TCU’s loss to Georgia at the national championship seemed inevitable
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Sometimes even the outcome of a College Football Playoff national title game can be boiled down to the simplest of summations: One team had far more talent than the other.
Georgia’s talent was on full display against TCU on Monday night.
The Bulldogs’ 65-7 win for a second consecutive national title could end up being the second act of college football’s next dynasty. Georgia is the College Football Playoff’s era’s first team to win back-toback titles. It also marks the first time since Alabama (2011 and 2012) to do so.
Georgia was a 14-point favorite over the Horned Frogs at kickoff — it was the biggest point spread ahead of any title game dating back to the start of the BCS in 1998. With just 8:30 left in the second quarter, the Bulldogs had this spread covered.
Georgia was faster, stronger, and more powerful than TCU at almost every position. TCU’s defenders were unable to stop Brock Bowers, Ladd Mconkey, and AD Mitchell making tough catches. The Bulldogs’ offensive line opened massive holes against TCU’s front seven. And Georgia’s defense relentlessly pressured Max Duggan on the way to five sacks combined by the first and second units.
TCU was outmatched in every aspect of the game. A Georgia defender was always there when the Horned Frogs tried getting a player to take to the edge. TCU managed just 188 yards in total offense that night. Nearly a quarter of that total was due to Derius Davis’ 60-yard catch and run after the Georgia secondary miscommunicated.
Georgia’s remarkable recruiting
The easiest way to explain the talent gap between Georgia University and TCU, is to look at Rivals’ recruiting rankings. Georgia has signed 72 high school athletes over the last four seasons, with each player being either a four-star or five-star recruit according to the recruiting service. 85 is the scholarship limit for college football’s top-level teams. Over the last four seasons, Georgia nearly had a football team with the top players in the country.
15 of the 72 players were five-star recruits. From 2019-22, 129 of those players were ranked as five star recruits. Georgia signed 12%.
TCU has signed only 13 four- and five-star players in the same period of four years. After transferring to TCU, the lone five stars recruit was RB Zach Evans.
Georgia’s 2021 recruiting class included 16 four-star recruits all on its own.
TCU’s incredible 2022 season was made possible by a combination of continuity on offense and an injection of talent from the transfer portal. Nearly every starter on offense returned in 2021 and the unit made a massive leap in Sonny Dykes’ first season as head coach. Johnny Hodges, Dylan Horton and other defenders transferred from Navy, New Mexico and had great seasons.
Hodges, Horton and others are examples of how great players can be at any school in America. The transfer portal also has the potential for increasing parity in college football by allowing players to find schools that suit their playing career.
But a team like Georgia doesn’t have to rely on the transfer portal to have success with so many incredible players on the roster. In fact, Kirby Smart said he’s more worried about keeping the players he’s recruited on the team from transferring out.
“I’m a lot more worried about retention than I am going to get them, you know what I’m saying?” Smart said ahead of the national title game. “I want to spend time investing in people in our program, keep them in our program, than I am replacing them with someone else.”
“We want to manage our players and want them to enjoy being there and want them to know we’re invested in them.”
Georgia’s ability to replenish its roster quickly was evident on defense. After five defenders from last year’s historically dominant title-winning unit were taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, Georgia gave up fewer than 15 points per game in 2022. Linebacker Smael Mondon, a four-star recruit in 2021, was the team’s leading tackler this season after 10 tackles in five games as a freshman. 2022 four-star defensive back Malaki Starks was the team’s second-leading tackler as a true freshman.
According to Smart, the scout group is quite good as well. Before concluding his news conference Monday night, Smart wanted to make a point about how good the young players tasked with mimicking TCU’s defense during practice the past week were.
“Our defensive scout team did the most unbelievable job,” Smart said, unprompted. “… We had guys be their guys and do it exactly right. Scout team makes a difference and we had a hell of a scout team.”
Not only does Smart and his staff recruit top talent, they’ve shown they’re adept at molding that talent into players immediately able to succeed when given a bigger role.
“We’re going to show [Eagles’ first-round pick] Jordan Davis, from his freshman and sophomore year, working on the scout team, and say, hey, look where this guy was and look at what he became doing it this way,” Smart said. “And selling that within your program becomes a selling point to them to stick and stay and truly develop and grow in the organization.”
Is Georgia college football’s next dynasty?
Much has been said and written about Nick Saban’s “process” at Alabama as he’s led the Crimson Tide to six national titles in his 16 seasons with the school. Smart was an assistant to Saban for nine seasons at Alabama. He clearly took what he had learned in Tuscaloosa, and added his own twists to it at Georgia.
Saban has long been fond of calling glowing media coverage of Alabama’s success “rat poison” in an attempt to keep his players focused. Smart took a page out of that playbook shortly after the game on Monday night.
“The disease that creeps into your program is entitlement,” Smart said.
It’s hard to see when any entitlement is going to creep in at Georgia anytime soon. Bennett, Jalen Carpenter, and other players will go to the NFL. Bowers, Mondon, Starks and a 2023 recruitment class will return. This is the 2nd most popular team in the country, with 21 four- and five-star recruits.
The talent pipeline to Athens isn’t shutting off anytime soon. And Smart isn’t getting complacent either. It’s a dangerous combination that will impact college football in the future.