TCU is looking to pull another upset. Georgia is trying to win a second straight national title.
The third-ranked Horned Frogs and top-ranked Bulldogs face off in the College Football Playoff championship game Monday night at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Georgia is a 12 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. That’s down a point from were it opened after Saturday night’s thrilling CFP semifinals.
The Frogs were about a touchdown underdog against No. 2 Michigan in the semifinals, and have embraced being underestimated.
”Definitely gave us a little bit of extra juice,” Frogs offensive lineman Wes Harris said.
How TCU’s offensive line holds up against the big, bad Bulldogs’ defensive front is one of several key matchups likely to determine which team wins the national title.
Ask Big 12 coaches what someone might overlook about TCU and they point to the guys up front on offense.
”The biggest slight I thought was (to) TCU’s o-line,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. ”I think they’re very good up front.”
Left guard Steve Avila is an All-American. Tackles Brandon Coleman (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) and Andrew Coker (6-7, 315) are even bigger than Georgia’s tackles.
The line is also loaded with experience. They have all been in college at least four years.
Avila and Co. paved the way for 263 yards rushing against Michigan. The challenge against Georgia will be greater.
More so than maybe any defense in college football, coach Kirby Smart’s ‘Dawgs are going to take away the run. They are sound when it comes to filling gaps and they do so with big and athletic linemen and linebackers, led by All-American Jalen Carter.
The 300-pound defensive tackle might be the best player in college football, regardless of position.
Only two opponents this season gained more than 4.0 yards per carry in a game against Georgia. None reached 5.0. TCU averages 5.32 yards per carry, 15th in the country.
Emari Demercado (150 yards on 17 carries) had a career game against Michigan after leading-rusher Kendre Miller (1,399 and 17 touchdowns this season) went out with a knee injury. TCU coach Sonny Dykes called Miller questionable earlier this week.
Regardless of who is lining at tailback for TCU, Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan will need to get involved in the running game for the Frogs.
”You’ve got to play 11-on-11 when it comes to Georgia,” Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said. ”You’re not going to go out there and just traditionally turn around and hand the ball off, throw the ball downfield. The quarterback is going to have to affect the game with his feet.”
Two of Georgia’s four leading receivers are tight ends and they help the Bulldogs create all kinds of mismatches for quarterback Stetson Bennett to exploit.
Brock Bowers is 6-4, 230 pounds with wide receiver athleticism and the ability to run like a tailback. Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken lines up Bowers all over, including in the backfield. The sophomore leads the team with 56 catches for 790 yards.
”Hybrid players cause problems for the defense because they have to realize and try to figure out what position he’s playing,” former Florida coach and ESPN analyst Dan Mullen said on The AP Top 25 College Football Podcast.
Mullen said a defense might want to roll coverage to Bowers and double-team team him, but that becomes a challenge without having a good idea of where he is lining up from play to play.
Darnell Washington is Georgia’s more traditional tight end, but he is far from typical.
At 6-7, 270 pounds, Washington is powerful enough to block like a tackle and nimble enough to send down the seam of a defense. Washington left the Ohio State game in the first quarter with an left ankle. Smart said this week he was hopeful Washington could play against TCU.
There was much chatter last week about how TCU’s 3-3-5 defense would hold up against Michigan’s power running game. The Frogs gave up a bunch of big plays, but they kept the Wolverines from churning out yards on the ground and staying on schedule offensively.
Playing with three safeties, along with star cornerback Tre Hodges-Tomlinson, might benefit the Frogs against Georgia, which runs much of its offense with one running back and two tight ends on the field.
The Frogs want to avoid having Bowers matched against a linebacker. Then again, having Bowers and Washington rumbling through a bunch of defensive backs isn’t a great option either.
QUENTIN vs. KELEE
Georgia’s Kelee Ringo was one of the stars of last year’s national championship game, with his game-sealing pick-6 against Alabama.
He’s regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the country, but Ohio State didn’t shy away from throwing at Ringo when he was covering All-America receiver Marvin Harrison, who had a huge Peach Bowl before going out with a possible concussion.
TCU’s Quentin Johnston, like Harrison, is a potential first-round draft pick who had a huge game in the semifinals with six catches for 163 yards and a score in the Fiesta Bowl. Johnston was limited by nagging injuries much of the season, but still was TCU’s leading receiver.
”I think he’s as good as there is in college football, and he seems healthy now,” Kansas State coach Chris Kileman said.
PREDICTION: Georgia 42, TCU 24.
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