Georgia vs TCU
Georgia -13½ -103 over TCU

Posted at 2:00 PM EST odds are subject to change.

Pinnacle -13½ -106 BET365 -13½ -110 SportsInteraction -13½ -110 888Sport -13½ -110

CFP National Championship

Streaming: ESPN

Georgia -13½ over TCU

7:30 PM EST. It would be virtually impossible to read and watch every profile of Max Duggan ahead of this championship game tonight. The story of a quarterback overcoming a heart condition, a spate of injuries, and a demotion from the starting role, then leading a team from 5-7 to the title game through countless close wins is straight out of a Hollywood film. Duggan and the TCU Horned Frogs following an upset of Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl—are such a remarkable underdog that Stetson Bennett, a walk-on who led Georgia to its first title since 1980 and has them in line to repeat, is effectively the antagonist here.

In the midst of this celebration of that growing legend, the quarterback who briefly deposed him as the starter has been largely forgotten. While Duggan took most of the snaps in 2021, throwing 227 of TCU's 310 passes and 16 of their 19 touchdowns, head coach Sonny Dykes initially settled on Chandler Morris, who shattered Baylor's playoff hopes with a 461-yard performance, for the 2022 season. The former Oklahoma transfer sprained his knee in the opener against Colorado, Duggan took over and led the offense to more points in one quarter than Morris had in three, and the rest is history.

Could Morris have done what Duggan has for the Horned Frogs? It's hard to say—sure, the offense was less potent in his one start this season, but he was as good in 2021, if not better. In any case, while he's fully healthy now (and appeared briefly against Iowa State), he's understandably sidelined as long as he's sharing the quarterback room with a Heisman Trophy runner-up and Davey O'Brien Award-winner.

There is, of course, as much empty talk as ever about student-athletes who play the game the right way and stay loyal to their team. One could cast Morris, who's staying at TCU despite losing his job for this year and possibly the next, as that archetype. Deciding not to transfer isn't a decision rooted in morality—it can't be, in a world where programs can offer life-changing money—but it can indicate a willingness to bet on oneself that has defined TCU's success. It's no accident that the Frogs retained nearly every key player from 2021 despite a coaching change that could have spurred an exodus, and they're in position to snap an 84-year title drought because of it. Duggan is emblematic of that success, but so is Morris, and they both deserve a share of the glory in what could be the most improbable title run in decades. Problem is, this isn’t Hollywood.

Morris and Duggan are both inspiring stories, but there's a reason the latter will, barring disaster, lead TCU in pursuit of a miraculous national title. Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley have built their success on explosiveness, and Duggan has emerged as one of the nation's best big-play threats. Only three quarterbacks in the Power 5 have more 30-yard passes than him, two of whom finished just ahead and behind in the Heisman chase: his 14 50-yard passes are nearly double that of the next-best P5 passer. On passes to receivers at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, nobody has more than Duggan's 18 touchdowns.

Much has been written about the nature of offenses that rely on explosive plays. They often struggle against tight, swarming defenses designed to limit them—which Georgia can do very well, as seen when they stifled a dynamic Tennessee attack. And the trade-off of building an offense on successful plays that are rarer, but bigger, runs an inherently high risk of those plays drying up at a critical juncture. The script for TCU to lose in a blowout is obvious: a few deep passes are misplaced, a few breakaway runs are shut down quickly, and Georgia dismantles a vulnerable defense to keep the Frogs playing from behind most of the way.

This was all true when the Horned Frogs played Michigan, though. The Bulldogs, with their defensive depth and methodical offense, aren't a great matchup for TCU, but the Wolverines looked like an even worse one. Their defense was among the very best in limiting big plays, and their deep rushing corps and short passing game were primed to tear up the Frogs' weak defensive line. Michigan, like Georgia, was simply good at too many things for their relatively one-dimensional opponent to handle.

Of course, none of that turned out to be accurate for a number of reasons. TCU had some help from fortunate sequencing—most notably, they got away with zero points allowed on two early Michigan drives that included 50-yard plays. That was lucky. While Duggan, like counterpart J.J. McCarthy, was up and down, the Frogs turned the expected narrative on its head and dominated the game on the ground. And it's here that TCU has separated itself from the reputation of big-play offenses as gimmicky and prone to falling flat against more complete defenses.

That Tennessee offense that the Bulldogs throttled in a 27-13 win relied on just such a rushing attack; the Volunteers' 12.8% explosiveness on run plays this season was pedestrian (71st), but their 51.2% success rate on the ground (12th) complemented dynamic passer Hendon Hooker aptly. For all the moving pieces and statistics that can be used to measure this, it's based on a deeply fundamental element of football logic: establish the run, and your opponent can't sell out to stop the pass at all levels.

More than most offenses, however, this sort of pairing can fall apart if the rushing corps is unable to get going. Georgia's run defense is among the nation's most efficient in every way, and it held the Volunteers to a mere 94 yards on 42 carries, allowing the secondary to shut down Hooker through the air with constrictive man defense. A similar performance was key to the Bulldogs' runaway SEC Championship Game win over LSU; with the exception of one 47-yard run, the Tigers were held to zero rushing yards on 19 other attempts, and the secondary held its own against a pass-heavy offense until garbage time.

