Michigan or TCU? Expert picks for Fiesta Bowl playoff semifinal

Michigan started playing football in 1879. TCU had its first game in 1896. It took the College Football Playoff to bring the two schools together for the first time. 

It’s not a surprise the Wolverines reached the semifinals. They faced Georgia in the Orange Bowl last season and were again projected to be among the contenders this season. With J.J. McCarthy assuming the quarterback position, they finished with their first unbeaten regular season since 1997.

TCU’s appearance, however, is a surprise. The Horned Frogs didn’t receive one vote in the USA TODAY Sports preseason poll and were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. Helped by Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, they staged several comebacks en route to 12 consecutive wins to the start the season. A loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game was their only blemish.

This Fiesta Bowl matchup should be an interesting clash of styles with Michigan comfortable using its running game as the primary method of moving the ball, while TCU prefers to go to the air. Here’s our predictions on who will reach the national championship game.

Scooby Axson

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Both Michigan and TCU average 40 points a game, but the way they score comes in entirely different ways, with the Wolverines doing its business on the ground and TCU, behind Heisman finalist Max Duggan, getting it done mostly through the air. Look for Michigan to use Donovan Edwards, who has rushed for 401 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games and its top-five defense to create turnovers, which will be the difference in a back-and-forth affair. Michigan 27, TCU 23.

Paul Myerberg

Michigan is going to try and hammer away at a TCU defense that hasn’t matched up against this sort of physical opponent. But the same might be true in reverse: Michigan hasn’t met a team with the Horned Frogs’ offense and never-say-die mindset. The Wolverines have the edge in talent and experience but TCU has repeatedly bucked expectations in winning close game after close game to reach the playoff. All the Frogs may need is one lucky break. Unfortunately, Michigan hasn’t given opponents any extra rope all season. Michigan 28, TCU 17.

Erick Smith

Michigan is a proverbial sledgehammer than continues to pound on opponents until they wilt in the second half. This was the case against Ohio State and Penn State – their two biggest wins of the season. TCU presents similar problems as the Buckeyes did because the Horned Frogs can move the ball through the air and have the receivers to make plays against the defensive backs of the Wolverines. But like Ohio State faltering late, look for Michigan to give up some points early before locking down TCU and eventually cruising to an easy victory. Michigan 37, TCU 20.

Eddie Timanus

There’s one statistical area in which TCU stands out from the other three playoff teams – and not in a good way. Both Georgia and Michigan feature top-five defenses, and Ohio State ranks in the top 15 in yards and points allowed. The Horned Frogs are 74th in the Bowl Subdivision in yards allowed and 56th in scoring defense. TCU has a healthy turnover margin that has helped overcome some of the defensive leaks, but Michigan isn’t likely to make the kinds of mistakes that have helped the Horned Frogs win close game after close game this season. Michigan 38, TCU 24.

Dan Wolken

It’s just difficult to see where TCU finds any advantages in this game. Max Duggan is such a tough competitor, but this is a big level up from any game the Horned Frogs have played this year. Sure, sometimes Michigan can get gummed up in the passing game. But unless JJ McCarthy is a turnover machine in this game, Michigan should be able to impose its will physically on both lines of scrimmage. Michigan 37, TCU 17.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY