2023 National championship game predictions, odds: Georgia vs. TCU expert picks for College Football Playoff

It’s been quite the journey, but on Monday, we will finally reach the end of the 2022 college football season. The most important game of the campaign takes center stage as we crown a national champion inside SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. That’s where the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs, the defending national champions, will take on the Cinderella story of the 2022 season, the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs, in the College Football Playoff National Championship

Georgia, which will play in its third national title over the last six seasons, was supposed to be here. It was one of the preseason favorites to win the SEC, make the CFP and possibly win the national title. TCU, on the other hand, wasn’t supposed to be here. The Frogs went 5-7 last year and fired the winningest coach in program history, Gary Patterson. Preseason expectations weren’t high for this team, either; Big 12 media picked the Frogs to finish seventh under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, who crossed the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex from rival SMU to take the job.

Instead, TCU reached the Big 12 Championship Game with an undefeated record and was chosen for the CFP despite barely losing to Kansas State in that matchup. TCU then found itself as more than a touchdown underdog to No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal, but knocked off the Wolverines anyway 51-45 to keep its Cinderella story going. Now, the Frogs get one more chance to shock the world.

Will TCU become the biggest surprise champion of the modern age? Will Georgia restore order and become the first program to win consecutive national titles since Alabama did so in 2010 and 2011? We’ll find out for sure Monday night. For now, all we can do is speculate, so let’s speculate like mad.

National Championship: (1) Georgia vs. (3) TCU

Featured Game | Georgia Bulldogs vs. TCU Horned Frogs

Spread: I can’t lie. It’s scary to bet against TCU. There have been multiple times this season when I’ve told myself, “This is it. This is the time this magical ride comes to an end. This is when we have to fade the Frogs.” I’ve been wrong every time, and believe me, I’m not one of the many people looking for reasons to write off TCU all season. I was high on the Frogs coming into the season, and my impression of them only got better after their hot start.

But no one saw this coming. TCU playing spoiler in the Big 12? Sure. But that’s as far as it’s going to get, right? After a while, I told myself the Frogs could win the conference but lose a game or two along the way. So, now I’m a bit shaken. From a pure power rating standpoint, Georgia is the smarter play at anything under two touchdowns, but TCU has defied the odds all season. I’m not ready to pick against them now.

Still, there are concerns about the matchup for TCU, and a lot of it will depend on the status of Georgia tight end Darnell Washington. While NFL scouts salivate over what Washington could become as a pass-catcher based on his size and athleticism, what he already is is a tremendous blocker in the run game. He’s essentially an extra tackle in Georgia’s rushing attack. The 3-3-5 defense TCU deploys is more susceptible against teams that run two tight end sets. If Georgia has Washington and Brock Bowers available Monday, that will be a complex problem for Joe Gillespie and the TCU defense to solve. Michigan struggled after losing Luke Schoonmaker early in the Fiesta Bowl, as it was already shorthanded at the tight end spot.

On the other hand, this Georgia defense is nowhere near as dominant as last year’s team. This is especially true when it comes to getting after the QB. TCU’s Max Duggan is often his worst enemy when taking sacks, but we’ve seen Georgia’s secondary struggle against good passing attacks this season. TCU may not have Ohio State’s overall depth at receiver, but Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis and Taye Barber are a strong trio. I don’t know that the TCU defense gets enough stops to win the game, but offensively the Frogs should be able to put up enough points to keep things respectable at a minimum. Pick: TCU +12.5

Total: For years we were told, “defense wins championships.” That’s not true — at least not at the level we’ve been led to believe. These days, having a great defense helps separate you from the pack, but having an elite offense is what wins championships. Just look at the national title winners of the CFP era. While last year’s Georgia team was known for its all-world defense, it also ranked near or at the top of every meaningful statistic on offense. Alabama, Clemson and LSU have also won it all with teams full of first-round picks at quarterback and wide receiver. In 2014, Ohio State was reduced to its third-string QB, but even Cardale Jones ended up in the NFL after being surrounded by NFL talent on that offense.

Let’s also look at the championship games during the playoff era. Those eight title games have averaged 64.5 points and only two finished below 60 total points. One was Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in 2018, and the other was Georgia’s 33-18 win over Alabama last season. Yes, Georgia played in both of those games, but if Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams had not gotten hurt last year, that game could have been a higher-scoring affair.

If this game is a blowout, it likely finishes below the total. We’ve seen Georgia jump out to big leads and sit on the ball plenty of times, but as I’ve already said, I don’t think this will be a blowout. It may not be as close as either of the semifinals were, but I don’t think either team is winning with fewer than 31 points, which makes the over attractive. Pick: Over 62.5

Who will win Georgia vs. TCU, and which side of the spread hits well over 50% of the time in simulations? Visit SportsLine to find out — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past six-plus seasons.

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