The College Football Playoff welcomes a pair of relative newcomers to the scene this season as No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 TCU square off in the Fiesta Bowl for a spot in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The Wolverines and Horned Frogs should provide one of the more intriguing matchups we’ve seen this college football season with all the stakes on the line.
While Georgia is the reigning champion and Ohio State has made the CFP in three of the past four seasons, TCU is making its playoff debut and Michigan just made its first-ever playoff appearance last season. The showdown between the Wolverines and the Horned Frogs will also mark the first time the two programs have played in football, and you could not ask for higher stakes or a better setting for the series’ first meeting.
Michigan’s 13-0 campaign was powered by a ruthless efficiency on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines are one of just two top-10 teams in both scoring offense and scoring defense. That well-rounded dominance was on full display when Michigan went into Columbus and handed rival Ohio State a 45-23 defeat, the second win in as many years against the Buckeyes for eighth-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
But while Harbaugh has spent nearly a decade building the program to this peak of beating Ohio State, winning Big Ten titles and making the College Football Playoff, Sonny Dykes has soared with TCU to the top of the sport in just his first season. TCU, 5-7 in 2021, finished the regular season 12-0 before falling in overtime to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. That seven-win turnaround has been powered by one of the most explosive offenses in the country, a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in Max Duggan and a team that has shown resiliency in tough spots with a 5-1 record in one-score games.
Michigan’s dominance over its opponents has made it the favorite, but there’s plenty more about this matchup that stands out before we get to picking the game.
Michigan vs. TCU: Need to know
Donovan Edwards carrying the load: Michigan running back Blake Corum was a Heisman Trophy candidate before a knee injury vs. Illinois on Nov. 19 effectively ended his 2022 campaign. Though he suited up for the regular-season finale vs. Ohio State, he logged just two carries while Donovan Edwards took over the top running back duties. Despite missing the Big Ten Championship Game, Corum’s 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns are still good enough to rank in the top 10 in both categories.
Having Corum would be preferable to not having him in the lineup for the College Football Playoff, but the good news is Edwards appears to be up for the challenge of leading the Wolverines’ rushing efforts. Edwards ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Ohio State, and then added 185 yards on the ground in the Big Ten Championship Game against Purdue. When Michigan’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, it is punishing opponents at the point of attack and opening space for an explosive back to deliver a splash play. If Michigan is going to control the game when it has the ball, it needs Edwards to continue that form he showed after Corum’s injury.
A unique test for Michigan’s defense: Michigan faced a pair of dangerous passing attacks in its final two games, but TCU presents a brand new type of challenge for the Wolverines. Duggan is one of the best deep-ball passers in the country, ranking first in the FBS in completion percentage and touchdowns on passes thrown farther than 20 yards. He’s also prolific, throwing for three or more touchdowns in eight of his 12 starts this season, and has a pair of dynamic wide receiver options in deep-threat specialist Quentin Johnston and the do-everything all-purpose star Derius Davis. Throw in running back Kendre Miller, who is having one of the best rushing seasons TCU has seen since Ladanian Tomlinson, and the Horned Frogs have an offense that has lots of different ways to pick a defense apart.
TCU carrying plenty of close-game experience: The Horned Frogs magical run has included multiple second-half comebacks and the ability to find a way to win in close games throughout the regular season. TCU went 5-0 in one-score games during the regular season and nearly logged yet another comeback as Duggan led an injury-riddled offense down the field to force overtime against Kansas State in the Big 12 title game before falling short.
Michigan, on the other hand, does not have much experience even playing in close games. The Wolverines lead all FBS teams with an average margin of victory of 26.7 points per game and had just two games all season decided by one score: A 34-27 win against Maryland early in the season and the 19-17 win against Illinois that included Blake Corum’s knee injury. If the oddsmakers are correct in their projections, we could be looking at a close contest late in the game in which TCU would have the experience advantage.
How to watch Fiesta Bowl live
Date: Saturday, Dec. 31 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Fiesta Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Michigan Wolverines vs. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU has an experience advantage playing in close games if the betting market projections play out on the field. However, history says that College Football Playoff semifinals are not close games. Of the 16 semifinal games that have been held since the format was introduced in 2014, only three have been decided even by single digits, and nine of those 16 games have been decided by 20 points or more. I’m not predicting that Michigan will win by three touchdowns, but covering the spread seems to line up with their knack for ruthless efficiency and the historical trend of how these games tend to play out. Prediction: Michigan -7.5
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