10 players to watch in Monday's CFP national championship between Georgia and TCU

Monday’s national title game is a matchup that few predicted before the beginning of the season.

Sure, a lot of folks had Georgia penciled into the title game after the Bulldogs beat Alabama for the title a year ago. But you’re probably lying if you said TCU was going to be playing for the national title before the season.

Both teams are led by Heisman finalist quarterbacks in Max Duggan and Stetson Bennett. Even if you’re a casual college football fan, you likely know who they are, along with star Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and potential top-three 2023 NFL draft pick Jalen Carter.

But it’s worth knowing a lot more players heading into Monday night. Here are (more than) 10 players to keep your eye on during the game so you’re not wondering who they are when they make a big play.

Georgia LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson (Sophomore; 4-star recruit, No. 16 ILB in 2021 class)

Dumas-Johnson is overshadowed by Jalen Carter on the front line of Georgia’s defense, but he’s emerged as a fantastic pass-rusher and all-around player in his second season with the Bulldogs. Dumas-Johnson is third on the team in tackles with 66 and leads the team in both tackles for loss (9) and sacks (4). He had a sack in the Peach Bowl and had at least four tackles in each of the Bulldogs’ last four games of the season before the win over Ohio State.

Like it’s done since Kirby Smart has arrived, Georgia heavily rotates its pass rushers to keep them fresh thanks to the incredible depth it has along the defensive line and at linebacker, so you probably won’t see Dumas-Johnson on the field for a significant majority of snaps. But he could be very disruptive when he is.

Johnny Hodges is TCU's leading tackler in his first season with the Horned Frogs after transferring from Navy and should play a key role in Monday's national championship game vs. Georgia. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Johnny Hodges is TCU's leading tackler in his first season with the Horned Frogs after transferring from Navy and should play a key role in Monday's national championship game vs. Georgia. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TCU LB Johnny Hodges (Junior; no Rivals rating in 2019 class)

Hodges is TCU’s leading tackler even though he missed the Big 12 title game due to injury. Hodges has 81 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss and has three games with 10 or more tackles this season. He was all over the field in TCU’s win over Texas with 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

The Navy transfer had 50 tackles in nine games for the Midshipmen a season ago and easily assimilated into TCU’s defense ahead of the 2022 season. Much like he did when TCU kept Bijan Robinson and the Texas run game in check, Hodges will play a key role in stopping Georgia’s rushing offense. Outside of long runs by Donovan Edwards and J.J. McCarthy, the Horned Frogs did a very good job of slowing Michigan’s running attack in the Fiesta Bowl.

TCU Edge Dylan Horton (Senior; 2-star recruit, no Rivals rating in 2018 class)

The New Mexico transfer is TCU’s best pass rusher. He leads the Horned Frogs with 10.5 sacks and has 14 tackles for loss among his 47 tackles. Four of those 10.5 sacks came against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl as Horton routinely got to QB J.J. McCarthy. If it wasn’t for teammate Dee Winters’ game against Michigan, Horton would have gotten even more plaudits for his performance.

The fifth-year senior has exploded over the second half of the season. He had just a half sack over the first seven games of the season before recording at least a half sack in six of TCU’s last seven games. Ohio State sacked Stetson Bennett twice in the Peach Bowl. If Horton can create consistent pressure once again, the sack opportunities should be there.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Wide receiver Quentin Johnston #1 of the TCU Horned Frogs is tackled by defensive back Rod Moore #19 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half of the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Horned Frogs defeated the Wolverines 51-45. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Quentin Johnston is capable of a big play at any time for the TCU offense. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

TCU WR Quentin Johnston (Junior; 4-star recruit, No. 80 player in 2020 class)

The national title game is reportedly set to be Johnston’s last college football appearance as he’s heading to the NFL. His combination of size and speed could make him a first-round pick.

Johnston broke the 1,000-yard mark in the Fiesta Bowl with six catches for 163 yards, including that 76-yard catch-and-run TD. It was his second big game in a row after he had four catches for 139 yards in the Big 12 title game.

The layoff between the Big 12 title game and Peach Bowl likely served Johnston well. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury over the second half of the season and the rest was vital. He looked healthy in Arizona. But while Johnston has been banged up, it’s also worth noting how boom-or-bust his season has been. Johnston has just four games over 100 yards and also has six games with fewer than 50 receiving yards. Can Kelee Ringo and the Georgia defense make it seven?

Georgia WRs Ladd McConkey (R-sophomore; 3-star recruit), AD Mitchell (Sophomore; 4-star recruit, No. 51 WR in 2021 class), Arian Smith (R-sophomore; 4-star recruit, No. 148 player in 2020 class)

All three of these Georgia receivers are tied together for reasons that were on display during the Peach Bowl. It's impossible to single out just one of them. McConkey is the team’s leading wide receiver but has been dealing with a knee injury he suffered in the SEC title game. He was clearly limited during against Ohio State and wasn’t on the field as much as he typically is. Mitchell has been dealing with injuries for most of the season but has gotten healthier toward the end of 2022. That was evident on Saturday night as well. And Smith doubled his number of catches all season in the Peach Bowl.

