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2022-23 College Football Playoff National Championship Prediction

Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

The final game of the 2022 college football season features a fascinating battle between two teams with vastly different routes to Los Angeles. Over the past year, Georgia has been the hunted, fresh off their first National Title in four decades and loaded with NFL talent. The same can't be said for TCU, who fired longtime head coach Gary Patterson mid-2021 and replaced him with Sonny Dykes. Dykes has engineered one of the most amazing turnarounds in college football's long history, taking the Horned Frogs from 5-7 to a National Championship appearance. Despite these different journeys, the two collide on the final night of the season with a National Title on the line.

Kirby Smart has turned Georgia into a machine since his arrival in Athens, a program with astounding talent on both sides of the ball that has wrecked nearly every team that has stood in their way this fall. That doesn't mean the Bulldogs have been perfect, but they've never wavered from their position near the top of the polls. However, their success has come in different ways than the 2021 group, which featured one of the greatest defenses in the sport's history. Instead, the 'Dawgs have leaned more heavily on the offense and more specifically, the passing attack. The program has long had a ground-and-pound identity, but quarterback Stetson Bennett and the rest of the passing game have shown a willingness to open things up and take shots down the field. Bennett has his fair share of detractors, but the former walk-on has elevated his game in 2022. He's taken better care of the football and has improved as a playmaker, all while playing his best in the biggest moments. Of course, it helps that the rest of the offense is loaded with former blue-chip recruits, all who play their own role in helping the team succeed. Tight end Brock Bowers receives most of the attention, and for good reason, but this is an incredibly deep receiver room. Arian Smith had the big game in the semifinal, but the Bulldogs can also feature Kearis Jackson, Adonai Mitchell, Ladd McConkey, and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. McConkey has been their most reliable true receiver on the year, but has been beat up over the last month after leaving the SEC Championship Game early. It sounds like he'll be a full go in this one, as is the case with gigantic tight end Darnell Washington, who isn't 100 percent but should play. This group is going to be able to apply a bunch of pressure to a TCU pass defense that has been inconsistent for much of the year. On the ground, Georgia is without their usual star back, but they have a fearsome foursome in Kenny McIntosh, Daijuan Edwards, Kendall Milton, and Branson Robinson. All of that behind a strong offensive line, it's understandable why the 'Dawgs have had what is likely their best offense during the Smart era. It's a stiff challenge for TCU's defense, who hasn't looked great statistically for much of the year, but the Frogs were really impressive against Michigan. They were much more physical up front than I expected and the opportunistic back-end forced several game-changing turnovers. I'd argue Georgia is a tougher task than Michigan based on their depth, but TCU deserves a lot of credit. They'll be ready to go in this one, and I don't imagine they'll be steamrolled by the Bulldogs the way other defenses have been.

As I said in my preview of the Fiesta Bowl, Caleb Williams deserved the Heisman, but there's not a player in the nation who is their team's MVP quite like Max Duggan. The veteran quarterback has battled through adversity his entire TCU career and has been particularly impressive in 2022. He's always been a tough, hard-nosed runner, but his ability to create more with his arm has made the Frogs very scary. He didn't have his best game of the year against Michigan, but did enough to lift his team to victory. He's surrounded by a group of weapons that isn't as deep as Georgia's, but still offers plenty of playmaking. Quentin Johnston capped off an impressive season with a dominant showing against Michigan in the semifinal, and should be able to test UGA's secondary vertically the way Ohio State did. He's joined on the outside by Derius Davis, Taye Barber, and Jordan Hudson, a trio that shouldn't be overlooked in their importance to TCU this season. However, it's the ground game that's been the real fuel behind the Frog offense for most of 2022, with Duggan and Kendre Miller leading the charge. Miller has been tremendous all year but is questionable for this contest. However, Emari Demarcado showed that he was more than just a change-of-pace by running all over the Wolverines last week, totaling 150 yards and a touchdown. This TCU offense now faces an interesting matchup with Georgia, a defense that plays a lot differently than what they've seen in the Big 12. With that being said, it's very important to note that this Bulldog defense is not the 2021 group. They've still been great for most of the season, but the front seven isn't quite as quick or athletic, and the back-end has been a real problem at times. Look no further than the SEC Championship Game against LSU; despite the fact the Tigers leaned on their ground attack all year, they threw for 500-plus against this Bulldog secondary, a group loaded with veterans. TCU is going to be able to put up points and if Duggan can take care of the ball, it wouldn't surprise me to see a shootout unfolding here.

I'll call myself out here: while I felt TCU was deserving of a CFB Playoff spot, I thought they'd be run out of the stadium by Michigan. Clearly, I was way off, as the Horned Frogs once again bucked expectations and advanced to the National Championship. This team has been such a great story that they should feel accomplished no matter the result Monday night, and I like their chances to cover the two-touchdown spread. They're going to be able to move the ball against Georgia, and despite the defense has been a constant source of criticism, they did enough to overcome the Wolverines. But at the end of the day, it feels like Georgia is the smarter pick. Their depth allows them to be fresher than TCU this late in the season and I still believe they own the slight advantage along the lines of scrimmage. The pass defense gives me reason to be wary, but I think they actually match up better against the Frogs than Ohio State. They enter this year's National Championship with a different set of expectations and different motivations, but the result should be the same: a National Title.

The Pick: Georgia, 38 TCU, 31

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