College Football Playoff preview: Top 10 players to watch

Get your popcorn ready, college football fans.

All eyes will be on the College Football Playoff semifinals on Saturday as Michigan takes on TCU in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl (4 p.m. ET), while Georgia battles Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (8 p.m. ET 00 ET).

Both matchups are loaded with talent. Three of the four starting quarterbacks were Heisman finalists, while the other, Michigan’s JJ McCarthy, is expected to be among the favorites to take home college football’s most prestigious individual award next season.

While the quarterbacks get the most attention, there are plenty of other standout players who will likely make a big impact in the semifinals.

Here are 10 players to watch in the college football playoffs.

Stetson BennettQB, Georgia

Bennett wasn’t a prized recruit like McCarthy or a first-round draft pick like CJ Stroud, but the Georgia senior simply knows how to win. He will be the first quarterback to lead his team to back-to-back national championships since former Alabama QB AJ McCarron did it in 2011-12. Bennett consistently plays his best on the biggest stage, as he was highlighted in three wins over ranked opponents this season. Ohio State’s defense has been up and down in 2022, which means Bennett could be in for a big game against the Buckeyes.

Peach Bowl preview: Can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?

Peach Bowl preview: Can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?

Brock BowersTE, Georgia

Georgia has a balanced offensive attack, but when it comes to the best players on this unit, no one is better in the big time than Bowers. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Bowers has the size of a prototypical tight end but moves like a wide receiver. He has excellent hands and is an outstanding route runner. Ohio State held Notre Dame All-American tight end Michael Mayer to just five catches for 32 yards earlier this season. It will be interesting to see if Bowers can find open passing lanes against this OSU defense.

Jalen CarterDT, Georgia

The stats don’t jump off the page — 29 tackles and three sacks — but there isn’t a more dominant defensive presence in the CFP than Carter. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman was injured for much of the first half of the 2022 season. Since returning to action against Florida on Oct. 29, Carter has been an unstoppable force in a of the country’s most important defensive units. His ability to generate pressure and wreak havoc on Ohio State’s high-powered offense will be fascinating to watch.

Max DugganQB, TCU

There isn’t a single player in the CFP who is more important to his team’s success than Duggan. He is the straw that stirs the Horned Frogs’ drink. In addition to throwing for more than 3,300 yards and 30 touchdowns, Duggan also added 404 yards and six scores on the ground. He was responsible for 58 percent of TCU’s offensive touchdowns this season. Duggan faces a very tough test against a Michigan defense that has been outstanding all season, ranking third among FBS teams in yards allowed per game (277.1) and fifth in points allowed (13 ,4).

TCU’s Max Duggan wins the Davey O’Brien Award

TCU's Max Duggan wins the Davey O'Brien Award

Marvin Harrison Jr.WR, Ohio State

One of the best wide receivers in college football will get a chance to showcase his big-play ability against Georgia’s storied defense. Harrison has been nothing short of outstanding this season, with 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will likely meet with Georgia blocking corner Kelee Ringo, who could ultimately decide who advances to the national title game.

JJ McCarthyQB, Michigan

McCarthy is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, and much of that is due to his conservative style of play. The sophomore signal-caller threw for 2,376 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season. McCarthy is an elite athlete who will be asked to use his athleticism to make plays as the Wolverines try to keep pace with a high-powered TCU offense that is averaging 40.3 points per game (sixth in FBS). Fortunately for the Wolverines, McCarthy is playing his best football in a while. He has combined for 424 yards and seven total touchdowns in his last two games, which included a win over rival Ohio State in the team’s regular-season finale and a win over Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game.

What’s at stake for Michigan and TCU?

What's at stake for Michigan and TCU?

Healer OluwatimiOL, Michigan

You wouldn’t expect an offensive lineman to be on this list, but Oluwatimi is an exception. A transfer from Virginia, Oluwaitimi excels in both run and pass blocking. He was named the winner of the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the best center in college football, as well as the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best interior lineman. With Blake Corum out due to injury, the Wolverines will count on Oluwatimi to open up some rushing holes for Donovan Edwards, who has combined to rush for 401 yards and three touchdowns in the Wolverines’ last two games .

Kelee RingoCB, Georgia

There are very few cornerbacks in college football who possess both the speed and physical height to match Harrison Jr. Ringo, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner with 4.3 speed, is one of them. All eyes will be on this matchup as Ringo will be tasked with stopping the explosive offense of Harrison and the Buckeyes. The talented sophomore had a memorable 79-yard pick in last year’s national title game that sealed the victory over SEC foe Alabama. Can history repeat itself?

CJ StroudQB, Ohio State

Stroud may not have a win over Michigan or a Big Ten title as a starting QB on his resume, but he has a chance to become the first Ohio State quarterback since 2014 to lead the Buckeyes to a national title. Standing in their way will be a nasty Georgia defense that has held opposing offenses to just 12.8 points per game this season, which ranks second among FBS teams. Stroud is as good as anyone in college football when it comes to making big plays with his arm. He averages 9.4 yards per completion, which ranks third in the nation, and has 37 touchdown passes, which is tied for fourth. After entering the CFP following USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 title game, this is a chance for redemption for Stroud and the Buckeyes, and a chance to prove they belong among the elite college football

[Related: C.J. Stroud is still writing his Ohio State legacy]

Georgia and Ohio State meet in the Peach Bowl

Georgia and Ohio State meet in the Peach Bowl

Tre’Vius Hodges-TomlinsonCB, TCU

Winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top running back, Hodges-Tomlinson will be tasked with stopping a Michigan passing attack that torched the Buckeyes for 263 yards and three scores on Nov. 26. Hodges-Tomlinson is not big. corner by any means, listed at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, but has plenty of big-play ability and a knack for shutting down the opposing team’s best receivers.

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