Around the Region Bowl Special: No. 3 TCU is no stranger to exceeding expectations, and will need to do just that versus No. 2 Michigan in the CFB Playoff Semifinal

Dec 3, 2022; Arlington, TX, USA; The TCU Horned Frogs and head coach Sonny Dykes take the field to face the Kansas State Wildcats at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Around the Region Bowl Special: No. 3 TCU is no stranger to exceeding expectations, and will need to do just that versus No. 2 Michigan in the CFB Playoff Semifinal

No. 3 TCU HORNED FROGS (12-1, 9-1 Big 12)

Bowl: College Football Playoff Semifinal at the VRBO Fiesta Bowl Texas Bowl vs. No. 2 Michigan (13-0, 10-0 Big Ten)

Location: Glendale, Arizona

TV/Radio: ESPN/SiriusXM Ch. 82

TCU’s first season under head coach Sonny Dykes did not just meet expectations – it completely shattered them. The Horned Frogs are 12-1 and will play in the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history Saturday afternoon. Awaiting the Frogs will be the undefeated, second-ranked Michigan Wolverines, champions of the Big Ten Conference. The winner of Saturday’s national semifinal will advance to take on either No. 1 Georgia or No. 4 Ohio State on Jan. 9 in Los Angeles for a national championship.

The Frogs last played on Dec. 3 in the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship against No. 10 Kansas State, a heartbreaking 31-28 loss in overtime that introduced most of the nation to TCU quarterback Max Duggan. Duggan caught the country’s attention with his incredible individual effort on TCU’s final few drives, garnering praise from coast to coast as he left everything he had on the field.

Still, the Horned Frogs fell short – and detractors of the team pointed to their comebacks and close wins as reasons other teams were more deserving of a College Football Playoff opportunity. Ultimately, the CFP committee made the right decision to award TCU the chance to play for a national championship. Rewarding two-loss teams like Alabama or USC never made sense, especially not given that almost half of TCU’s 13 games were played against ranked opponents.

The Horned Frogs are as well-rounded on offense as any team in the nation. TCU’s offense ranks sixth nationally, scoring 40.6 points per game, and ranks in the country’s top 25 in both passing and rushing yardage per game.

Quarterback Max Duggan finished the season with eye-popping numbers and was rewarded with a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist on Dec. 10. Duggan passed for 3,321 yards with 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also ran for 404 yards this season – including 110 yards in the Big 12 Championship – and six touchdowns.

Duggan is surrounded by talented playmakers, too. Running back Kendre Miller averaged 6.2 yards per carry this season while adding 17 touchdowns of his own, and wide receiver Quentin Johnston currently ranks ninth on ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper’s Big Board. Johnston pairs his massive size (6-4, 215) with elite speed and athleticism, and will be one of the first wide receivers drafted by an NFL team next April.

As talented as TCU is on offense, Michigan’s defense has been a buzz saw this season. The undefeated Wolverines allow just 13.4 points per game, fifth-best nationally. No. 2 Michigan allowed 17 or fewer points in 10 of its 13 games this season and was especially dominant against the run. The Wolverines’ opponents managed just 85.2 yards per game on the ground this season, third-best in the country behind only No. 1 Georgia and James Madison.

Alongside its punishing defense, Michigan boasts a rushing attack averaging 243 yards per game. The Wolverines’ ground game primarily relied on star running back Blake Corum, who amassed 1,463 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns before missing almost all of Michigan’s rivalry game versus now-No. 4 Ohio State and the entire Big Ten title bout with Purdue. Corum, whose knee needed surgery, is unavailable for Michigan in the College Football Playoff.

Since Corum went down, Michigan’s other running backs haven’t missed a beat. Running back Donovan Edwards finished with 216 rushing yards against Ohio State and 185 rushing yards versus Purdue while scoring three touchdowns over Michigan’s last two games. Kalel Mullings joined the fun against Purdue with two rushing touchdowns of his own behind the Wolverines’ offensive line of behemoths. TCU’s defense ranks just 66th against the run this season, so finding a way to plug holes and keep the Michigan run game at bay will be key if the Frogs are to advance to the national championship game.

TCU is decidedly the underdog in the eyes of most against the physically imposing Wolverines, but Sonny Dykes’ team has been doubted all season. “Every time we get on a big stage like this, it’s an opportunity for us to create a bigger brand and create more credibility,” said Dykes. “We know that’s earned, certainly not given. We don’t want it to be given, but it all begins there where, you know, we go out and play well, and people respect us, and we do it consistently.”

Dykes’ players know they are the underdogs too and are embracing the motivation they get from being doubted. TCU’s senior guard Wes Miller acknowledged the Frogs’ role as one they have been in all season: “Everybody’s saying we’ll get blown out, yada yada. Different game, same story. I feel like there ain’t no pressure on us. We’re not even supposed to be here. We’re supposed to be [ranked] like 150th, dude. So we got nothing to lose.”

A team with nothing to lose is dangerous, especially a team that plays with the passion that these Frogs do. TCU understands what it means to exceed expectations – it’s how the Horned Frogs pushed their way from the Southwest Conference to the WAC to Conference-USA to the Mountain West and finally to the Big 12 in 2012. An opportunity like this has been decades in the making, but it took only one season to open up under head coach Sonny Dykes.

“Nobody anticipated us being here,” said Dykes. “I think there’s been a lot of things that have occurred this year beyond people’s expectations.”

Exceeding expectations Saturday afternoon in the VRBO Fiesta Bowl would only lead to another underdog role for TCU against either Georgia or Ohio State. But that’s just how the Frogs like it.


Dec. 16, Duluth Trading Cure Bowl: Troy 18, UTSA 12

Dec. 17, LendingTree Bowl: Southern Miss 38, Rice 24

Dec. 17, New Mexico Bowl: BYU 24, SMU 23

Dec. 17, Frisco Bowl presented by SERVPRO: Boise State 35, North Texas 32

Dec. 22, Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force 30, Baylor 15
Dec. 28, TaxAct Texas Bowl: Texas Tech 42, Ole Miss 25

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