Relentless Georgia dominates TCU to make it back-to-back national championships

Georgia players and fans celebrate after defeating TCU 65-7 in the college football national championship game.
Georgia players and fans celebrate after defeating TCU 65-7 in the college football national championship game Monday at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Top-seeded Georgia captured its second straight college football national championship in a dominant, 65-7 win over No. 3 TCU at SoFi Stadium.

Stetson Bennett becomes an instant Georgia legend in historic national title win

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates with the national championship trophy.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates with the national championship trophy after the Bulldogs’ 65-7 win over TCU at SoFi Stadium.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Max Duggan was desperate. So often during this most improbable of football seasons for Texas Christian, the Horned Frogs’ fearless Heisman Trophy finalist was at his most dangerous in those particularly grim moments, beaten and bruised with his back against the wall, forced to dig down deep, conjuring whatever miracle he could manage through a combination of sheer will and intestinal fortitude.

Yet no amount of heart or hope or, heck, even divine intervention could compete with the crushing inevitability of the Georgia Bulldogs, who left no discernible doubt about who belonged atop the sport as they rolled to a 65-7 victory on Monday at SoFi Stadium, the most lopsided in the history of the College Football Playoff.

Georgia (15-0) had spent all of their title defense this season specifically stomping out such miracles, winning 14 straight in scorched-earth fashion ahead of Monday, when a desperate Duggan dropped back just before half of the national title game, hoping his Horned Frogs might still have a shot and a prayer.

Except that familiar brand of hope, which had kept TCU (13-2) alive all season, wouldn’t do much good here. Not against a dominant Georgia defense that held TCU under 200 yards or its well-oiled machine on offense, which racked up nearly 600. Not against the defending national champions, who hadn’t lost since last year’s Southeastern Conference Championship game. Not against Stetson Bennett, another Heisman finalist at quarterback whose own underdog story surely will be recounted for years to come.

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Georgia and TCU players and coaches react after CFP championship game

Here’s what Georgia and TCU players and coaches had to say after the Bulldogs’ 65-7 win in the college football national championship game at SoFi Stadium on Monday night:


Georgia completes its repeat in dominating fashion

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates with the national championship trophy.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates with the national championship trophy after the Bulldogs’ 65-7 win over TCU at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

For the first time in 10 years, college football has a repeat national champion.

Georgia dominated TCU 65-7 on Monday at SoFi Stadium to win its second national title in as many years. The Bulldogs are the first team to repeat as national champions since Alabama in 2011 and 2012.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett completed his fairy tale rise from walk-on to star with six total touchdowns, tying Joe Burrow for the most touchdowns in the CFP national title game. He had 304 passing yards and four touchdowns on 18-of-25 passing and added two rushing touchdowns.

Georgia (15-0) forced three takeaways and sacked TCU quarterback Max Duggan five times while outgaining the Horned Frogs 589-188. TCU finished 13-2.


Max Duggan comes out of game, TCU fans disperse

Max Duggan wasn’t able to keep up with the Georgia defense all game. He wouldn’t even see the game through to its end, getting pulled with less than six minutes remaining for Chandler Morris.

As for the announced crowd of 72,628, most of the TCU fans that made up that number had dispersed.

TCU trails 65-7.


Stop the fight

As DJ Khaled said: “Another one.”

Georgia forced a turnover on downs, sacking Max Duggan for the fifth time and taking over at the TCU 19-yard line, and scored its fourth straight touchdown on the next play to take a 65-7 lead with 7:23 to go.

Georgia missed the extra point after Branson Robinson’s touchdown run, but it didn’t damper the celebration from Bulldogs fans, who, as my colleague J. Brady McCollough said, “just can’t get enough.”


Max Duggan, TCU don’t make it far midway through fourth

The Bulldogs sacked Max Duggan twice in the same drive with less than nine minutes remaining in the fourth. As if the rain and losing wasn’t enough. Georgia 59, TCU 7.


