Fiesta Bowl: Michigan vs. TCU, trip to national title game at stake
As Tom Petty once said, “The waiting is the hardest part.” But now, the long wait for the College Football Playoff is almost over.
Saturday afternoon, for the first time in four weeks, the Michigan Wolverines will take the field. They'll face Texas Christian University in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. The winner of that semi-final will advance to the national title game.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou for a preview.
College Football Playoff, Sat., Dec. 31: Fiesta Bowl - No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU - 4:00 p.m. (ET) in Glendale, Arizona; Peach Bowl - No 1. Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State - 8:00 p.m. (ET) in Atlanta
Doug Tribou: Let's start off with some off-field news. Since the Wolverines won the Big Ten title game over Purdue, defensive lineman Mazi Smith reached a plea agreement for a felony weapons charge he's facing.
The sentencing has now been pushed back into mid-January. The traffic stop that led to his arrest for allegedly carrying a concealed weapon illegally was back in October. U of M was aware of it, but Smith has continued to play. He's never been suspended. What do you think of the way Michigan has handled the situation?
John U. Bacon: I would say mixed reviews, Doug. And you have to separate two things. One is the Washtenaw County prosecutor [Eli Savit], because the prosecutor is a public Michigan alum and fan. But I've talked to prosecutors in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Washtenaw County, all of whom have told me what's happening here with the Mazi Smith case is all quite conventional and standard.
On the Michigan side, I do think — as far as PR 101 — never make a one-day story into a two-day story. And in this case, if you have nominally bad news — there is no assault, there's no confrontation with the police officers — [U of M] probably [would have been] better off getting out in front of the story than waiting for the bad news to get out right around [the time of] the Ohio State game. But that being the case, I probably would have suspended him for a game, no more. That's my take.
DT: All right, John, let's turn to the big game this weekend. TCU and Michigan have never played each other before. Both teams are currently averaging more than 40 points a game on offense. And the Horned Frogs' quarterback Max Duggan was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy this year. How does the TCU offense compare to others that Michigan has faced so far this season?
JUB: Well, as we say, everyone's got a game plan until they get punched in the nose and then it goes out the window, right? It looks like a similar offense, more or less, to Ohio State's in terms of its complexity, its talent at quarterback. And keep in mind, [C.J.] Stroud, the quarterback at Ohio State, was the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy until Michigan shut them down in their game. So they've faced quarterbacks of this quality before and done very well. But my guess is Duggan is going to [throw] downfield a lot more than Ohio State did. So they're in for a challenge, but one they've met before.
DT: Teams always have to shake off some rust in bowl games, but TCU's last game was also its only loss of the season. Kansas State knocked off the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 title game. Given all of that, John, how do you like Michigan's chances in the Fiesta Bowl?
JUB: Michigan's chances are quite good. They're favored by a touchdown. That's about right. It's going to be a good game, but I would be surprised if Michigan does not pull it out. And then, of course, your prize for that, Doug, is to face a much better team, probably, in the in the national title game.
DT: Well, and in that other game, Georgia will take on Ohio State in the other semifinal. That's the Peach Bowl in Atlanta Saturday night. Georgia's No. 1 in the country. Ohio State is No. 4. Will the Buckeyes pull off the upset?
JUB: Either the Buckeyes put up a good game against Georgia, which shows how good the Buckeyes were, the team that Michigan beat; they get trounced, which shows that Michigan is the best of the Big Ten; [or] the Buckeyes somehow win that game against a very, very good Georgia team, [the] undefeated returning national champs. If that's the case, you get a rematch for the game, of course, in November.
DT: Two Michigan-Ohio State games within about a month and a half of each other would be really something. [Laughs]
JUB: It's a crime against humanity, Doug is what it is.
DT: Well, John, Happy New Year. We'll talk to you in 2023. Thanks a lot.
JUB: It's been a fun year, Doug. Thank you very much.
Editor's notes: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
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