No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU: Fiesta Bowl CFP semifinal preview, best bets

Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU

Location: Glendale, Arizona

Date: Dec. 31 (4 p.m. ET)


Line: Michigan -7.5

Total: 58.5

How these teams got here

Michigan (13-0): After making the playoff for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era and — just as important — beating Ohio State, Michigan found itself with lofty expectations entering 2022 despite key changes on defense. Heisman finalist and No. 2 overall draft pick Aidan Hutchinson is now in the NFL along with early picks Dax Hill and David Ojabo, and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald became the Ravens’ defensive coordinator.

Those expectations have been surpassed, so far. Harbaugh hired Jesse Minter from the Ravens to run the defense and the unit has given up just 13.4 points per game — four points fewer than it did in 2021. A balanced pass rush is led by Mike Morris with 7.5 sacks and seven different players have picked off a pass. Offenses are averaging less than 3 yards a carry.

And unlike in 2021, Michigan made it through the regular season undefeated. The Wolverines lost at Michigan State a season ago and easily beat a downtrodden Spartans team, 29-7, this year. That win came after an easy 24-point win over a top-10 Penn State team.

Michigan’s only close calls came in a 34-27 win at home over Maryland and in a 19-17 win at home against Illinois in the week ahead of the Ohio State game. That Illinois win was costly; RB Blake Corum suffered what ended up being a season-ending knee injury. But Donovan Edwards has been spectacular since taking over as the No. 1 back and his explosiveness was on full display in a 22-point win over Ohio State that vaulted Michigan into the playoff.

Donovan Edwards is Michigan's primary running back with Blake Corum sidelined and should be in line for 20 or more carries in the Fiesta Bowl. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Donovan Edwards is Michigan's primary running back with Blake Corum sidelined and should be in line for 20 or more carries in the Fiesta Bowl. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

TCU (12-1): The Horned Frogs are the surprise member of the four-team playoff field after winning seven more games in 2022 than it did in 2021. TCU was so bad a season ago that it parted ways with longtime head coach Gary Patterson with four games to go in the season. Former Cal and SMU coach Sonny Dykes was hired as Patterson’s replacement and the offense has taken a huge step forward while the defense is giving up nearly 10 points fewer per game than it did a season ago.

QB Max Duggan became a Heisman candidate over the course of the season despite not starting the team’s first game of the season. That honor went to Chandler Morris, who played the majority of snaps in the team’s win over Colorado before suffering a left knee injury. That paved the way for Duggan to take over as the team’s starter and he has been electric.

TCU beat Dykes’ old team by eight in Week 3 and then went on a run through four ranked teams in the Big 12 to open conference play. The Horned Frogs got some quarterback luck in those games — all four of Oklahoma, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State either had to play a backup quarterback for at least part of the game or were playing a starter dealing with an injury — but the wins proved that TCU was no fluke.

A 17-10 win over Texas on Nov. 12 showed that TCU could win a game without having to score 38 points or mount a double-digit comeback. The Horned Frogs have been college football’s best team at coming back from second-half deficits and snuck past Baylor the week after beating Texas. That luck ran out in the Big 12 title game as Kansas State got a 31-28 win in overtime after TCU scored 11 straight points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter.

Notable injuries and transfers

Michigan: RB Blake Corum, QB Cade McNamara

TCU: None

Players to know

Michigan RB Donovan Edwards: Corum served as Michigan’s bell-cow back for much of the season. He rushed 247 times for 1,463 yards and 18 TDs across 12 games. Edwards missed two games in September and didn’t have more than 16 carries in each of his first eight appearances.

Edwards’ usage increased significantly once Corum was injured against Illinois and he has been phenomenal in the Wolverines’ past two games. Edwards rushed 22 times for 216 yards and two scores in the blowout win over Ohio State and followed that up with 25 carries for 185 yards and a score against Purdue in the Big Ten title game. Edwards has gotten 47 of his 117 carries in Michigan’s most recent two games and is likely in line for 20 or more carries again. If he continues to average over 8 yards a rush, Michigan will be hard to topple.

TCU RB Kendre Miller: Duggan became a Heisman finalist with his stellar play over the course of the season. He was a deserved presence in New York and the best QB in the Big 12. But it’s imperative to not look over the importance of Miller to TCU’s offense. He’s one of the toughest runners in the country and averages over 6 yards a carry.

Miller has 216 carries for 1,342 yards and 17 TDs in 13 games. His yardage total in 2022 is more than he had in 2020 and 2021 combined and he has rushed for over 100 yards in seven games this season.

Defenses have held Miller in check in recent weeks. He had fewer than 20 carries in each of TCU’s past three games and hasn’t had more than 82 yards. But he has scored at least one rushing touchdown in every Horned Frogs game this season and has two TDs in four games. Needless to say, he’s a good bet to find the end zone Saturday.

What’s on the line

Michigan: The 13 wins in 2022 are already the most in a single season in school history. Another win (or two) will make that record even bigger. Michigan hasn’t won a national title since 1997 when it finished No. 1 in the AP poll after going 12-0 and winning the Rose Bowl. A win on Saturday would give Michigan the chance to play for a 10th national title in school history.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are in the College Football Playoff for the first time after getting jobbed in 2014. A 13th win would match the team’s winningest season in 2010 and a 14th win in the national title game would be a school record. TCU can claim only one national title (so far) and that came in 1938.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 03: TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan (#15) runs up field during the Big 12 Championship game between the Kansas State Wildcats and TCU Horned Frogs on December 03, 2022 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.  (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TCU QB Max Duggan was a Heisman finalist this season. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Best bets

Nick Bromberg: This line seems perfect to me. It’s possible to envision Michigan wearing down TCU over the course of the game and Donovan Edwards breaking off a big run or two late in the second half to seal the game. It’s also possible to see the big-play TCU offense stick around or even come back from another double-digit deficit. This is a team that has always had a response when it trails in the second half. I think this game is a lot like the Big 12 title game. With slightly fewer points. Pick: Under 58.5

Sam Cooper: I think Michigan will win this game but I'm hesitant to lay more than a touchdown knowing the way this TCU team always fights to the finish. This one has backdoor cover written all over it. At the same time, it's easy to picture Michigan's offensive line taking over in the fourth quarter and paving the way for a late touchdown or two. I'll take Michigan, but it's not with much conviction. Pick: Michigan -7.5