When it rains, it pours

Not only are TCU fans in SoFi Stadium watching their team get hammered in the national championship game, but they’re also getting drenched.

Parts of the roof at SoFi Stadium are leaking, and the stadium that is open on some sides is allowing rain from the current Southern California storm to blow into the stands.

Many TCU fans sitting in the top concourse have left their seats as Georgia extended its lead to 59-7 with 9:24 remaining in the fourth quarter after a one-yard touchdown run for Branson Robinson.

The roof on top of some Georgia fans is also leaking, but those fans seem a little more eager to stay in their seats at their team closes in on its second consecutive national title.


Curtain call for Stetson Bennett

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett passes against TCU in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Georgia called a timeout with a 52-7 lead early in the fourth quarter to pull quarterback Stetson Bennett from the game and the former walk-on who is on track to win his second national title in as many years received a roaring ovation from Georgia fans.

Carson Beck entered the game for Georgia with 13:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bennett finished 18-for-25 passing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He added two rushing touchdowns on three carries.


Max Duggan gets sacked again to end third quarter

The Georgia fans were already waving goodbye to the Horned Frogs before their next drive ensued with less than two minutes remaining in the third.

Max Duggan ended the quarter trying to evade Georgia defenders by running out of bounds, but was instead sacked ... again.

They resumed in the fourth, unable to make a productive play. Georgia took over on downs.

TCU trails Georgia 52-7.


Waving the (red and) white flag

After a 14-yard touchdown catch, Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey waved to the TCU fans near the end zone and a small number are beginning to head for the exits already as Georgia extended its lead to 52-7 with 2:17 remaining in the third quarter.

It was McConkey’s second touchdown catch of the night on five catches for 88 yards.

Stetson Bennett has accounted for six touchdowns, including four passing touchdowns, as Georgia is outgaining TCU 485-150. The Georgia quarterback is now tied with Joe Burrow for the most touchdowns in a CFP national championship game.


Max Duggan, TCU again finish drive by punting

Gergia wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5) catches a touchdown pass in front of TCU cornerback Josh Newton in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

TCU’s luck didn’t get much better its next drive. The first play spelled it out.

While returning Georgia’s kick, the Horned Frogs were hit with a holding penalty that cost them 10 of the 28 yards they gained on the play.

The drive resulted in more missed opportunities and another punt.

Georgia leads 45-7 with 7:34 remaining in the third.


Brock Bowers extends Georgia’s lead

Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) celebrates his second touchdown catch with tight end Brock Bowers.
Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) celebrates his second touchdown catch with tight end Brock Bowers during the second half against TCU.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Welcome back to California, Brock Bowers.

The Napa native extended Georgia’s lead to 45-7 with a 22-yard touchdown catch from Stetson Bennett with 10:52 remaining in the third quarter.

Bowers had catches of 28 and 22 yards on the four-play, 55-yard touchdown drive and has a game-high 152 receiving yards on seven catches.

The sophomore won the John Mackey Award this year and was named a first-team All-American by USA Today, ESPN and the Athletic last year when he was named Associated Press SEC newcomer of the year. Bowers, one of few California natives on the Georgia roster, was a four-star prospect out of high school and earned offers from several Pac-12 schools including UCLA and USC. Just think about what could have been.


TCU’s first drive of second half results in punt

TCU’s first drive of the second half was about as productive as its last of the first half, as the Horned Frogs went three and out. The look on the faces of their fans says everything you need to know about how this game has been going for their team.

The Bulldogs still lead the Horned Frogs 38-7 with 12:14 remaining in the third quarter.


TCU defense forces first Georgia punt

OK, TCU isn’t giving up yet.

The Horned Frogs forced a Georgia punt for the first time on the first possession of the second half, limiting the Bulldogs to a three-and-out.

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson broke up a pass intended for Adonai Mitchell on third down to force a punt from Brett Thorson. A holding penalty on TCU during the return backed the Horned Frogs up to their 10-yard line.

Georgia leads 38-7 with 13:04 remaining in the third quarter.


