Sometimes the narrative writes itself. And then, when you’re extremely lucky, it just falls in your lap. The Big Ten had two opportunities to send at least one representative — either Michigan or Ohio State — to the College Football Playoff.
But, as is the way of college football in 2022-23, well-laid plans are pratfalls.
First, any game involving the Horned Frogs is going to be 17 different kinds of drunk, and the Wolverines should’ve known that from watching film. At the half, the score was 21-6. By the 14-minute, 13-second mark in the fourth quarter the score was 41-38.
The final tally between Michigan and TCU was 51-45, and we got there by 11 second-half scores. Jim Harbaugh’s Philly special in the opening quarter felt like a crucial mistake at the time, yet it was one of seemingly 85,803 inflection points that ended up sending Sonny Dykes and his team to within one win from the national title.
Max Duggan and TCU weren’t gifted a trip to the title game as they repeatedly staved off comeback bids. Whatever resilience the Frogs built up during a beyond-chaotic run to the playoff showed up in spades against Michigan, and every time J.J. McCarthy got up off the ropes, the horned frogs had a response.
The total yardage between TCU and UM surpassed 1,000, and the previous high score for a Fiesta Bowl — the 62-24 romp of Nebraska over Florida in 1996 — got sprinted past. It was a proverbial roller coaster of emotions, and TCU came out smiling.
For Ohio State, they didn’t trail until 54 seconds left in the contest. Georgia has been playing with its food all season, but it certainly felt like they finally came across an opponent to be taken seriously, and had to be told to show up.
When the Bulldogs went ahead for what ended up being for good at 42-41, no one caught their breath. The Buckeyes got in field goal range, and missed a 50-yarder that would’ve finished an improbable rise from the ashes of the Michigan disaster.
Both UGA and OSU had to feel like the championship was there for the taking when TCU edged past Michigan. Cinderella is waiting to be sullied, and the glass slipper is ready to be shattered.
The Peach Bowl also featured 1,000 yards of offense, and the defensive units of all four teams were relegated to spoilers. This was without a doubt the best set of semifinal games we’ve seen, and it just so happened that the Big Ten was left out in the cold of both of them.
Neither the Buckeyes nor the Wolverines will finish the year with the ultimate bragging rights, and it feels apt. They didn’t play anyone until they played each other, and now if there was a consolation game, they’d be in it.
C.J. Stroud looked like the top-five pick he’s expected to be — finally — and it ultimately didn’t matter. Just like JJ McCarthy’s valiant effort will be lost in the annals of CFP history. Both B1G QBs came a few gains short of 500 total yards of offense, and had you told the average fan that, they’d probably say the title game would be a rematch of the Thanksgiving weekend staple.
Instead, the national title game at So-Fi Stadium is a rematch of the 2016 Liberty Bowl, and that’s absolutely perfect for this fantastically crazy season. Hypnotoad has never beaten the Dawgs in four tries, and as much as I’d like to say bet UGA, I’m more than happy to wait to see how this storybook finishes.