Preview: No. 3 TCU football set to face No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl


Jonathan Mouer

TCU head coach Sonny Dykes and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh pose with the Fiesta Bowl trophy ahead of the College Football Playoff semifinal. Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mouer/Fiesta Bowl Media)

By Micah Pearce, Staff Writer

The TCU Horned Frogs became the first team from Texas to be selected for the College Football Playoff. On Saturday, they’ll look to punch their ticket to the national championship.

No. 3 TCU couldn’t pull off the comeback against No. 9 Kansas State in the Big 12 title game, but the Frogs weren’t penalized for the 31-28 loss in overtime.

TCU came from behind against Kansas State earlier in the year, beating the Wildcats 38-28. The Frogs also came from behind to beat ranked Oklahoma State 43-40 in double overtime and then again at Baylor, which ended with a walk-off field goal by TCU’s Griffin Kell.

With so many comeback wins, head coach Sonny Dykes didn’t think the law of averages caught up with them or that their luck had run out. He knew how tired his team was.

“We played 11 straight weeks,” said Dykes. “That was a challenge for us.”

Not only did the Frogs not have a week off, they had to play four straight ranked opponents.

In the eighth week of that 11-week stretch, they played No. 18 Texas in Austin, where they held the Longhorns to 3 offensive points and held their star running back Bijan Robinson to 29 yards.

The 11th game of that stretch was the Big 12 championship game against No. 13 Kansas State.

Quarterback Max Duggan said the month off since that game was huge.

“Our bye week was in week three, which really makes a difference in a league like the Big 12 that’s so competitive,” said Duggan. “To have a month off to reset [our] mind and bodies from football [has done] a lot to help us.”

Michigan is no stranger to come-from-behind wins, either.

They came back from a deficit against Rutgers, Illinois and Ohio State.

“We are two of the better closing football teams in college football,” said Dykes. “I think we’re built with the same kind of mentality.”

“[TCU] plays 60 minutes of football and they play it really well,” said Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. “You have to play good, and the longer you play good, the better off you’ll be.”

Frogs end drought, Michigan looks to end losing streak

TCU missed out on bowl games the last three seasons. It played its last against Cal in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, which the Frogs won 10-7 in overtime.

Their overall record in bowl games sits at 17-16-1.

On the other side, Michigan is in the College Football Playoff for the second time in as many seasons. The Wolverines had the No. 2 seed last year as well. They lost 34-11 to No. 3 seed Georgia in the Orange Bowl.

Harbaugh said only a small percentage of players reach a big game like the College Football Playoff, but he’s made it back-to-back seasons.

“I love football, I love the game, I love the team atmosphere,” said Harbaugh. “This team has to be one of the all-time great ball teams to be on.”

The Wolverines have an overall bowl record of 21-29. They’ve lost their last five bowl games in a row. Their last win came in the 2015 Citrus Bowl against Florida, 41-7. It was Harbaugh’s first season as Michigan’s head coach.

Frogs to watch

Duggan and wide receiver Quentin Johnston have connected all season to get TCU to where it is. Johnston has over 900 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns on 53 receptions. Duggan tallied 3,433 total yards, 30 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns and four interceptions.

CBS put out a list of the top ten players in this year’s Playoffs.

Duggan made the list, but his counterpart, Michigan’s quarterback J.J. McCarthy, did not.

However, Duggan and McCarthy have combined for seven total interceptions. In FBS, there are 76 quarterbacks that have seven or more interceptions on the season. The two in the Fiesta Bowl both played in conference championship games, as well.

Johnston made the list and he is projected to be a first-round draft pick if he declares. For now, he is just focused on the task at hand. Like Dykes and other players have repeatedly said, they don’t want to let the lights shine brighter than they should.

“I try not to get too caught up in it,” said Johnston. “I signed up [to] play football games. I signed up for this type of stage.”

Defensive duos

TCU and Michigan both have strong defenses, especially in regard to their cornerbacks.

“They’re an elite defense,” said Johnston. “They will always be in the right spot, they have good size and… they’re very well-coached.”

Johnston’s fellow wide receiver Taye Barber said playing against Michigan corners Will Johnson and DJ Turner will make it a “tough game.”

However, the corners for the Horned Frogs have been a force to be reckoned with.

TCU’s Josh Newton has tallied 31 total tackles and 114 yards on three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

His fellow corner is Tre’Vius Hodges Tomlinson, the nephew of TCU football legend LaDainian Tomlinson. He put up 42 total tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.

“I love playing with [Hodges-Tomlinson] and he loves playing with me,” said Newton. “We feed off each other in friendly competition.”

TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1) makes a nice tackle in the open field in TCU’s 42-34 loss to SMU on Sept. 25, 2021. (Esau Rodriguez/Staff Photographer)

“We both want to see each other have success,” said Hodges-Tomlinson. “The trust is there because I told a couple guys that Josh [Newton] would be a good corner.”

Newton is playing his first season with TCU after transferring from the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Hodges-Tomlinson is in his senior season after playing all four years with the Frogs.

One of their counterparts is Michigan’s defensive back DJ Turner. The other is Michigan’s Will Johnson.

Turner has tallied 33 total tackles and one interception this season. Johnson has tallied 25 tackles and 29 yards on three interceptions.

Injury updates

TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges was out for the championship game against Kansas State with a hamstring injury. He said he’s ready to go for the matchup on Saturday.

“I’m feeling really good, just getting my confidence back up,” said Hodges. “The biggest thing for me is to get out there and get my first hit.”

TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges (57) tackles Texas running back Bijan Robinson. Nov. 12, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)

Johnston has also been dealing with a notable ankle injury. He played through it when needed, but was sidelined in the Frogs’ blowout of Iowa State to rest him for the Big 12 title game.

Johnston played in the Kansas State rematch, tallying 139 yards receiving on four receptions.

“I think it’s the first time he’s been 100% since mid-season, so we’re excited to see what that looks like,” said Dykes.


The No. 3 Frogs kick off against No. 2 Michigan at 2 p.m. Mountain time or 3 p.m. Central time.

Both teams are looking to punch their ticket to the national championship.

“We just got to come out and start fast,” said TCU running back Kendre Miller.

“It will be a fun challenge [to play Michigan],” said Duggan. “They pride themselves on running the ball and being physical and tough on defense.”

“We’ve been a team that has shown a lot of resilience this year and it will be a big challenge for us playing Michigan,” said Dykes. “But our guys are excited about going out and competing against the best.”