Georgia dominating at halftime

After two thrilling national semifinal games on New Year’s Eve, there was hope that the national championship game could deliver just as much drama.


Georgia dominated TCU in the first half on both sides of the ball, forcing three takeaways and racking up 371 yards en route to a 38-7 lead at recess.

Stetson Bennett has accounted for four touchdowns — two through the air and two on the ground — with 223 passing yards. Tight end Brock Bowers leads Georgia with five receptions for 102 yards.

TCU’s Max Duggan is just eight-for-12 passing for 97 yard and two interceptions, both by Javon Bullard. Bullard also recovered a fumble in the first quarter that set up a Georgia field goal.


No stopping Georgia

Sorry to the fan who was just shown on the SoFi Stadium big screen holding a sign that read “Frogs by 90,” because after a third TCU turnover and another Georgia touchdown right before the half, it seems more likely that the Bulldogs will win this by 90.

Georgia scored its fourth consecutive touchdown, turning an interception by TCU quarterback Max Duggan into a 22-yard touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett to Adonai Mitchell. The defending champs lead 38-7 with 26 seconds remaining before halftime.

The Bulldogs have scored the most points in the first half of a CFP national championship game, passing Alabama’s previous record of 35 against Ohio State in 2021.


Max Duggan sacked and intercepted again

Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander sacks TCU quarterback Max Duggan during the first half.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Max Duggan has continued to get beaten up by the Georgia defense, getting sacked for the third time in the game.

His pass the next play was intercepted again and the Bulldogs returned it to the TCU 22-yard line.

TCU trails 31-7.


Georgia strings together another long touchdown drive

Georgia running back Kendall Milton celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against TCU.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

At least TCU fans still have their band’s halftime performance to look forward to.

Georgia continued its first-half dominance with a one-yard touchdown run from Kendall Milton to go up 31-7 with 1:19 to go in the second quarter.

Even after Georgia backed itself into a first-and-20 from the TCU 41-yard line because of a holding penalty, the Bulldogs converted on third-and-15 with a 24-yard pass from Stetson Bennett to Brock Bowers. The nation’s top tight end is living up to the billing with five catches for 102 yards.

Georgia has scored on all five of its possessions, including four touchdowns. The latest drive was an 11-play march, Georgia’s second consecutive play of 11 plays.


TCU still trails, Max Duggan pass intercepted

TCU’s offense had yet to muster much after its touchdown in the first quarter.

Max Duggan threw a long pass intended for Quentin Johnston, which was instead intercepted by the Bulldogs’ Javon Bullard.

Georgia took over at its 34-yard line.

TCU still trails 24-7.


Stetson Bennett runs untouched into the end zone

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett runs with the ball against TCU in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Georgia’s 17 points were the most scored in the first quarter of a CFP national championship game and the Bulldogs aren’t slowing down in the second quarter.

Georgia scored another touchdown on an 11-play, 92-yard drive and extended its lead to 24-7 with 8:30 to go in the first half after Stetson Bennett ran untouched into the end zone for a six-yard score.

The Bulldogs are moving the ball with ease, averaging 10.2 yards per play thanks to chunk plays like the 35-yard bomb from Bennett to tight end Brock Bowers on the drive. Bowers already has two catches longer than 20 yards with his four receptions totaling 78 yards.

Bennett is 11-for-13 passing for 174 yards and one touchdown and leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 39 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. In addition to the scoring play on the last drive, he had a 12-yard scramble to convert a third-and-10.


First quarter ends without another TCU score

Derius Davis returned a kick 15 yards to TCU’s 22-yard line.

Emari Demercado rushed for 17 yards total on consecutive plays.

Max Duggan completed a 10-yard pass to Jared Wiley, but was sacked on the next play, losing eight yards gained.

Duggan did complete one last pass, but the first quarter ended without TCU managing another score and still playing from behind.


Georgia answers TCU’s touchdown

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett passes against TCU in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Georgia answered TCU’s first touchdown drive with an easy four-play, 70-yard touchdown drive of its own capped off with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett to Ladd McConkey.