McConkey has 53 catches for 674 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. It seems highly unlikely he’ll miss Monday’s game, but it’s to be determined how many routes he’ll be able to run. Mitchell should be ready to roll too. He’s played in just five games this season but had three catches for 43 yards and a TD against the Buckeyes. Mitchell has scored a TD in each of the three College Football Playoff games he’s played in.

Smith is a wild card. He exploded with three catches for 129 yards and a TD after entering the Peach Bowl with three catches in nine games. Will that performance cause him to see more playing time against TCU? He may be Georgia’s fastest receiver and TCU will have to be wary of him running past the defense when he’s out there.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) carries the ball during the college football Playoff Semifinal game at the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 31, 2022 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kenny McIntosh is a dual threat out of the Georgia backfield. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh (Senior; 4-star recruit, No. 115 player in 2019 class)

McIntosh is the lead back in Georgia’s rushing committee. Four running backs have at least 60 carries for the Bulldogs this season. McIntosh leads the team with 141 carries for 779 yards and 10 TDs and had five carries for 70 yards against Ohio State. He could have had more yards and a TD but got hit by the turf monster as he was cruising to a TD in the second quarter.

While McIntosh is Georgia’s leading rusher, he’s just as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. McIntosh had five catches for 56 yards and a TD against Ohio State and has 42 catches for 506 yards on the season. He’s capable of running multiple routes out of the backfield to create mismatches against linebackers in space and that ability with the ball in his hands anywhere on the field should give him plenty of opportunities to succeed in the NFL.

TCU RB Kendre Miller (Junior; 2-star recruit in 2021 class)

Miller suffered a right leg injury in the Fiesta Bowl when he was tackled near the goal line. Coach Sonny Dykes said this week that Miller would probably be considered questionable for the title game.

Even though Emari Demercado did a phenomenal job in Miller’s absence on Saturday, the TCU offense is much better with Miller on the field. He’s an extremely tough runner and one of the more underrated running backs in the country. Miller had scored a TD in each of TCU’s first 13 games of the season before leaving the Fiesta Bowl due to injury and averages over six yards a carry. He’s the only TCU player with over eight combined rushing and receiving TDs. TCU needs Miller on the field to make its upset hopes more realistic.

ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 15: Kelee Ringo #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs in between snaps against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Sanford Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)
Kelee Ringo could be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)

Georgia DB Kelee Ringo (R-Sophomore.; 5-star recruit, No. 7 player in 2020 class)

Ringo is a likely first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft if he declares after the national title game and found himself following Marvin Harrison Jr. around the field a lot in the Peach Bowl. Harrison got the best of Ringo at times, but that’s nothing to hold against him. Harrison is probably the best receiver in college football and his absence in the second half of the game was a massive loss for Ohio State.

We’re fascinated to see how Georgia uses Ringo against the Horned Frogs. Will he be Johnston’s shadow or will he also spend time covering Taye Barber, Derius Davis and others? Ringo has 41 tackles and two interceptions so far in 2022 and is tied for the Georgia team lead with seven passes defensed. He’s the Bulldogs’ best cover corner in a secondary that saw a lot of turnover from 2021 to 2022 but is still really good.

Georgia TE Darnell Washington (Junior; 5-star recruit, No. 32 player in 2020 class)

Washington was injured in the Peach Bowl and his absence forced Georgia to rely on its wide receivers more in the second half. The 6-foot-7 tight end is an absolute mismatch. He’s too big for college defensive backs and he can run past linebackers.

Washington has just 27 receptions for 426 yards but averages the most yards per catch of any Georgia player with more than six catches. Coach Kirby Smart said this week that he’s hopeful Washington will be recovered enough from the ankle injury to play on Monday night. If he is, his presence will be significant for the Georgia offense even if he doesn’t have more than one or two catches.

TCU LB Dee Winters (Senior; 3-star recruit, No. 73 WR in 2019 class)

The converted wide receiver was all over the field in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s not hyperbole to say that he had one of the best defensive performances of the season against the Wolverines. Winters had seven tackles, three tackles for loss and also returned an interception 29 yards for a TD In TCU’s 51-45 win. His Fiesta Bowl showing came after he had eight tackles and a sack against Kansas State in the Big 12 title game.

Winters has been a force behind the line of scrimmage this season. He has 14.5 tackles for loss and has five games with multiple stops behind the line. His ability to diagnose run plays and cut through gaps in the offensive line is fantastic. And he’ll need to utilize it against a creative Georgia run game.