College Football Playoff national championship: Top matchups to watch

LOS ANGELES — It all boils down to this. One game, for everything.

It’s taken a lot since August camp, some wild upsets along the way and a couple of incredible semifinals, but we’ve made it to the national championship game after whittling 130 FBS teams down to two.

As much as this week’s title tilt at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles is billed as TCU vs. Georgia, however, it’s the matchups on the field and between the lines that will ultimately determine who ends up holding that golden trophy on the field . end

Can Georgia win back-to-back championships?

Can Georgia win back-to-back championships?

Whether you’re a die-hard Horned Frogs/Bulldogs supporter, a coach at any level, or an NFL scout, here are the best individual matchups to watch Monday night as college football wraps up the season with the 2023 National Championship Game .

TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston against the Georgia defense Kelee Ringo

Ringo put the finishing touches on Georgia’s first title since 1980 when he threw an interception last January, and will certainly look to post a similar highlight reel against TCU this time around. However, he faces a much taller task on Monday, literally in the case of defending Johnston, the 6-foot-4 playmaker who could be the top pick this spring.

Both guys bring a lot of length and in many ways were designed to go against each other. They all have great top line speed, great initial line burst, and plenty of physicality given their long frames.

In the semifinal against Ohio State, Ringo gave up a touchdown to Marvin Harrison Jr. and was flagged for pass interference in the game, but should benefit from defending an offense that wants to attack slightly differently and more directly. Johnston caught six of the Horned Frogs’ 14 receptions in their semifinal against Michigan (for 163 yards and a TD) and should have an equally big game on Monday.

Given the nature of the two teams, Georgia will likely throw more than Ringo to TCU’s star playmaker, and Johnston will likely be a decoy on some plays. But when it’s true mano-a-mano between the wide and the defensive back, the fireworks are sure to follow.

Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter against TCU offensive lineman Steve Avila

Carter has been a rock in helping UGA survive losing a record eight draft picks to last year’s unit, and has positioned himself favorably to be the next top-five pick in Athens The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder is a load to handle in the middle of the defense, and he’s an equal-opportunity disruptor against the pass as he is in the run game.

That said, he wasn’t very productive last week against Ohio State and will need to elevate his game for the bigger stage on offer if the Bulldogs want to slow down this productive TCU offense.

Looking to avoid that is a consensus All-American for the Horned Frogs in Avila. A versatile senior who has played up and down, hasn’t allowed a sack all season and has been a big reason why the team is so balanced in the run game with the way he counters to open the way . Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado.

Avila is built like a Mack truck and really shoots the ball with his low center of gravity, providing the perfect matchup against Carter.

TCU’s offense against the Georgia defense

TCU's offense against the Georgia defense

TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson against the Georgia receiver Arian Smith

Regardless of what happens in the title game, Hodges-Tomlinson will likely go down as one of the greats in program history, from being the nephew of the legendary LaDainian Tomlinson to winning the Thorpe Award this year, to tenacity and ‘aggression with which he plays. each and every snapshot. While he’s not the biggest guy on the field in a sport that tends toward longer curves, he’s as tough as they come and an absolute thorn in the side of opposing offenses throughout the game given the way he disrupts guys out of line or arrives. to making tackles in the run game.

He’ll have a big challenge ahead of him going up against Smith, who will be counted on to continue to blow up the top of a defense, with even more attention on his whereabouts as Darnell Washington’s injury will likely change the starting lineup . Smith has legitimate court speed and appears to be open to a big gain at least once a half for the Bulldogs. Against Ohio State, he needed just three catches for 129 yards, and his only score came on a 76-yard bomb that put the Bulldogs firmly back in the game in the fourth quarter.

If Hodges-Tomlinson can limit Smith to an island, TCU can do a lot more defensively in their 3-3-5 lineup to really stifle anything Georgia wants with the ball in their hands.

Georgia Security Christopher Smith against the TCU quarterback Max Duggan

Max Duggan will be the first to tell you his numbers were pedestrian against Michigan (14-for-29, 225 yards, two TDs, two interceptions), but when his team needed a big play on the big stage with the close match , the Heisman Trophy runner-up was there to deliver.