McConkey was wide open on the left side of the field for this third catch of the drive to put Georgia up 17-7 with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter.

Georgia opened the drive with three consecutive plays of 11 yards, sandwiching an 11-yard run from Kenny McIntosh between two 11-yard catches from McConkey. The receiver has four catches for 74 yards and one touchdown.

Bennett is eight-for-nine passing for 121 yards and one touchdown.


TCU gets on board on Max Duggan rushing touchdown

TCU quarterback Max Duggan celebrates a touchdown run during the first half against Georgia.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Horned Frogs had a bit of ground to make up after dropping onto a 10-0 deficit.

Their hometown running back, Emari Demercado, rushed for five yards on the first play of the drive. Max Duggan then completed a 60-yard pass to Derius Davis, getting TCU to Georgia’s 11-yard line. Demercado got the Horned Frogs another four yards.

Demercado got TCU to Georgia’s two yard line, then Duggan rushed the ball into the end zone for the first TCU score. Griffin Kell completed the kick for an extra point.


TCU holds Georgia to field goal after turnover

Georgia's Jack Podlesny kicks a field goal in the first quarter.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It could be a worse for TCU.

After a three-and-out and lost fumble on offense, the Horned Frogs maintained a hint of life by holding Georgia to a 24-yard field goal after turning the ball over in their own territory.

Georgia leads 10-0 with 6:51 to go in the first quarter.

Georgia’s Stetson Bennett IV completed a 15-yard pass to Ladd McConkey on second-and-five, but the Bulldogs stalled inside the red zone.

Millard Bradford delivered a nice pass breakup on second-and-seven from the TCU 10-yard line and Bennett’s third-down pass was three yards short of the line to gain.


Georgia fan finds a taste of home at SoFi Stadium

Georgia Bulldogs cheerleaders run off the field before the college football national championship game at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Georgia native and lifelong Bulldogs fan Corey Canion had never attended a college football game before and figured the national championship game might make for a good first impression.

“I live this way toward L.A., so I figured why not,” said the Riverside County resident. “It’s definitely a good experience .. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Cainon was excited at the sight of so many Bulldog fans in attendance and to have a piece of home come to him.

“Oh man, it’s lovely, man, just to see my hometown people come out to support the team, it’s awesome. They traveled over 2,000 miles from Georgia to California, what else could you ask for,” he said. “It’s a good environment to be a part of, you know? It’s just that one reason why I love college ball so much — the fanbase.”


TCU can’t capitalize on Georgia penalty, loses fumble

TCU quarterback Max Duggan passes during the first quarter against Georgia.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Darius Davis received Georgia’s kick into the end zone for a touchback to open the Horned Frogs’ second drive.

Max Duggan was sacked on the first play, losing six yards. His next next pass attempt was complete, for a gain of two yards.

The Horned Frogs gained 10 more yards on a holding penalty against Georgia, moving them to the 31 yard line. Davis later fumbled at the 45-yard line, turning possession of the ball over to Georgia.


Georgia takes early lead

Georgia running back Kendall Milton runs the ball past TCU defensive lineman Terrell Cooper in the first quarter.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The only thing that slowed Georgia down on its first possession was itself.

Despite two nervy penalties, the Bulldogs marched down the field for an easy five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 21-yard touchdown run from quarterback Stetson Bennett IV.

Georgia leads 7-0 with 11:01 remaining in the first quarter.

Georgia started with great field position at its 43-yard line after TCU went three-and-out on its first possession, but was flagged for a false start on the first play. The Bulldogs easily made up for the mistake with a 21-yard pass from Bennett to tight end Brock Bowers two plays later.

Bowers, the John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, had two catches for 33 yards on the drive.

Both teams appear nervous as TCU and Georgia both drew false starts on their first offensive snaps.


