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Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Preview: TCU vs. Michigan

The No. 3 ranked Horned Frogs will face the No. 2 ranked Wolverines on New Year’s Eve for a spot in the National Championship.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 12 Championship - TCU vs Kansas State Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TCU will compete in the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history after earning the No. 3 ranking in the final committee poll of the college football season. The first Texas school to reach the playoff, TCU will face the No. 2 ranked Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, which will kick off on Dec. 31 in Glendale, Arizona at 3 p.m. central time. The Horned Frogs are seeking their first national championship since 1938, while the Wolverines are aiming to secure their first national championship since 1997.

TCU (12-1, 9-0 Big 12) ran the table in the Big 12 Conference before ultimately falling one field goal and a fourth-down rushing touchdown short of claiming the conference championship against Kansas State. Michigan (13-0, 9-0 Big Ten) was able to win its conference title, however, cruising over division champion Purdue after dominating Ohio State in the de-facto conference championship game to win its division crown. The Wolverines have reached the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons.

While TCU expects to be at full strength for the Fiesta Bowl, Michigan will be without standout running back and former potential Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum, who suffered an MCL injury during Michigan’s 19-17 win against Illinois and will miss the remainder of the season. Corum has been arguably the best running back in the country, rumbling for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Wolverines will instead lean on their second running back, Donovan Edwards, who torched the Ohio State defense for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Edwards has eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times this season and is averaging a shade over 200 yards per game over his last two games.

Michigan has also seen improved play from sophomore quarterback and former five-star prospect J.J. McCarthy, who has thrown for 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions with four rushing touchdowns. McCarthy dominated the first half of the game against Ohio State, taking advantage of a loaded box and making multiple big-time throws down the field. McCarthy finished the 45-23 win over the Buckeyes with 263 yards and three scores through the air while adding a fourth score on the ground. The Big Ten East champion Wolverines ranked 11th nationally at 40.1 points per game and 15th nationally at 243 rushing yards per game. Wide receivers Ronnie Bell (56 receptions for 754 yards and three TDs) and Cornelius Johnson (30 receptions for 469 yards and six TDs) are the top threats outside.

Michigan has throttled average-to-mediocre Big Ten opponents with its potent rushing attack, but the Wolverines also feature one of the best rushing defenses in the nation. Michigan ranks sixth nationally in allowing only 13.38 points per game and the team’s success has come from an elite rushing defense that concedes only 85.2 yards per game on average. Georgia (77.0) and James Madison (79.5) are the only two schools ranked better. Linebackers Mike Morris (21 total tackles, seven sacks) and Eyabi Okie (18 total tackles, four sacks) headline Michigan’s pass rush, while linebackers Junior Colson (95 tackles, two sacks) and Michael Barrett (67 total tackles, 3.5 sacks) anchor the middle of the defense.

The Wolverines are led by Jim Harbaugh, who has been the head coach at Michigan for the last eight seasons. The Wolverines are 73-25 since Harbaugh took over the program, but their most noticeable strides have been made over the last two seasons, where the maize and blue have lost only one conference game and are unbeaten against Ohio State. The Fiesta Bowl between Michigan and TCU on New Year’s Eve will mark the first time in program history that the two schools have faced each other. The Horned Frogs last appeared in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2010 season, conceding a 17-10 loss to undefeated Boise State. Michigan’s last showing in a Fiesta Bowl came during the 1986 season, when the Wolverines edged Nebraska 27-23 to finish with a 9-1-1 overall record.