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TCU vs. Michigan prediction: Lay the points with the Wolverines

Bet on Michigan’s stout defense to get the better of TCU’s potent offense in College Football Playoff matchup

Defensive lineman Kris Jenkins anchors a Michigan stop unit that allows just 13.5 points per game. It's a big reason why the unbeaten Wolverines are a solid favorite in Saturday's College Football Playoff game against TCU in Arizona. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)
Defensive lineman Kris Jenkins anchors a Michigan stop unit that allows just 13.5 points per game. It's a big reason why the unbeaten Wolverines are a solid favorite in Saturday's College Football Playoff game against TCU in Arizona. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)Read moreBen Jackson / Getty Images

One half of the College Football Playoff bracket features two teams that were expected to get to this point. The other half? It’s a matchup that nobody in the college football community — fans, pundits, oddsmakers, bettors — saw coming.

Even though it reached last year’s College Football Playoff — and was easily dismissed by eventual national champion Georgia — Michigan entered this season as high as +5000 (50-to-1) to win the 2022-23 national title.

Meanwhile, TCU needed the Hubble Telescope to see the top of the national championship odds board after last season ended. The Horned Frogs, who haven’t played in a bowl since 2018, opened at 200-to-1 to claim the title.

Yet Michigan and TCU stand with powerhouses Georgia and Ohio State as the only schools that still have an opportunity to raise a championship banner. And after Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, either the Wolverines or Horned Frogs will be one step away from winning college football’s biggest prize.

Which side will survive and advance? Here’s our TCU vs. Michigan prediction for Saturday’s first College Football Playoff semifinal.

Odds updated as of 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 29.

TCU vs. Michigan Prediction

Michigan -7.5, -108 (at FanDuel)

TCU vs. Michigan Prediction: Analysis

Unstoppable force vs. immovable object.

That, in a nutshell, sums up the Fiesta Bowl matchup, with TCU (12-1, 9-3-1 ATS) playing the former role and Michigan (13-0, 9-4 ATS) the latter.

The Horned Frogs rode quarterback (and Heisman Trophy runner-up) Max Duggan to a 12-0 start and enter Saturday’s CFP semifinal averaging 40.3 points per contest. That ranks sixth in the nation.

On the other hand, Michigan is one spot better in the points-allowed department, surrendering an average of 13.4 per game. Only four other defenses give up fewer.

So what has us siding with the immovable object? Several factors, the most important being these: talent, depth and quality of competition.

As a proverbial college football blueblood, the Wolverines are stacked with four- and five-star players on both sides of the ball. Can’t say the same about TCU.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

In the trenches alone, Michigan has a massive advantage over the Horned Frogs. That’s how the Wolverines could lose a Heisman Trophy contender like running back Blake Corum and not miss a beat.

Corum rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through the penultimate regular season game against Illinois. No big deal. Backup tailback Donovan Edwards, who himself was coming off an injury, handled the load at Ohio State and rushed for 216 yards and two long touchdowns.

Edwards then added 185 yards and a score in Michigan’s Big Ten championship game rout of Purdue.

Speaking of the Big Ten: It wasn’t great this year. But Ohio State’s presence alone — not to mention 10-2 Penn State — makes the league superior to the Big 12.

The latter conference boasted just three decent teams this year: TCU, Kansas State and Texas. Both Kansas State and Texas gave the Horned Frogs problems in the regular season.

K-State blew a 28-10 lead at TCU in October and lost 38-28, but avenged that defeat with a 31-28 overtime victory in the Big 12 title game. Texas held the Frogs to a season-low 17 points on Nov. 12, but oddly couldn’t generate any offense in a 17-10 loss.

TCU also needed a minor miracle as time expired to win at Baylor (29-28), needed overtime to get past Oklahoma State at home (43-40) and needed late scores to put away Kansas (38-31) and West Virginia (41-31).

Michigan? It had just one close call all season.

Trailing Illinois 17-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Wolverines kicked three field goals — the last one at the buzzer — to escape with a 19-17 victory as a 17.5-point home favorite.

But that nail-biter is somewhat explainable: Michigan faced the Illini a week before its showdown at undefeated Ohio State.

Regarding that showdown, the Wolverines trailed 20-17 at halftime then came out and dominated the final 30 minutes. After Edwards delivered multiple fourth-quarter knockout blows (TD runs of 75 and 85 yards), Michigan left Columbus with a 45-23 victory as a 9-point underdog.

The point: Ohio State is miles better than any team TCU faced this season. And Michigan wiped the floor with the Buckeyes in The Horseshoe. The Wolverines also avoided a letdown the following week in the Big Ten title game, thumping Purdue 43-22.

In fact, 11 of Michigan’s 13 victories were double-digit blowouts. And had Maryland not scored a meaningless touchdown with 45 seconds remaining in a 34-27 loss at Ann Arbor on Sept. 24, Illinois would be the only team that got within 13 points of the Wolverines this season.

Finally, it’s important to mention that coach Jim Harbaugh’s troops will take the field Saturday with two words on their minds: unfinished business.

» READ MORE: College football championship odds: Latest NCAAF winner betting

Michigan was thoroughly embarrassed in last year’s 34-11 loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals. So you know the Wolverines are going to be extra charged up in this one — and if given the chance, they’ll want to inflict the same pain on TCU that Georgia did last year.

Can they do it? We think so. Because as good as Duggan is — he has accounted for more than 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions — he hasn’t seen a defense anywhere near the caliber of Michigan’s.

Just like last year’s Michigan team hadn’t seen a defense as incredible as Georgia’s.

As it is, the Horned Frogs’ explosive offense started to fizzle down the stretch. Take out a 62-14 rout of lowly Iowa State in the regular-season finale, and TCU — which put up at least 38 points in its first eight contests — averaged 27 points in four games after October.

So we have complete faith in Michigan’s defense winning the battle with Duggan. We also have faith that the Wolverines — whose 40.1 points-per-game average was right behind the Horned Frogs — will put up enough points against a mediocre TCU defense to cover this number.

After all, only two of the Horned Frogs’ last 11 opponents — Texas and Iowa State — failed to score at least 24 points.

We expect Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (20 TDs, three INTs) to lead the offense to at least 31 points (perhaps with some help from his opportunistic defense). If that happens, the Horned Frogs would have to score 24 to get inside this number.

That’s something only one Michigan opponent has done this season: Maryland. And the Terps needed that TD with 45 seconds left to get to 27.

So back the Wolverines to post their 12th double-digit victory of the year and advance to the CFP title game for the first time in school history.

TCU vs. Michigan Odds: (via FanDuel)

  1. Point spread: TCU (+7.5, -112) vs. Michigan (-7.5, -108)

  2. Moneyline: TCU (+250) vs. Michigan (-315)

  3. Total: 58.5 points

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