TCU fans feeling hopeful with Hypnotoad on their side

TCU fans cheer on the Horned Frogs before Monday's national championship game at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Lindsey Jackson from Fort Worth, Texas, was stopped several times by passing TCU fans who wanted pictures and videos of her ornate poster of the TCU Hypnotoad, the entrancing toad featured in the animated series “Futurama” that TCU fans have embraced as an unofficial mascot. The sign’s signature note was a psychedelic-colored pinwheel.

“We actually made three, this is our 3.0 sign,” Jackson said. “At the Big-12 championship we made the first sign, then at the Fiesta Bowl was our second one, then this one is bringing it home for the national championship.”

Jackson’s intense dedication to the Horned Frogs was inherited from her husband, Spencer Jackson, who attended TCU.

Jackson has good memories of following his alma mater out to California.

TCU fans cheer on the team during pregame warmups at SoFi Stadium on Monday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The 34-year-old business finance graduate was at the 2011 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena where the Horned Frogs defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 21-19. This time around he’s just as excited for the game but not as much for the weather.

“Texas people were not expecting to have to bundle up for a day game in California,” he said.

The adoptive TCU fan had no doubt about the Frogs’ chances in the game.

“I think it’s gonna be a good game, but I think with the Hypnotoad on our side — there’s no losing with the Hypnotoad,” Lindsey Jackson said.


Hello from SoFi Stadium

Hello from SoFi Stadium, this is Thuc Nhi Nguyen and Sarah Valenzuela. We are sports reporters from the L.A. Times and we will be driving our live blog here at the college football national championship game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Texas Christian.

The Bulldogs (14-0) are trying to become the first repeat national champions in a decade while TCU, the first true Cinderella of the Playoff era, is trying to win its first national title since 1935.

Georgia won the toss and elected to defer so TCU (13-1) will come out on offense first with quarterback Max Duggan.


All glory for TCU’s playoff run goes to the Hypnotoad

TCU fans hold up a Hypnotoad sign during the game during the game between TCU and Texas Tech on Nov. 5.
(Matthew Pearce / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Frogs are known to have beguiling powers. Kiss one and it may become a prince. Lick one and you might find yourself on a psychedelic trip. If you’re hurt, invoke one’s colita and you’ll be healed by tomorrow at the latest.

Make an all-powerful, sentient one your unofficial mascot and you might find yourself in the College Football Playoff championship game — or at least that’s the case for the Texas Christian Horned Frogs.

During the last few years, the Fort Worth-based team has embraced the Hypnotoad — a recurring bit character from the animated sci-fi series “Futurama” (the twice-canceled program is currently being revived by Hulu) — because of the amphibious commonality between the character and a horned frog. In the show, Hypnotoad is a toad that has hypnotic powers capable of putting anyone and everyone in his trance. Those entranced by the being are overwhelmed by his large eyes with oscillating pupils and the aggressive whirring he releases before they loudly proclaim, “All glory to the Hypnotoad.”

Fans and those associated with TCU have thrown him on merchandise, meme and video compilations — you name it, they’ve Hypnotoad-ified it.

“Copyright infringement is the sincerest form of flattery. I know everybody at ‘Futurama’ is really pleased to have the Hypnotoad become a symbol of whatever he’s a symbol of ... Hypnotoad and rabid football fans make a perfect symbiotic partnership,” Matt Groening, creator of “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” told The Los Angeles Times of the character’s newfound life among TCU fans.

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Lincoln Riley 2.0? Garrett Riley doesn’t live in his famous brother’s shadow

Texas Christian offensive coordinator Garrett Riley watches players warm up before a game against Iowa State in November.
Texas Christian offensive coordinator Garrett Riley watches players warm up before a game against Iowa State in November. Like his more famous brother, USC coach Lincoln Riley, Garrett was a high school football star in tiny Muleshoe, Texas. Now, he’s a rising name in the college football coaching ranks.
(Matthew Visinsky / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In the small West Texas town of Muleshoe, where two of college football’s foremost masterminds were made, Wes Wood grew up revering Lincoln Riley.

