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.
And boy, did Georgia put its talent on display on Monday night against TCU.
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 first team in the College Football Playoff era to win back-to-back titles and the first since Alabama in 2011 and 2012 to repeat.
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. And the Bulldogs had that spread covered with 8:30 to go in the second quarter.
Georgia looked bigger, stronger and faster than TCU at nearly every position on the field. Receivers like Brock Bowers, Ladd McConkey and AD Mitchell made tough catches over TCU defenders. 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 overmatched in every facet of the game. Whenever the Horned Frogs tried to get a player to the edge, a Georgia defender was there. TCU had just 188 yards of total offense all night, and nearly a third of that total came on one play when the Georgia secondary miscommunicated and left Derius Davis wide open for a 60-yard catch and run.
Georgia’s remarkable recruiting
One of the easiest ways to explain the talent gap between Georgia and TCU is a look at Rivals’ recruiting rankings. Over the last four years, Georgia has signed 72 high school players either rated as a four or a five-star recruit by the recruiting service. The scholarship limit for a team at the top level of college football is 85. Georgia has nearly filled a football team over the past four seasons with the best players in the country.
Of those 72 players, 15 were ranked as five-star recruits. From 2019-22, 129 players have been ranked as five-star recruits. Georgia has signed 12% of those players.
TCU, meanwhile, has signed just 13 four and five-star players over the same four-year period. And the lone five-star recruit over that time, RB Zach Evans, spent the 2022 season at Ole Miss after transferring.
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. Defenders like Johnny Hodges and Dylan Horton transferred from Navy and New Mexico, respectively, and had breakout seasons.
Hodges and Horton are proof of how players can become great at any school in the country and how the transfer portal has the potential to increase parity in college football as players find different schools better suited for their playing careers.
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. A 2022 four-star defensive back Malaki Starks was the team’s second-leading tackler as a true freshman.
The scout team is pretty damn good too, apparently. 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 spent nine seasons as an assistant to Saban at Alabama and has clearly taken what he learned in Tuscaloosa and added his own elements 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. And Smart took a page from that playbook in the minutes after the game 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. While players like Bennett, defensive tackle Jalen Carter and a few others will head to the NFL, Bowers, Mondon and Starks will be back along with a 2023 recruiting class that ranks No. 2 in the country and includes 21 four- and five-star recruits.
The talent pipeline to Athens isn’t shutting off anytime soon. And Smart isn’t getting complacent either. That's a dangerous combination for the rest of college football.