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College Football Playoff Picks 2022: Fiesta Bowl & Peach Bowl

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Fiesta Bowl

(#2) Michigan Wolverines vs. (#3) TCU Horned Frogs

The 2022-2023 College Football Playoff kicks off in Glendale, Arizona, with a duel between the undefeated Michigan Wolverines and one-loss TCU Horned Frogs. Both programs are still searching for their first Playoff victories, with the Horned Frogs making their first-ever appearance. In order to do so, they'll have to get past one of the nation's top defenses, one that has fueled the most successful campaign in Ann Arbor since Jim Harbaugh arrived. 

Despite plenty of turnover on the coaching staff and the drama that unfolded as Harbaugh openly flirted with NFL job openings, Michigan has taken a step forward in 2022. While a lot of that can be credited to an elite defense, the offense deserves a bunch of credit for the strides they've taken this fall. J.J. McCarthy overtook Cade McNamara for the starting quarterback job and has helped create a much more explosive unit. Although his numbers don't pop out at you, he's taken care of the football (a 20-3 TD-INT ratio) and his ability to create with his legs has helped open up a new element in this offense. Unfortunately, his backfield mate for much of the season, Doak Walker Award finalist Blake Corum, won't be alongside him. Corum went down with a knee injury in the Michigan win over Illinois and then re-aggravated it against Ohio State, costing him the rest of the year. It's without a doubt a major loss, but backup Donovan Edwards has proven more than capable of handling the load. He went for 216 yards against the Buckeyes, then followed it up with 185 in the Big Ten Championship Game. I am curious if we'll see anybody else contribute alongside Edwards; freshman C.J. Stokes has been more of a change-of-pace back than anything else, but could see more opportunities in this one. McCarthy and Edwards have the luxury of playing behind this Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, anchored by the nation's best center, Olu Oluwatimi. It's an experienced, overpowering group that has set the tone for Michigan's resurgence this season. Add to all of this a capable receiver corps and Michigan has more than enough to put up points, even if they aren't known as an explosive offense. They match up well against TCU, too. The Horned Frogs have epitomized the idea of a "bend-don't-break" defense, but they're not very physical up front. In fact, the one team in the Big 12 that plays the most similar style to Michigan has to be Kansas State, the team that beat TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game and likely would have won in the regular season had their quarterback not gotten hurt.

There's no questioning what a great story TCU has been this season. After a rough 2021 in which they parted with longtime head coach Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs have rebounded in a major way, going undefeated in the regular season. The Big 12 Championship Game loss to Kansas State threatened to leave them out of the CFB Playoff, but they instead have an opportunity to make a statement against the Big 12 Champion. The heart-and-soul of the team is unquestionably quarterback Max Duggan. Although Caleb Williams might not taken home the actual hardware in the Heisman race, Duggan was the true MVP for his team, in my books. He doesn't have the most natural arm talent, but his passing ability has really taken off under Sonny Dykes, and he's always been a hard-nosed runner. He gave it his all in the Big 12 Championship Game loss and came up just short, which may be the extra motivation he needs. With that being said, I do wonder if there's still some wear and tear on him from that contest. Duggan took an absolute beating over the course of four quarters and despite the fact it's been nearly a month, he now faces down an extremely physical Michigan defense. Much like Michigan's offense is fueled by their rushing attack, Kendre Miller has also proven to be a powerful force for the TCU offense, joining Duggan in the backfield. Despite plenty of usage, he is averaging over six yards per carry and has notched 17 touchdowns, although it's fair to point out he was held in check down the stretch in the season's final three weeks. Whether that was a result of his workload or the fact he faced good defenses is unclear, but the Wolverines are not going to give him an inch. The Horned Frogs are going to have to open up things over the top for Miller to get holes, so Quentin Johnston's importance is amplified. Johnston has been one of the nation's best this fall, but he was also beat up down the stretch and will be a key focus for Michigan defensively. Other receivers like Taye Barber and Derius Davis present interesting options, but the key will be Johnston.

Going undefeated is hard enough, but it's not just the fact Michigan did it, but how they did it. They pummeled opposing foes all year and in their biggest game of the season, they crushed Ohio State. Now, they enter a CFB Playoff semifinal against a TCU team that had an amazing campaign, but did so winning close game after close game. That's not a knock against the Frogs, they did what they needed to do to get here, but a reality. Duggan is going to keep this team fighting no matter what, but I just don't see how they move the ball against this Wolverine defense. As I've said, there may not be any Aidan Hutchinsons on this Wolverine team, but they're so disciplined and always in the right spots. They have a clear advantage in the trenches, that should help them bottle up Miller, and the pass defense has been superb all year. They should have no troubles mucking it up defensively, and as long as the offense can be decent, I like their chances. 

The Pick: Michigan, 27 TCU, 17

Peach Bowl

(#1) Georgia Bulldogs vs. (#4) Ohio State Buckeyes

It took four decades, but Georgia once again reached the pinnacle of the college football world a year ago, taking down Alabama to win it all. Fast-forward nearly 365 days and the Bulldogs remain the team to beat, fresh off a 13-0 season. The team tasked with doing so will be the Ohio State Buckeyes, whose loss to Michigan may have left a sour taste in many people's mouths, but a team with a treasure chest of weapons.

Last year's Georgia team was defined nearly entirely by their defense. This year's team still has a top-notch defense, but the offense has also taken it up a notch. Stetson Bennett remains one of the most fascinating players in recent college football history. There's nothing flashy or spectacular about the former walk-on, but he just goes out and gets the job done. Sure, it helps that he has plenty of help from a supporting cast full of future NFL contributors, but Stetson still deserves his credit. After some ups-and-downs in 2021, he's been more consistent this season and more confident. His top target on the outside remains superstar tight end Brock Bowers, although there's plenty of Bulldogs that can hurt you. Fellow tight end Darnell Washington remains an absolute matchup nightmare and the receiver group has a lot of versatility. Ladd McConkey has been their most consistent wide out, but it feels like a new Bulldog receiver rises up and has a big performance each week. As for the ground attack, there's no Todd Gurley or Nick Chubb back there, but Kenny McIntosh is certainly serviceable. Daijun Edwards, Kendall Milton, and Branson Robinson have also seen regular action and should in this one, too. In fact, that backfield depth has been really crucial; it allows Georgia to stay particularly fresh and punishing deep into the second half. The depth on the roster as a whole is pretty overwhelming, and I do have to wonder how Ohio State handles it.. There's no shortage of talent on this Buckeye roster, either, but can the defense compete for an entire sixty minutes? Jim Knowles has helped turn this group around, but they still aren't as strong up front as past Ohio State teams, and the Michigan defeat showed the game plan on how to defeat them. They'll try to mix things up and dial up different pressures, but I have real concerns on their ability to compete at the lines of scrimmage.

I said it before the season and the statement still doesn't seem hyperbolic: Ohio State may have the greatest collection of receivers we've seen in college football history. Unfortunately, the group has taken a real hit with the ill health of star Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but the trio of Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming remains extremely impressive. It doesn't hurt that they have a future NFL quarterback throwing to them in C.J. Stroud, who is hoping to send off his illustrious Buckeye career with a big finale. However, this Georgia secondary has been terrific all season long and may be one of the only teams in the country that can match up with the Buckeyes. While Jalen Carter gets most of the headlines, the secondary has been the real fuel of the defense, with Kelee Ringo, Chris Smith, and Malaki Starks. That doesn't mean they'll be able to completely shut down this passing attack, but at least contain it enough. Ohio State also needs more from a ground game that has been a disappointment for much of the year. There's injury issues here, TreVeyon Henderson has not been himself, but the offensive line has also had its fair share of issues. Unfortunately, Henderson will not play in the CFB Playoff, meaning that Miyan Williams and youngster Dallan Hayden are likely to handle the load. Williams also hasn't been 100 percent and Hayden only saw two carries against Michigan, so former Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum could also feature heavily. 

It's been a month since Ohio State's loss to Michigan, but that loss still seems to hang over them like a shadow. It was the first time in a long, long time that the Buckeyes were truly dominated and despite the fact they ended up in the Playoff, there's some pressure on Ryan Day entering this one. I still firmly believe Day is a great coach and one that should be able to make adjustments leading up to this semifinal, but the fact of the matter is this is a bad matchup for Ohio State. Georgia's imperfect, but they are extremely physical and exceptionally athletic on both sides of the ball. They're going to come out and punch OSU in the mouth right away, and I'm just not sure this 2022 Buckeye team is going to be able to absorb that and respond. It may be boring, but I believe the right pick is sticking with the nation's No. 1 to move on to the National Championship.

The Pick: Georgia, 34 Ohio State, 21

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