He was hardly the only boy in town who felt that way. Lincoln pulled Muleshoe out of its decades-long football doldrums, leading the Mules on an unforgettable, undefeated run to the Texas state semifinals in 2000. Lincoln, anyone in Muleshoe will tell you, put the town on the map. Muleshoe never forgot, and neither did Wes, whose father, David, coached the team. As a kid, Wes tried his best just to be in Lincoln’s orbit. Years later, as Wes led the Mules to their first Class 2A state title, he wore No. 12 as a tribute to Lincoln.

“He was my hero,” he says.

But for Wood, it was the second of Muleshoe’s native sons, the younger of the two Riley brothers, who left the more lasting mark on his life.

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Mike Leach’s influence extends deeply among his CFP title game ‘disciples’

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, left, and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talk before a game on Nov. 12.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

Mike Leach wasn’t one to get too romantic about his own legacy. His mind loved to wander, but especially so when he was being asked about himself or his impact on college football.

It’s likely he would not have known what to make of the scene Saturday at the College Football Playoff media day in downtown Los Angeles, where one of his many proteges was about to lead a team into the national championship game but acknowledged he’s been thinking about Leach “constantly.”

Leach died Dec. 12 after suffering a heart attack. He was 61.

“I wish he was here for the ride,” Texas Christian coach Sonny Dykes said. “He would be one of those guys that would have had an invitation to come with us and spend some time with us here in L.A. and come to the game. I’m sure he would have declined, but he certainly would have had an invitation.”

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TCU’s Emari Demercado will finally pay back sacrifices by playing in CFP title game

TCU running back Emari Demercado carries the ball during a win over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Emari Demercado was a boy when his mother, Karen Bradley, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

He would read over her shoulder as she flipped through pamphlets detailing her illness and treatment. He remembered being there when Karen’s friend, who was a nurse, would come over to their home in Inglewood to administer her medication.

Emari and his older brother Emsley Demercado Jr. worried, but their mother assured them before she was actually OK, that she would be fine. She even continued to attend their football games every week, Emari in Pop Warner and Ensley at Reseda High School, as she was going through treatment.

“As a kid you don’t really understand what’s truly going on, but I knew there was some kind of struggle there,” Emari said. “Seeing her go through chemo … just seeing that growing up, I understood at a young age that we didn’t have it all that well.”

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Georgia vs. TCU a Hollywood-worthy Duggan vs. Goliath title matchup

TCU quarterback Max Duggan passes during an upset win in the Fiesta Bowl over Michigan on Dec. 31.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan passes during an upset win in the Fiesta Bowl over Michigan on Dec. 31. Duggan and the Horned Frogs will once again be underdogs when they face defending champion Georgia in the college football national championship game at SoFi Stadium on Monday.
(Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This city lives for an irresistible underdog’s tale. Leave it to the College Football Playoff, of all the establishment-promoting institutions in this grand land, to provide Hollywood dreamers with a plot line dripping with all the good stuff.

The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, reared near the stockyards of Fort Worth and representing 12,000 undergraduate purple-wearing peers, are coming to town in early 2023. They’ll be joined by the Georgia Bulldogs, the defending national champions and a team everyone’s heard of, setting up the first Cinderella story in nine years of the CFP’s four-team bracket format.

Call it Dykes and Duggan vs. Goliath.

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The Bulldogs are the defending champs. What makes Georgia even better this year?

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett scores a touchdown during the Bulldogs' College Football Playoff semifinal win.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett scores a touchdown during the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State on Dec. 31.
(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Stetson Bennett’s celebration after Ohio State’s would-be game-winning field goal sailed wide with three seconds remaining — arms spread wide, serious eyes scanning the field as he sprinted off the sideline — bore a strong resemblance to a familiar Russell Crowe meme.

And yes, we were entertained.

Georgia’s 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl capped the best semifinal doubleheader of the College Football Playoff era. Texas Christian emerged as the CFP’s first Cinderella with a thrilling victory over Michigan. Then the clock struck midnight on Ohio State.

