B/R CFB Community: Who Are the X-Factors for the National Championship?

Adam KramerJanuary 3, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: The National Championship trophy is displayed after the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18 in the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It is not the championship game we expected, although it's one we'll gladly embrace.

After a pair of thrilling semifinal games on New Year's Eve, the only hope is that college football's final game will come close to matching the drama.

On the surface, Georgia vs. TCU has a David vs. Goliath feel about it. The Bulldogs are trying to win their second consecutive title. The Horned Frogs are trying to go from an unranked preseason team to the final squad standing.

As we near CFB's conclusion, we're looking for X-factors. What players or game dynamics will decide a winner? What elements of this game, which we will all watch, should we zero in on?

To help us answer this, we asked B/R readers to give us their national championship X-factors. From the quarterbacks to the referees, they covered the gauntlet.

Here's what they had to say with some accompanying commentary.

Mad Max

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs rushes during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Chris Coduto/Getty Images

User: @DrakefmStateFarm

Response: The X-Factor has to be Max Duggan's legs. If he uses them the way he did against Michigan, they have a shot. His passes weren't as clean despite having a good pocket most of the time. Being able to escape and make plays will determine if TCU can keep up.

We begin with a wonderful, thoughtful answer, although I will disagree with a small portion of it.

I wouldn't say Duggan had a "good" pocket for much of the Michigan game. In fact, I thought he made some brilliant plays while being put in uncomfortable positions time and time again.

Regardless, his legs will indeed be a valuable weapon, and they have been for much of the year. He ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan, although he generated much more offense with his ability to move.

He did the same against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, running for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also took some enormous shots, and that's the risk that will come into play against a team likeGeorgia.

Up front, the Bulldogs are massive. While Duggan is undeniably tough, he'll be at risk every time he leaves the pocket. To win, Duggan will have to stay active. And with Georgia likely to apply pressure, he'll have no choice but to do so.

Got That Dog in Them?

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 03: Jalen Carter #88 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts after a defensive stop against the LSU Tigers during the second quarter  in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

User: @COLjsmith2020

Response: Georgia defense. They need a big rebound from the OSU game.

Yes, about that.

In 2021, the Georgia defense allowed 10.2 points per game. It was a remarkable figure over a whole year. This season, despite sending a slew of players to the NFL, that side of the football had largely played exceptionally.

Then, Saturday night happened.

In fairness to Georgia, this is Ohio State. The Buckeyes offensive line played a wonderful game, and quarterback C.J. Stroud was sensational. This was a tall task from the start.

Still, the secondary was torched for the second game in a row. LSU threw for more than 500 yards against the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns this time around, and many of these yards came somewhat easily.

While the secondary is by no means perfect, Georgia has plenty of firepower up front. If things are to improve, and they likely will, it will have to start there.

Frogs on the Go

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Emari Demercado #3 of the TCU Horned Frogs runs with the ball against the Michigan Wolverines during the second half of their game in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

User: @tictac

Response: TCU running game. Georgia's DBs vs. Quentin Johnson

Duggan's ability to run has been explored, and he'll certainly play a part. But TCU's running backs will be an enormous factor in this game, one way or another.

We assumed this impact player would be Kendre Miller, the Horned Frogs' star running back, who produced an enormous season. Miller, however, was hurt against Michigan. As such, he was limited to eight carries. He was on his way to a massive game before he was hurt.

Emari Demercado played in his absence, and he was sensational. Demercado ran for 150 yards on only 17 carries. Depending on Miller's availability and health, Demercado could very well feature prominently again.

For TCU to take some pressure off its quarterback, the running backs need to deliver. With a key injury lingering over the position and the game, however, it won't be easy. Oh, and Georgia has the No. 1 rushing defense in college football.

If the Horned Frogs can find success in this department, it could go a long, long way.

A Well-Timed Return

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Kirby Smart talks with Adonai Mitchell #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the fourth quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

User: @drothenberg

Response: Adonai Mitchell. He was so important against OSU and will probably be covered by the Thorpe Award winner.

A year from now, Adonai Mitchell is likely to be regarded as one of the best wideouts in the country. A year ago, he scored a massive touchdown against Alabama in the national championship.

Could he do it again?

Mitchell essentially missed the entire season with a significant ankle injury after scoring a touchdown against Oregon in Week 1. After appearing briefly in the SEC Championship Game, Mitchell caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State.

While Georgia has a plethora of weapons, Mitchell is destined to take on more as the season winds down. And yes, he could match up against Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU's star defensive back.

That won't make it easy, although the attention on UGA targets will likely be spread around. This could mean opportunities for Mitchell to deliver another significant moment in the season's final game.

It wouldn't shock me if that takes place.

Zebra Takeover

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh talks with referees during the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and the TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday, December 31st, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ (Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

User: @jsnoke330

Response: According to both semifinal games, the refs

Let me start by saying that officiating a college football game must be incredibly difficult. This is not a job I would want. It is not a job I envy. The game moves very fast, and trying to oversee said sport up close would be a challenge.

With that acknowledged, the officials could absolutely be an X-factor in the national championship. In any football game, they often are.

In the semifinals, however, the refs were particularly impactful. You might have other words for it.

In the Fiesta Bowl, the officials overturned what looked like a touchdown for the Wolverines. Michigan fumbled on the next play and walked away with zero points.

In the Peach Bowl, the officials overturned a targeting call following a brutal hit on Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. in the back of the end zone. The decision might have cost the Buckeyes a touchdown, and social media hasn't stopped talking about it since.

These were tough, polarizing calls. They also swung the outcomes of hugely important games. Regardless of where you stand on these calls—along with others that were (or weren't) made—the impact is undeniable.

Yes, the refs will be an X-factor. And in a game with such tremendous stakes, fans of either team can only hope that the calls, right or wrong, will fall in their favor.