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Fiesta Bowl Position Battles: Michigan O-Line vs. TCU D-Line

The Horned Frogs defensive front will battle the back-to-back Joe Moore Award-winning unit and its Rimington Award winning Center

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is the first in our series of position battle matchup previews for the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal, you can read all entries and other preview info HERE

Michigan Offensive Line:

Depth Chart:
LT Ryan Hayes (SR); Jeffrey Persi (JR)
LG Trevor Keegan (JR); Giovanni El-Hadi (R-FR)
C Olu Ouwatimi (SR); Greg Crippen (R-FR)
RG Zak Zinter (JR); Reece Atteberry (JR)
RT Karson Barnhart (R-JR); Trente Jones (R-JR)

The Wolverines are elite on the offensive front, having now won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top O-Line two consecutive seasons. Anchored in 2022 by Virginia transfer Olu Oluwatimi to lock down the Center position. Oluwatimi was a Rimington finalist in 2021 before winning the award for nation’s best Center as a Wolverine this season. Oluwatimi was named First Team All-Big Ten and Consensus All-American. Guards Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter each were named to the Big Ten First team, while Tackle Ryan Hayes made the Second Team and Karsen Barnhart was an Honorable Mention. Per Football Outsiders’ offensive line stats, the Michigan OL unit ranks top 25 in almost every category, including #4 in Pass Down Line Yards, while also having a Top 20 3rd down conversion percentage and averaging just one sack per game. Defenses have had extreme difficulty stuffing the run, generating pressure, and forcing punts against the Wolverines. There are plenty of reasons Michigan is undefeated and its Offensive Line may be top of the list; if it’s able to exploit this perceived mismatch, the Wolverine offense can get hot in Arizona.

TCU Defensive Line:

Depth Chart:
DE: Dylan Horton (SR); Caleb Fox (SO); Colt Ellison (SR)
NT: Damonic Williams (FR); Tymon Mitchell (SO)
DE Terrell Cooper (SR); George Ellis (SR); Lwal Uguak (SR)

In the Joe Gillespie 3-3-5 defense, the D-Line won’t be the only ones attacking that Michigan O-Line as the Frogs will look to generate pressure from the LBs and DBs as well. The Horned Frog defensive front will have a major challenge in slowing the impressive Michigan run game and getting pressure on QB JJ McCarthy, as on paper this may be the greatest mismatch in Michigan’s favor. There were no TCU Defensive Lineman on the Big 12 All-Conference First or Second teams, but this unit has continued to improve down the stretch for the Frogs through some of the toughest Offensive Lines it has faced - Texas, Baylor, and Kansas State each boast similar OL stat profiles as the Wolverines. In those three games, TCU averaged 2 sacks and 6.7 tackles for loss per game. To be sure, Michigan’s OL ranks better than those three and we’ll surely see a graphic comparing average weights and whatever other cliches get thrown around for any B1G non-conference contest, but the Frogs’ DL has handled itself okay against talented O-Lines. However, in those Football Outsiders DL stats, TCU ranks outside the Top 50 in all but one category (Stuff Rate ranks #45) and outside the Top 85 in Sack Rate. The Horned Frogs’ ability to overcome this statistical mismatch and cause some havoc while containing McCarthy’s running ability may be the biggest key to TCU earning the upset in the Fiesta Bowl.