Now the Bulldogs are wondering if their own fairy tale can continue at SoFi Stadium on Jan. 9 in the national championship game. Bennett, a former walk-on turned Heisman Trophy finalist, has Georgia in position to become the first repeat national champions in a decade, supplementing the same defense that helped locked down last year’s title with an offense flirting with several school records.

After rolling up 533 yards against Ohio State, the Bulldogs (14-0) are averaging 494.9 yards per game, which is on pace to break the school record of 484.1 in 2013. They needed every yard to outlast Ohio State in a 42-41 shootout.

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Georgia vs. TCU: Betting odds and best picks for national title game

Georgia coach Kirby Smart participates in a news conference on Sunday.
(Mike Stewart / Associated Press)

Trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter against Ohio State, Georgia mounted a comeback and prevailed 42-41 after the Buckeyes missed a field goal in the closing seconds. Texas Christian, as an eight-point underdog, stunned Michigan 51-45 to advance to the national championship. After witnessing those two results, the betting public has been lining up to back the double-digit underdog Horned Frogs. TCU enters Monday night 10-3-1 against the spread while Georgia is 7-7 ATS.

Georgia will have experience on its side after winning last year’s national championship over Alabama. Quarterback Stetson Bennett threw touchdown passes in the victory to tight end Brock Bowers and wide receiver Adonai Mitchell. All three will be on the field Monday night in Los Angeles.

Mitchell missed the majority of the season due to an ankle injury but had three catches and a touchdown against Ohio State. Georgia is hopeful to have tight end Darnell Washington back on Monday night after he exited the semifinal with a foot injury. Wide receiver Ladd McConkey only had two receptions against the Buckeyes as he continues to deal with a knee injury.

TCU has injury concerns too. Running back Kendre Miller is dealing with a right knee injury and is questionable to play. Running back Emari Demarcado thrived in Miller’s absence, rushing for 150 yards against Michigan.

Georgia has recruited at an elite level for the past five years while TCU has not. Can the Horned Frogs overcome some hits to their depth as Georgia can?

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No tailgating at national championship game? Blame the CFP, not SoFi or California

Georgia fans, excited to bring their passionate college football culture to Los Angeles for Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship game against Texas Christian, were hit with some bad news last week upon learning that no tailgating would be allowed in the SoFi Stadium parking lots pregame.

The social media backlash was predictable, with California’s wacky West Coast ways bearing the brunt of the angst, to the point that Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp couldn’t resist taking a shot Thursday morning from his Twitter account.

“While California may not know this,” Kemp tweeted, “in the South a tailgate with friends & family is the only way to prepare for a big game. When Georgia hosts the 2025 #NationalChampionship, we’ll make sure fans are able to tailgate! Even if it’s at the state Capitol!”

One popular Georgia fan Twitter account proposed federal legislation to make tailgating a protected right for American citizens, to which U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded by tweeting, “I am happy to cosponsor this important legislation.”

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Georgia broke through under Kirby Smart. Here’s how USC can learn from it

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks to an official.
Georgia’s transformation into a College Football Playoff power under coach Kirby Smart is something USC is trying to replicate with coach Lincoln Riley.
(Photo: John Bazemore / Associated Press; Illustration: Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

On the night of the 2015 Southeastern Conference championship game — another Alabama victory that would catapult the Crimson Tide to the playoff and another national championship — the future of Georgia football was quietly coming into focus.

Super-agent Jimmy Sexton set the meeting for the Renaissance Hotel by the Atlanta airport. The time and location for Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity’s interview with Kirby Smart may have been a secret, but the fact the two parties seemed meant to be together was well known.

McGarity felt like he already knew Smart, a proud Georgia graduate and Nick Saban’s co-pilot of the Alabama defense for seven seasons. He saw the way Smart carried himself after the 2012 SEC championship game, when the Tide handed the Bulldogs a heartbreaking defeat. Smart visited the Georgia locker room to share a moment with his close friend, Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — an image that stuck with McGarity.

But Georgia’s fifth-year athletic director hadn’t actually met Smart, and he probably had one shot to get this right.

Texas Christian and Georgia by the numbers.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

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