College Football Playoff Preview: Georgia, Michigan Favored to Reach Final
The day most college football fans have waited for is finally here. The College Football Playoff semifinals take place on Saturday, with Michigan and TCU playing in the Fiesta Bowl and Georgia and Ohio State squaring off in the Peach Bowl.
The winners in the two New Year’s Eve games will advance to the College Football Playoff National Champiosnhip, which takes place Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.. If the oddsmakers are right, then it will be Georgia and Michigan advancing to play for the title.
The Wolverines (13-0), the Big Ten champions, are a consensus 7.5-point favorite over Big 12 champs Horned Frogs (12-1) in the Fiesta Bowl, which will take place at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Technically, the Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is a neutral site game. However, for the SEC-winning Bulldogs (13-0), Atlanta’s only a short drive from their Athens, Ga., campus. Oddsmakers have pinned them as a six-point favorite over the Buckeyes (11-1).
The Fiesta Bowl kicks off first at 4 pm ET, with the Peach Bowl starting at 8 pm. ESPN will broadcast both games.
Georgia Odds-On Pick to Repeat
Georgia, the defending national champion, is the heavy favorite to repeat. At FanDuel, the Bulldogs had -130 odds on the National Championship futures board.
The Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback Stetson Bennett, who has completed 67.9% of his passes for 3,425 yards and 20 touchdowns. The former walk-on isn’t as flashy as his Ohio State counterpart, CJ Stroud, but you can’t argue with the results. Bennett is 27-3 as the Bulldogs’ starting QB, and since regaining the post in October 2021, the 25-year-old is 23-1.
Bennett was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and spent some time earlier this month on the award show circuit. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said attending those events can impact a younger player’s preparation, but not so much someone like his starting QB.
“He’s very grounded in what he does,” Smart said at a pregame press conference Friday with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “He’s got a great work ethic. I think the quarterback position is easily the most critical factor in a game because the way offenses are now, they put so much decision-making on the quarterback pre-snap, post-snap. I mean, everything is on the quarterback.”
Ohio State Grateful for Second Chance
For most of the season, the Bulldogs and Buckeyes were the two favorites to win the title, but the Buckeyes slipped a bit after losing at home to Michigan in the Big Ten regular-season finale. They only made the playoff after Southern Cal fell in the Pac-12 championship game.
On the FanDuel futures board, the Buckeyes are the third choice at +330.
Day said the team experienced a “range of emotions” in the lead-up to the playoff announcement.
“It allowed us an opportunity to have great energy and great focus and edge during the month of preparation for sure,” Day said.
The stats show the two teams are evenly matched. Ohio State has the eighth-best offense nationally, averaging 492.7 yards per game. Georgia is right behind the Buckeyes, with a 491.9 average. On defense, the Bulldogs are seventh nationally, yielding 292.1 yards a game, while Ohio State’s defense is 12th best, giving up only 303.9 yards a contest.
TCU Surpasses Low Expectations
TCU is this year’s party crasher to the semifinals. The Horned Frogs are a respected program with some history, but they’re not nearly an established blue blood like the other three teams still playing for a title.
Few thought the Fort Worth school would even compete for a Big 12 title this season, much less the bigger prize. In the preseason poll, conference media representatives picked the Horned Frogs seventh out 10 teams. (Yes, the Big 12 only has 10 teams. The Big Ten has 14. College football fans have come to live with that).
On top of the low expectations, TCU also entered the season having not made a bowl game since the 2018 season. First year coach Sonny Dykes said Friday that maybe six of the 125 players on the roster have played in a bowl game.
Coach Sonny Dykes said his team has “overcome a lot of obstacles” to get to this point and shouldn’t be intimidated by what they see across the line of scrimmage.
I think you’ll see a team that’s going to play hard, be excited to play — play physical, play a tough brand of football, and never quit,” he said at the Fiesta Bowl’s joint press conference Friday with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We’ve been a team that has shown a lot of resilience this year, and certainly it will be a big challenge for us playing against Michigan. But our guys are very excited about it and looking forward to going out and competing against the best.”
The low expectations still linger, at least from an odds perspective. FanDuel has TCU +1800 on the futures board to win the title.
Michigan Holds Defensive Edge
Michigan has made the playoff for the second time and, for the second straight year, and while Harbaugh told reporters Thursday that he doesn’t like comparing this year to last year, he said that the team is excited about what’s at stake Saturday.
“Just a tremendous opportunity that not everybody gets,” he said. “Some people go a lifetime without having an opportunity like our team has, and through our talent and through our hard work, we have created this for ourselves and couldn’t be more — couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity that awaits us.”
The Wolverines are the second choice at FanDuel to win it all with odds of +300.
Both TCU and Michigan can score. They both average more than 40 points a game, good for fifth and sixth, respectively, in the country. But the Wolverines appear to have a solid edge on defense. They’re third nationally, allowing just 277.1 yards per game, compared to Horned Frogs, who yield 385.1 yards.
The Michigan defense, though, will get a tough test from a TCU offense led by quarterback Max Duggan and running back Kendre Miller. Duggan, a Heisman finalist, has thrown for 3,321 yards and has a 30-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Miller, a junior, has had a breakout season, rushing for 1,342 yards, averaging more than six yards a carry, and scoring 17 times.
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