Georgia’s Smart perplexed by abundance of CFP semifinal points

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh scores on a 25-yard reception during last Saturday night’s 42-41 topping of Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh scores on a 25-yard reception during last Saturday night’s 42-41 topping of Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

One common complaint about the 12-team College Football Playoff looming on the horizon is that the sport is selling its charm to become a carbon copy of the NFL.

Given last Saturday's results, perhaps the NBA is the better comparison.

The CFP semifinals bordered on basketball scores, with third-seeded TCU upsetting second-seeded Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl before top-seeded Georgia rallied past fourth-seeded Ohio State 42-41 in the Peach Bowl. The 179 combined points in those two thrillers shattered the previous high of 156, and will either team have anything left in the defensive tank heading into Monday night's championship showdown at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California?

"I don't know how to pinpoint it," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this week. "Traditionally, the teams that are in these games are pretty good offensively, but you would like to say they are also pretty good defensively. The studies and numbers indicate as the season goes on, and especially in these semifinal and final games, the scoring has to be going up.

"What that is I can't pinpoint. I don't know that you can say it's just being tired, because you could say that would be relative to the offenses as well. I certainly think that it's harder to play quality defense anymore, because I know we try really hard here, and I know they do at TCU as well."

The Bulldogs entered the Peach Bowl coming off a 50-30 win over LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 3, so this marks the first time Georgia has allowed 30 or more points in consecutive contests under Smart since losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee during the fourth and fifth games of his tenure in 2016.

TCU also has allowed 30 or more points in its past two games, but Horned Frogs first-year coach Sonny Dykes is pumped simply to have a team still playing, and he's excited to have future chances with the expanded field that will begin with the 2024 season.

"I think 12 is going to be great," Dykes said. "I think there are a lot of good teams that deserve to be in the playoff, and I have always believed that the more opportunities that schools outside of the traditional brands get, the more those schools can become traditional brands. If you exclude them, it's hard to break in, and I think this will give schools like TCU the opportunity to get in the mix and show what they're capable of.

"You can't help but look at how much fun it's going to be when we get to that 12, but it's going to be a work in progress, and I'm sure there are going to be some things we don't like about that. The best thing, at the end of the day, is that it's going to include more people, and I'm a big believer in inclusion."

It will certainly include more games for teams that reach the semifinals and finals.

Georgia is 14-0 and TCU 13-1 entering their 15th and final game of the season, but some teams in the expanded field will have to play 16 or even 17 contests, with 17 performances matching what NFL teams now do on an annual basis in the regular season. Bulldogs players are too busy living in the moment to think about what a title run two years from now could entail.

"Now is not the time to complain about your body hurting," sophomore defensive back Javon Bullard said. "It's been a long season, but we're the last two teams in college football. I'm pretty sure everybody is hurting. It's football. Your body is going to ache, but it's about winning at the end of the day, and that's what we're trying to do."

Said sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett: "We've got five or six days to get ready for it all, and this is the ultimate. If you're not injured, you suck it up and you play, because what are you saving yourself for now? This is what we do it for."

Smart hasn't thought about how a 16- or 17-game season would affect things, though it won't be long before he will. He said the gap between the conference championship games and national semifinals does result in the losing of a rhythm, and that might have factored into Saturday's scoring.

"It does seem that tackling gets worse as the season goes on and that there is more scoring, but I don't know why that is," Smart said. "I've been a part of some unique national championships, like the rematch with Alabama and LSU that was lower-scoring, but I've also been a part of a lot of shootouts."

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