2022 College Football Playoff predictions, picks: Georgia the team to beat, but TCU brings chaos element
Sometimes, it’s better not to overthink things. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee got it right. No ifs, ands or but-we-would-have-been-favored-over-everybodies about it.
Talking to you, Mr. Saban.
Now, onto the actual deserving Football Four: This is the first College Football Playoff without either Alabama or Clemson. TCU went from unranked to unbelievable. Ohio State got a mulligan. The Big Ten got two teams in, and if you have a drop of adrenaline running through your veins, you’re already looking ahead to a potential Michigan-Ohio State rematch.
For better or worse, this is the first time two teams entered the playoff after losing their last games (TCU, Ohio State). For that matter, four of the top 10 in the final CFP Rankings are coming off losses. Get used to more of that in the 12-team playoff, by the way.
As for CFP IX, the matchups and circumstances are delicious. No. 4 Ohio State sat on the couch and got in. No. 3 TCU had to sweat out its spot despite an undefeated regular season. Its quarterback, Max Duggan, might have won the Heisman Trophy while losing on the field. Meanwhile, K-State won its first outright Big 12 championship in 19 years.
Utah’s upset of USC may have indirectly avoided a Ryan Day coaching purge. You had to be there nine days ago when the Buckeyes were pushed around on their home field by Michigan. The depths of depression and outrage were profound. Blame/credit the Utes for the Buckeyes’ second chance. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also gets a chance to redeem himself, as does Day.
That unacceptable loss on Nov. 26 can now be stowed in the Buckeyes’ overhead compartment on their flight to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl semifinal. A third consecutive loss to Michigan could come quicker than anyone thought. If the Buckeyes and Wolverines win their semifinals, they would play for the national championship 44 days after meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
The last time Ohio State lost three in a row to Michigan was 1995-97. You might remember ’97 being the Wolverines’ last national championship — also the last such title awarded without being contested in a championship game (BCS/CFP).
No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 are favored in the semis, as they should be. Maybe that’s the championship game we should be rooting to see. They are mirror images of square-jawed coaches who use game-manager quarterbacks, stout defenses and special teams to gain their desired results.
Michigan has the revenge factor. Georgia will be the better team no matter who it plays in the playoff.
That’s not to dismiss the underdogs. Duggan has proven to be indefatigable. Ohio State has a Heisman finalist at quarterback, too, in C.J. Stroud along with its best defense since 2019. That OSU team had the pieces to win it all; this one gets another glorious chance have to prove the pieces are still in place.
The Buckeyes’ reward for sliding into the field? The Bulldogs, who will be playing for the third time this season in their home away from home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. So far, the Dawgs have scored 99 points in two games at The Benz, so there’s that.
TCU became the first school from Texas to get into the CFP — not Texas or Texas A&M, a private school with an undergraduate enrollment of 9,000. The Big 12 as a whole would appreciate a win. The conference is 0-4 in the CFP with Oklahoma being the lone representative to this point. The Pac-12 is the only other Power Five without a national championship in the CFP era; it missed the field again for the sixth straight season.
As for a playoff favorite, Georgia’s Kirby Smart will be in his eighth CFP game as an assistant or head coach. That’s almost a quarter of all the playoff games ever played. The other three coaches have been in four, combined. Smart not only has a plan on how to approach the next four weeks, he has the team to do it.
Let’s take a look at each of the matchups
Peach Bowl: (1) Georgia vs. (4) Ohio State
The magic number against Georgia’s defense might be 30 points. Can Ohio State get there with its explosive offense against a smothering defense? The strange thing is that LSU actually reached that number in the SEC Championship Game; it even piled up 500 yards passing. But the Tigers lost by 20. For three quarters, they were basically playing in garbage time.
Georgia this season has proved itself adaptable. Stetson Bennett IV went from looking over his shoulder a year ago to being the SEC’s second-leading passer. The Dawgs could have scored 50 against Tennessee but shut it down in the second half. They struggled mightily with Missouri, for some reason.
With the whole world going transfer crazy, Georgia largely stayed out of the portal. But Kirby Smart deserves credit for keep the defending champions on task. They always say that’s the toughest thing about a championship — winning it again. And the Dawgs are attempting to be the first back-to-back champions in the CFP era.
After shanking one into the woods against Michigan, Ohio State got the ultimate mulligan. Now, what does it do with the extra opportunity? “How we got here really doesn’t matter at this point,” Day said.
Maybe so, but Ohio State seemingly will need to hit those big plays. Hidden statistic: Georgia is No. 1 nationally in red zone offense and defense. Opponents have reached the UGA 20 only 28 times all season (just 17 scores). The field shrinks incredibly against two guys who should be All-American defensive backs, Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith.
The Buckeyes were second among Power Five teams (third nationally) in plays of 40+ yards. And that’s without Jaxon Smith-Njigba, their best wide receiver. December gives him a chance to heal up. But Ohio State is going to have to match Georgia’s physicality either way. That has been a question all season. If the Buckeyes are going to break through with physical intimidation, they will have to do it against the team that invented the term.
Fiesta Bowl: (2) Michigan vs. (3) TCU
Michigan seemed to peak following last year’s Ohio State win. Harbaugh and his players will never admit it, but they looked to be satisfied just getting to the CFP.
The subsequent result reflected that assertion. The Dawgs pounded the Wolverines 34-11 in the Orange Bowl semifinal. Call it a learning experience. Michigan comes into this playoff with a realistic chance to win it all. One of only two undefeated teams, it matches up well with Georgia.
But first, the Horned Frogs. Picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason, they became the second team to go from unranked to the playoff. Despite Saturday’s loss, TCU’s Sonny Dykes remains a coach of the year candidate. Much like Lincoln Riley at USC, Dykes dipped into the portal to add 14 new players.
They are this playoff’s team of destiny and potential chaos. They’ve made comebacks in five games after being down by at least seven points. Duggan seems like the kind of quarterback who could play for Harbaugh, a blood-and-guts guy.
Michigan will have to stop Duggan. He is the Big 12’s top rushing quarterback after going for 110 yards against K-State. Wideout Quentin Johnston has developed into a high draft choice. Running back Kendre Miller is a 1,300-yard rusher. The issue? Most of TCU’s muscle is on offense.
Can the Frogs’ D hold up against a pounding Wolverines O? Michigan RB Donovan Edwards has run for 400 yards — almost half his season total — the last two weeks in relief of the injured Blake Corum. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy has been given more to do as a thrower lately.
Michigan will hold the ball as it usually does (fourth in time of possession). The question is whether TCU can respond in the precious minutes that remain against the nation’s No. 3 defense. If TCU does, Duggan will need help. He almost collapsed from exhaustion against K-State.
Duggan — as well as the rest of CFP — now have four weeks to catch their collective breath.
College Football Playoff early predictions
Here’s how our CBS Sports college football experts are picking the winners straight up with nearly a month to go until the games.