College football and college basketball writer
Football and college football analyst
The College Football Playoff arrives Saturday with a pair of semifinal games, and with them come plenty of storylines.
There will be defending champions Georgia, a team that hasn’t lost since last season’s SEC Championship Game and has clear designs on repeating.
There will also be two great powers, one of them undefeated (13-0 Michigan) and the other (12-1 Ohio State) with a single loss to their bitter rival.
Then, of course, there’s the Cinderella of this Final Four, 12-1 TCU, who joins last season’s Michigan squad as the only teams to reach the CFP after starting the season unclassified
Here’s everything you need to know about the College Football Playoff.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 TCU vs. no. 2 Michigan
Where: State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
When: Saturday, 4:00 PM ET
Possibilities: Michigan by 7.5 (by FOX Bet)
Peach Bowl: No. 4 Ohio State vs. no. 1 Georgia
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Possibilities: Georgia on 6.5
KEY TO THE PARTY BOWL
Who needs to be a star for Michigan to win?
Fullback Blake Corum’s season-ending knee injury opened the door to the bench Donovan Edwards to justify the five-star rating he received as an all-state prospect at West Bloomfield High School. Edwards responded with a career-best game against Ohio State, carrying 22 times for 216 yards and two scores, both long runs that helped Michigan pull away from the Buckeyes.
A week later, in the Big Ten title game, Edwards carried 25 times for 185 yards and another touchdown to convince the coaching staff that he can be the focal point of an offensive game plan. That he navigated those two games with a cast protecting an injured right hand/wrist made the level of production even more impressive. Edwards was still in the cast when the Wolverines held their first open practice in Arizona earlier this week, but there’s no question he’ll play a prominent role Saturday. Michigan will be expected to lean on its ground game against a TCU defense that ranks 65th nationally at 149.5 yards per game this season.
Who needs to be a star for TCU to win?
Few teams can match what TCU has accomplished with its passing attack this season. Led by quarterback Max Duggan, the Horned Frogs have tallied 13 completions of at least 50 yards, a number that is tied with North Texas for second in the nation and just one behind national leaders Tennessee. The main objective is broad Quentin Johnstona potential first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft, and that’s who needs to dazzle if TCU wants to advance to the national championship.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Johnston caught 53 passes for 903 yards and five touchdowns this season and spread his productivity all over the field: 23.5 percent of his receptions went behind the line of attack; 25.9% were nine yards or less; 24.7 percent fell in the average range of 10 to 19 yards downfield and 25.9 percent were deep balls that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to Pro Football Focus. In all, Johnston caught nine of 22 deep passes thrown his way for 381 yards and his five touchdowns. That competition on the field comes against a Michigan defense that produced just 12 passing plays of 30 yards or more this season and just one completion of 50 yards or more. The Horned Frogs need big plays to win.
What’s at stake for Michigan, TCU?
What is an X factor in this game?
Given Michigan’s number of exploits this season, it’s hard to pinpoint any kind of consistent weakness for a team that excels in all three phases. But a potential concern for first-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter could be the Duggan’s running ability, who rushed for 404 yards and six touchdowns en route to the CFP. Duggan rushed for at least 50 yards in five of his team’s 13 games and topped 100 yards twice, including a 15-carry, 110-yard performance in an overtime loss against Kansas State in the Big 12 title game .His total of 21 tackles for loss ranked 14th nationally and eighth in the Power 5 among quarterbacks, according to PFF.
Duggan’s running ability is relevant because of Michigan’s modest struggles to defend Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa in its narrowest Big Ten win of the season. Tagovailoa struggled as much to buy time and find throwing lanes as he did for actual yardage and kept the Terrapins at bay until he exited with an injury in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines also struggled with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the first half of an eventual victory. Clifford finished as the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher with six attempts for 74 yards. Reporters in attendance at Michigan’s open practice noted safety RJ Moten running drills with linebackers. Maybe Minter plans to deploy him as a quarterback spy.
– Michael Cohen
KEY TO THE PRESENTATION
Who needs to be a star for Georgia to win?
I’m going with a corner Kelee Ringo. He is tasked with covering Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who became a star this season after Jaxon Smith-Njigba went down in the opener. Harrison Jr. is 6-foot-4 and leads the Buckeyes with 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns; Ringo is 6-foot-2 and has recorded two interceptions and six pass breakups this season. The battle between these two sophomores will be entertaining for one, and whoever wins will give their team a huge advantage.
Who needs to be a star for Ohio State to win?
Left tackle Paris Johnson moved from right guard to left tackle earlier this season and has anchored an Ohio State offensive line that ranks third nationally in fewest tackles for loss (44) and fifth in sacks allowed (eight). The 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior is a projected first-round pick, but he hasn’t been tested by a pass rush like Georgia, which boasts another future top pick in defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
What is an X-Factor in this game?
Outline and gameplay within the game’s battles aside, I’m very curious to see what kind of ohio state does it show up against Georgia Will we see a wounded Buckeyes team still reeling from back-to-back losses to Michigan, or will we see a tough, talented team playing with an edge? If Ryan Day’s team is the latter, it could be a close game and the toughest the Bulldogs will have had all year.
Can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?
We asked our experts to predict how the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl would turn out. Below is a short snippet, but you can do it see all predictions here.
Who will win the Fiesta Bowl and why
“Michigan enters the Fiesta Bowl full of confidence and playing as well as any of the four playoff teams on both sides of the ball. TCU’s 3-3-5 defense could cause some problems for JJ McCarthy if he’s not careful, but I think overall, this rushing attack will tip things decidedly in the Wolverines’ favor. Duggan and wide receiver Quentin Johnston could make some noise, but this looks like the more lopsided of the two semifinals.” – Fisher
- The Pick: Michigan (all four votes)
Who will win the Peach Bowl and why
“While I have to think that Ohio State will come out with an edge that it didn’t have in its last game against Michigan, Georgia won’t let any team get in the way of winning back-to-back national championships.” . – Litman
- The selection: Georgia (three votes)
- Did you know that Jim Harbaugh has never won at TCU (he was 0-2 as Stanford’s coach). Did you know Georgia is 27-1 over the past two seasons? Our research team examines history and data, breaking down the semifinals by the numbers. READ MORE
- What are the three keys for each team? RJ Young broke it down on the latest episode of his podcast, “The Number One College Football Show,” and wrote a story to go along with it. READ MORE
- Michigan is in the running to land a unique recruit, a player with NFL size and the speed of an Olympic sprinter. Michael Cohen has the story. READ MORE
- It has been a long and winding road for each of the four teams to reach the CFP. Bryan Fischer explains how each team got here. READ MORE
- The semi-finals are loaded with great players. See how many of them made the FOX Sports All-America team. READ MORE
- With Michigan and Ohio State reaching the CFP, this could be the season the Big Ten asserts itself as the behemoth of the sport. Bryan Fischer explains why. READ MORE
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