INGLEWOOD, California —The drama ended abruptly around dinnertime, not long after daylight disappeared from the back of SoFi Stadium and the rain outside began to fall. As day became night and the intrigue all but washed away, a new reality overtook the sport.
Georgia is the new king of college football. Alabama had its moment. Clemson did, too. But right now, at a time of tremendous change and movement, there is a new constant.
Back-to-back national championships will do that.
The hopes of a competitive national championship were squashed early. It became abundantly clear that Georgia was better than TCU—much, much better—in just about every possible way.
The score, 65-7, told a story. Georgia had 589 yards; TCU had 188. The Bulldogs had 32 first downs; the Horned Frogs had nine. This was a historic performance, and the margin in quality was somehow worse than the score indicated.
The 58-point win wasn't just the largest-ever for a college football championship game; no bowl game has ever been decided by more points.
"It seems like for the past three or four months we've been looking to see if somebody could beat us, and we just ran out of games," Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said after the win. "Nobody could."
Perhaps this was to be expected. TCU's miraculous run from preseason unranked to feisty College Football Playoff underdog presented intoxicating potential.
It was indeed a great story, and it was one worth celebrating. Sometimes, however, great stories have cruel and predictable endings.
This was that ending. Reality came quickly, for both programs, and the outcome was one we'll certainly be thinking about for some while.
In the end, talent reigned supreme. The bigger, faster football team won in a way that national championships aren't supposed to be won.
That bigger, faster football team has now won 33 of its last 34 games. Only three of those wins have been decided by single digits.
In between its back-to-back national titles, Georgia sent 15 players to the NFL draft. It also said farewell to Dan Lanning, last year's defensive coordinator and the conductor of one of the greatest defenses over the past few decades.
While no one will feel bad for what Georgia had to replace last offseason, the departures cannot be overlooked.
Those departures likely led to a few close calls this year. Georgia struggled with Missouri earlier in the season, and the Bulldogs needed an enormous rally against Ohio State to reach the national championship.
The proper mentality was needed to make it possible, although the formula for prolonged dominance had been laid out: recruit great players and develop great players. Recruit more great players, lose some great players and then develop their replacements. (And keep recruiting more great players every single day.)
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Surround those great players with great resources and great coaches. And when you lose great coaches, replace them with more great coaches. (And keep recruiting great players.)
Nick Saban trademarked the art of sustained dominance at Alabama. He has attracted some of the nation's best players for more than a decade, and he has developed those players with the help of great football minds. This includes Smart, who earned his coaching Ph.D. in Tuscaloosa under Saban.
Over the past five years, the formula has been taking shape in a new home. With each recruiting class chock full of blue-chip prospects, the program has grown stronger. It took on new life last year when Georgia conquered mighty Alabama in Indianapolis, avenging its lone loss in the past two seasons.
Now, one year later, it has evolved into something more predictable and everlasting.
"There are some parts of me that think, if the team last year played this year's team, last year's team probably had more talent on it," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. "But this year's team was different. They just had this eye of the tiger; they weren't going to lose."
This moment comes at a time when college football has become increasingly unstable. The evolution of NIL, the transfer portal and a soon-to-be expanding College Football Playoff have engulfed the sport in change.
The assumption is that the outcomes will change with it, and that more teams with deeper pockets and willing boosters will soon compete on this stage. But the reality of this assignment was on full display on Monday night.
In speaking about the dominating performance against TCU, Smart was quick to give credit to everyone in the program, including and especially the scout team.
"We had guys be their guys and do their defense exactly right," Smart said. "Until the last day we were walking in there, they were giving an unbelievable look. That set our offense up for success. Scout team makes a difference, and we had a hell of a scout team to give these guys a look."
This is what everyone else is up against. From the walk-on QB who became a postseason sensation to the superstar tight end who seemingly deconstructed TCU himself to a dominant defensive line that was rebuilt in one season with future NFL stars, the Bulldogs have completely recalibrated what it takes to win at this level.
Sure, the transfer portal, which Georgia really didn't tap into this year, will ultimately change the way the sport is played. Increasing the number of teams in the playoff will, perhaps, increase the number of true contenders. And the addition of NIL will undoubtedly overhaul rosters and improve the product for many.
The sport is moving quicker than it ever has, and the path is undeniable. But the road to reach the top of the college football mountaintop—the one Alabama has commandeered for a very long time—is long.
Until further notice, Georgia must be conquered first.
"The disease that creeps into your program is called entitlement," Smart said when asked about winning back-to-back-to-back championships next year. "I've seen it firsthand. If you can stomp it out with leadership, then you can stay hungry. We have a saying around our place: We eat off the floor. And if you're willing to eat off the floor, you can be special."
In the coming months, Georgia will attempt to reload once again. It will do so without its starting quarterback from the past few years and other key pieces who helped lead this team to consecutive titles.
Many key elements of this team, however, will return. As such, the expectations for a third title will be enormous.
Those expectations likely started to mount sometime in the third quarter against TCU, when the second one had all but been decided.
For everyone else, including Alabama, the chase is on once again. As the sport continues to evolve and shift underneath our feet, the target won't move. It is there for the taking for anyone capable.
Catch Georgia, if you can.