Michigan finds itself in the same spot as last year’s bowl season – preparing for the College Football Playoff semifinals. The No. 2 Wolverines will have a very different opponent as they attempt to advance to the title game.
They were bullied by Georgia’s uber-talented defense in the Orange Bowl a year ago, losing 34-11. At the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve this year, they’re more concerned about No. 3 TCU’s high-powered offense, engineered by the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
The survivor of the semifinal game in Glendale, Ariz. will advance to face the Georgia-Ohio State victor in the national championship game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California on Jan. 9.
TCU’s Max Duggan, who recently declared he’ll enter his name in the NFL draft, passed for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions this season. He added six rushing touchdowns as the Horned Frogs (12-1) remained undefeated until an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh labels TCU’s offense a “scoring machine” with Duggan at the controls.
“Nothing but tremendous respect for the type of competitor that he is. And it’s going to be a huge challenge getting ready for a quarterback like that,” Harbaugh said.
TCU averages 40.3 points per game, sixth-best in the nation. While Duggan spreads the ball around, the Horned Frogs have relied upon Kendre Miller in the running game. He’s rushed for 1,342 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“They’re just balanced with the pass and a running game,” Wolverines linebacker Michael Barrett said. “They’re really good at both. It’s going to be a good test for our defense on all levels.”
Horned Frogs Sonny Dykes knows that if his team prevails, it will likely be a high-scoring affair.
“One thing that we have to do is rely on our strengths, which is speed and the ability to get the ball down the field,” he said in a radio interview with 105.3 The Fan. “We’re going to have to take shots and we’re going to have to make contested plays.”
The Horned Frogs will try to pull that off against a Wolverines unit tied for fourth in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in passing yards per attempt.
“I just think they’re so well-coached and they play so well on both sides of the ball,” Duggan said. “They fly around, they know what they want to do and they do it so well. It’s going to make our job tough.”
Dykes revived TCU’s program in his first season as head coach. The Horned Frogs haven’t even gone to a bowl game the past three seasons.
The Wolverines (13-0) have already set a school record for most victories in a season. They’re looking to finish undefeated for the first time since 1997, when they won a share of the national championship. Back then, it was still decided by polls.
Michigan won’t have its No. 1 running back, Blake Corum, who underwent knee surgery earlier this month. Donovan Edwards has proved to be much more than a capable backup.
Edwards rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns against arch-rival Ohio State, then posted 185 yards and a touchdown in the Big Ten championship against Purdue.
“You have to try to match their physicality,” Dykes said. “You’ve got to play tough, You’ve got to be able to stop the run. Michigan is one of the few teams in college football that will run the ball no matter what.”
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw for a combined six touchdowns against the Buckeyes and Boilermakers. He’s only been intercepted three times.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better,” Harbaugh said. “Our guy, he just never gets flustered.”
–Field Level Media