No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs
Line: Michigan -7.5
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
When: Saturday, 12/31 at 4:00 p.m. ET
No. 3 TCU will try to turn a magical run to the College Football Playoff into a stunning berth in the national title game when it faces unbeaten No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
The Horned Frogs went a perfect 12-0 during the regular season, with eight of those wins coming by 10 points or less, before losing to Kansas State in overtime in the Big 12 title game. Michigan stunned the college football world with its blowout win at then-No. 2 Ohio State during the final week of the regular season, and the Wolverines added a 43-22 win against Purdue in the Big Ten title game.
TCU became the first program from Texas to clinch a spot in the CFP, but oddsmakers are not expecting the Horned Frogs to advance to the title game. They opened as 9-point underdogs, but there has been some slight movement down to 7.5 as of Wednesday afternoon. Saturday’s total opened at 60 and has dipped down to 58.5—TCU has gone ‘under’ in four of its last five games.
The Horned Frogs were this year’s version of the ‘cardiac kids,’ with nine of their last 11 matchups being decided by 10 points or less. They were a Big 12 title game loss away from their first perfect record in more than a decade, but they still had the eighth-best cover rate in the country after going 9-3-1 against the spread. Only three of those games came as underdogs, during which they went 2-1 ATS.
Heisman Trophy finalist Max Duggan leads an offense that ranks inside the top 25 in rushing (206.2) and passing (274.7). He has thrown for 3,321 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions, along with rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown against Kansas State in the conference title game.
“Nothing but tremendous respect for the type of competitor that he is,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And it’s going to be a huge challenge getting ready for a quarterback like that.”
TCU averages 40.3 points per game, which ranks sixth nationally. Running back Kendre Miller has rushed for 1,342 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he is facing a Michigan defense that is tied for fourth in scoring, third in rushing and fifth in passing yards per attempt.
“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,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes 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.”
Michigan comes into the CFP with its best record in school history after excelling on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines rank fifth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 40.1 points per game, while their defense allows the second-fewest points per game (13.4).
They are going to be without star running back Blake Corum, who racked up 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns—he is going to have surgery to deal with a knee injury. Donovan Edwards filled in admirably, rushing for 216 yards against Ohio State and 185 yards 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, while only getting picked off three times this season. He was very efficient, completing 65.3% of his passes for 2,376 yards and 20 touchdowns.
TCU has gone 5-2 ATS in its last seven games, while Michigan is 4-1 ATS in its last five games. The Wolverines are on a 16-game winning streak when playing as favorites.
The pick: TCU +7.5
This is just one of those games where I can’t envision a camera shot of Duggan standing on the sideline at the end of a double-digit loss. TCU has been playing close games all season, coming out on the right side in all but one of them. The Horned Frogs bring a special level of confidence into this game against a Michigan team that is going to be without its star running back. The Wolverines were able to overcome Corum’s absence down the stretch, but he is still a major loss heading into the CFP. TCU is almost completely healthy right now, and it has covered the spread in five of its last seven games. Harbaugh is 1-5 in bowl games with Michigan and has lost five straight.