In Ohio State's narrow semifinal loss against Georgia, we saw one way a team can overcome this strength of Georgia's defense: lead most of the way and move the ball more with chunk passing plays than with runs. It didn't quite work out for the Buckeyes, who struggled to gain ground on their final, do-or-die possession, but it was clearly a blueprint that could have worked. If you have an offense that can make progress without ever needing to fully establish a dangerous rushing attack, it's less likely to fully break down if Georgia beats it at the line.

It's impossible to assume that any team can score on Georgia's defense, even with its cracks in pass defense this season, but the Horned Frogs are better equipped to do so than their recruited talent might suggest. Assuming everything goes right for them on offense, though, can they get enough stops (or turnovers) to keep the Bulldogs within reach? This matchup isn't as much of an uphill battle in terms of raw size or strength—Bennett is emblematic of the way offensive coordinator Todd Monken has elected to do more with less—but Georgia has put together one of the most efficient, productive attacks in the nation.

Where the Bulldogs will look to dominate physically is up front, facing the weak front end of TCU's 3-3-5 defense that many expected Michigan to bulldoze. But the Frogs have actually been fairly solid in short pass defense, Bennett's bread and butter, which is a focal element of coordinator Joe Gillespie's approach. Using their numbers in the secondary to limit bigger passes, TCU's linebackers will typically hesitate to let a play develop before committing to coverage or run defense, locking down rushes and short passes with tight second-level protection.

The Frogs' defense is far from perfect—that secondary has been outmatched at times despite its high-level players, ranking 108th in explosive pass rate allowed—but like their offense, it's deceptively capable when facing an apparent mismatch in talent. Perhaps more than anything else, this unit is why they were able to hold on against teams such as Texas and Michigan, locking down offenses that relied on physical rushing and short-yardage passing.

For the Bulldogs to take advantage of their opponent's defensive weaknesses, they need Bennett to show his poise as an experienced leader. Georgia's offense has the pieces to beat the Frogs deep, where they can find themselves outmanned despite their base alignment, but targeting this secondary frequently is a risky venture. TCU has intercepted at least one pass in 11 of 14 games this year, including two against McCarthy in their last outing. Breakout corner Bud Clark has led the way, claiming a starting role early in the season and leading the team with five interceptions, including a pick-six in the Fiesta Bowl. Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Josh Newton have been consistent forces as well, with three picks apiece. If TCU is relying on turnovers, that’s a risky strategy. If they need turnovers to stay within range, it’s a risky wager.

Nevertheless, the formula for an upset is far from outlandish. Georgia is built to bludgeon teams with its physical advantages, and TCU is uniquely built to overcome that talent gap, as we have seen before. Whether they can outcoach the Bulldogs is another question, but this matchup features many of the game's brightest minds on both sides. In a season defined by underdogs going further than anyone thought possible, it's impossible to count the Horned Frogs out in a captivating showdown for the national championship.

What you see above is a lot of X’s and O’s but what is most important to us is where does the value lie and what is market perception for this one? TCU easily covered against Michigan. Anyone that bet Michigan spotting 9 points is extremely unlikely to double down and spot 13 points here, especially after the Dawgs were lucky to even beat Ohio State. Furthermore, Georgia allowed 41 points to the Buckeyes. If TCU comes anywhere near that total, they’ll easily come in under the number. It’s also the championship game, where the two best teams in the country are supposed to clash yet one of the two best teams is taking back nearly two converted TD’s. We cannot overstate how tempting taking back this many points with TCU is. Should the Horned Frogs score the first major, a distinct possibility, we’ll be suddenly looking at having to overcome a 20-point handicap. Ouch.

Thing is, Georgia has played against a handful of quality, dual-threat quarterbacks this season: Tennessee’s Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker got 18-17 rushing and completed less than 50% of his throws, Georgia won by 14 points. Florida’s Anthony Richardson was 11-19 rushing, completed less than 50% of his throws, Georgia won by 22 points; Auburn’s QB was only a freshman but he was a good runner who got 9-52, completed less than 40% of his throws, Georgia won by 32 points; Bo Nix of Oregon, accomplished dual-threat senior, 8-37 rushing, 0-2 TD-INT, Georgia won by 46 points. So, do we judge Georgia’s defense as being vulnerable off the last two games of giving up 30 points to LSU, and 41 to Ohio State or do we consider the entirety of everything? In-game variance always determines which team covers and which does not. In that regard, TCU has needed a plethora of in-game variance to go their way and they are going to need it again here to come in under the number. As hard as it is to spot -13 with the Dawgs, we have to side with them because oddsmakers have hung such a juicy number on the underdog that it looks TOO enticing and to us, that’s a massive red flag.

Our Pick

Georgia -13½ -103 (Risking 2.06 units - To Win: 2.00)