All of that puts a lot of responsibility on Smith, an All-American in the back end of Georgia’s D, to be aware of what the signal caller is doing when he’s scrambling, when he’s using play action or when he’s just looking to lay off – to fall back and lift it deep to their speedy playmakers on the outside. In short, a QB that will test a defensive back at every snap during the title game.

“(Duggan) understands defenses. I think he’s very smart. There’s not a defense he’s going to see that he hasn’t seen before. You’re not fooling an experienced quarterback,” UGA head coach Kirby said Smart. “He does a tremendous job at that. They have a system that allows him to handle it and get back on third downs where you have a chance to convert.”

The senior also loves to work safely in the middle of the field and off the misdirection, which means Smith will have his work cut out for him to try and stop that one-on-one and make sure the rest of his teammates know what’s up with him.

Security TCU Bud Clark vs. Georgia QB Stetson Bennett

To say Clark was everywhere, seemingly at once, in the semifinal win over the Wolverines might be a bit of an understatement. He had a key fumble recovery near the goal line and was a great run supporter near the line, and his 41-yard pick-6 set the early tone for a team that never fall short of the Fiesta Bowl.

Now he just has to do all that again against a Heisman Trophy finalist who is 28-3 as a starter. In the most important game of the season. Big head.

The good news for Clark is that as good as Bennett has been on the big stage, he’s susceptible to someone as quick as a safety, especially for a quarterback who doesn’t have the arm strength to really challenge outside the hashes and the loves to throw to tight ends and running backs. Clark has the ability to undercut routes and get his hands on the ball. The UGA QB also threw two interceptions the last time he played against a team built around this 3-3-5 lineup and was mildly suspect last time out against Ohio State.

Georgia TE Brock Bowers vs. TCU LB Dee Winters

Bowers leads the Bulldogs in nearly every receiving category and has been instrumental in their ability to play in pass-centric formations with multiple tight ends. He won the Mackey Award this year and is someone who FOX Sports NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang labeled the best there is “never seen“in 25 years of scouting.

The kid is good, and even if he’s hard to understand, he’s still getting better. Watch for him on jet sweeps and trick plays, which he can deploy with ruthless efficiency given his size and speed.

The quest to punctuate it is one of a select few that can match even the half-decent Winters. While he gives the Bulldogs’ star a few inches, the senior is a huge asset in coverage (see his 29-yard pick-six against Michigan) as well as having the size at 230 pounds to make a big hit and fight bigger opponents no matter where they line up in the box.

“Georgia has a very good offense. They like to use their tight ends most of the time,” Winters said this week. “And I think Bowers is a really good tight end that they’re going to try to target against us.”

TCU defensive lineman Dylan Horton against Georgia offensive tackles Warren McClendon/Amarius Mims

If Michigan underestimated how physical a TCU team was in their Fiesta Bowl meeting, Horton quickly disabused them of that notion with four sacks (three in the first half) and an afternoon full of other plays in the backfield. He constantly used his hands to fight off blocks and was unblockable on the edge when teaming up with others to execute stunts against what was supposed to be the best offensive line in college football.

Horton’s biggest asset is his length at 6-foot-4 and the wingspan to match. He shoots low, has good bend coming off the rim and doesn’t give up even when the play looks like it’s getting away from him.

McClendon doesn’t get as much praise as his running mate across the board in Broderick Jones, but he’s very good in his own right and among the most experienced linemen up front as a starter in virtually every game since he was a freshman. redshirt freshman year. He’s extremely long, moves well from side to side, and really hasn’t seen a passing move that he hasn’t defeated before. However, after starting 37 straight games, he missed the Peach Bowl after being injured in the SEC title game and is questionable for Monday night.

If he doesn’t go, the task of stopping—or slowing down—Horton falls on Mims. His first career start against Ohio State went well enough considering the team won, and it’s not easy going against a Buckeyes defensive front full of elite players. Mims isn’t as athletic as McClendon, but what he lacks in that area he more than makes up for in size (he’s 6-foot-7) and an incredibly long reach to keep defenders away from Bennett and company.

Either way, no matter who’s on the field for Georgia or TCU’s upset on Monday night, it should all make for a fantastic upset that’s a fitting conclusion to an incredible 2022 season in college football.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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