s pick for game MVP: Georgia QB Stetson Bennett. How about this for a fairytale ending to a career that began as a walk-on and included a high school stop? Bennett claims back-to-back national championships and the game’s MVP.
Richard Johnson: Georgia 41, TCU 30
TCU executed the perfect upset script against Michigan. The defense got ahead early, turning two golden Wolverines chances at touchdowns into nothing via a mix of stops, Michigan’s incompetence and trick plays gone wrong. To boot, the Frogs had two defensive scores in the game. Yes, they played well, but you can’t ignore the things that came together to make it happen. The Hypnotode is powerful, but can its power be harnessed again for this effect? If it can’t, we have the makings of a game that could end up as a shootout. Georgia’s running game needs to be better than Michigan’s was at figuring out how TCU’s defense attacks from different angles and depths.
Johnson’s pick for game MVP: Stetson Bennett. If this game turns into an explosion of points, it will be Bennett who will be the catalyst, just as he was in the Peach Bowl semifinal. Maybe it’s an MVP for a lifetime achievement, but how can you give it to someone else? Bennett is good at stepping up in the biggest games of his career.