The College Football Playoff National Championship matchup is set, with No. 1 seed Georgia and No. 3 seed TCU advancing to play in the Jan. 9 game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
The Bulldogs will be seeking their second straight national championship after clawing back to knock off Ohio State in the Peach Bowl on Saturday, 42-41, while TCU shocked Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl 51-45 to become the first Big 12 team to earn a spot in the national title game since the start of the College Football Playoff era (2014).
Here are four draft-focused takeaways on the national title matchup:
1) Often overlooked quarterback prospects will battle for title.
Both national-championship quarterbacks have taken the long road to getting on the radars of NFL scouts. Neither is a perfect prospect -- far from it -- but each has tangible and intangible qualities that will offer some appeal on the next level.
Georgia's Stetson Bennett has a couple things working against him as a prospect: his age (he turned 25 in October) and a lack of size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds, per school measurements). For much of the game against Ohio State, Bennett was having a tough go of it, with an interception, a few near picks and some shakiness against pressure.
But with the game on the line, Bennett delivered a touchdown drive befitting of a big-game competitor. He led Georgia on scoring drives of 62, 76 and 72 yards in the fourth quarter, making some NFL-quality throws late in the game.
Appreciation from NFL evaluators has grown over time because of his toughness, experience and football IQ, and he could be a Day 3 pick. The 2022 NFL draft featured two quarterbacks who turned 25 before the start of this season (Chris Oladokun and Skylar Thompson). They cracked Round 7 with less complete résumés than Bennett possesses.
TCU's Max Duggan entered this season with some late-round grades among evaluators, but he lost a camp battle for the starting job to Chandler Morris. When Morris suffered a knee injury against Colorado in the opener, Duggan -- who had started for three years prior -- took over again. And he didn't look back, leading the school to its first ever College Football Playoff appearance and finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to USC's Caleb Williams.
Beating Georgia in the title game would cap off one of the most stunning runs to college football's crown in recent memory, and Duggan certainly would gain some momentum after that as he transitions into draft prep.
Duggan has accepted an invitation to the Reese's Senior Bowl, and he stacks up well against the other quarterbacks who currently have accepted invites. He might be a taller, better version of Cardinals QB Trace McSorley. Duggan's determination to exceed that plateau can't be overlooked, but that might not push him above the Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) range.
2) All eyes should be on Jalen Carter versus TCU's offensive line.
At his best, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is perhaps the most destructive interior force in college football. But there are times, such as in the Peach Bowl, when Carter barely earns notice.
This season didn't quite go according to plan, as he was slowed early in the season by a nagging ankle injury and then later set back by an MCL sprain. But Carter really hit his stride this season until the Nov. 5 win over Tennessee and had been on fire ever since then.
That is, until the Peach Bowl. Carter was hard to find against Ohio State, making only one tackle and frequently looking washed out of plays. More than once he was late running on the field for a few plays. It was so out of character based on the way Carter had played down the stretch.
Multiple scouts we spoke to during the last draft cycle mentioned that when they watched Georgia's 2021 defensive line -- while scouting 2022 first-rounders Travon Walker, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt -- that Carter often was the best talent among them.
But given the way that Ohio State neutralized Carter, TCU might like its chances of doing similar. The Horned Frogs have two interior offensive linemen with a shot at getting drafted. Steve Avila, who was TCU's starting center the previous two seasons, shifted to left guard this year -- and it's likely his NFL position, too. He profiles similarly to the Eagles' Landon Dickerson in some ways, but Avila isn't quite as athletic. He could end up as a top-75 pick.
Center Alan Ali was a nice addition this season for the Horned Frogs, as a transfer from SMU. He might lack a superpower as an NFL prospect, but Ali's effort, run-blocking prowess and length stand out.
3) TCU's Quentin Johnston is stepping up.
Recent drafts have produced abundant wide receiver riches, but as things stand right now, the 2023 NFL Draft class might not quite stack up to the same level at that position. We don't yet know how many underclassmen will declare, but TCU's Johnston, a junior who has yet to make an announcement about his intentions, continues to cement his status as one of the top talents at the position.
Johnston started slowly in the Fiesta Bowl against Michigan but caught fire eventually, making grabs of 32, 46 and 76 yards. That last catch and run gave the Frogs a 10-point lead and provided the winning margin. Johnston broke out in 2021, and after a slow start to 2022 he's been one of the better big receivers in college football. Although Johnston has a vertical game that might remind some of former Vikings WR Sidney Rice, Johnston also is just as capable of catching a short pass and using his surprising wiggle and tackle-breaking ability to rip off long gains that way, too.
His matchup versus Georgia's Kelee Ringo will be fascinating, as they're two of the more physically blessed players at their respective positions in college football.
Ringo had a rough game against the Buckeyes. On the positive side, he chased down Marvin Harrison Jr., arguably the best receiver in college football, and punched the ball out for a fumble. (Georgia couldn't recover it.) On the negative side, Ringo had some trouble handling the quickness of Harrison and Julian Fleming.
Ringo was a hero of last year's national-championship game, with a pick-six to finish off the Crimson Tide, but his struggles this season were on display in the SEC title game and playoff semifinal. He's a height-weight-speed prototype who profiles as a man-coverage corner in the NFL, whenever he chooses to enter the draft, even if he's not completely polished in coverage.
4) Winters is coming on for TCU.
Horned Frogs linebacker Dee Winters exploded with a tremendous game in the Fiesta Bowl against Michigan, with three tackles for loss, a pick-six and a pass breakup.
Scouts estimate that Winters will measure in under six feet, likely somewhere in the 230-pound range. So, he's not big. But Winters plays with outstanding energy and pursuit and is shot out of a cannon as a blitzer. On that pick-six, Winters also displayed excellent instincts, reading J.J. McCarthy's eyes the entire play.
That lack of mass will hurt Winters' NFL projection, but his sideline-to-sideline range and hitting ability will be appreciated by teams in the early Day 3 range. Against Georgia, he'll have to deal with the Bulldogs' dangerous run game and perhaps be asked to help in coverage versus tight end Brock Bowers.
I expect Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his staff will try to get his team's athletic linemen, such as center Sedrick Van Pran, into Winters' body to prevent him from roaming free and making plays.
Another key matchup will be TCU's Dylan Horton going up against Georgia left tackle Broderick Jones.
Horton has 10 sacks this season, including four in a dominant performance against a terrific Michigan offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award this season, also adding a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Horton also had a huge effort in the Big 12 Championship Game with two sacks, so he's a prospect whose arrow is pointing up.
Horton is a thickly built defensive end with strong hands and great finishing ability. Can he make plays against the physicality and athleticism of Jones? There are times when length and power can bother the redshirt sophomore, so Horton might have an edge in this matchup.