I couldn’t sleep. The alarm shook the silence at 3:55 am, but it didn’t matter. I was already up. The day? Friday. The occasion? A top-five matchup between two of the most successful college football programs on planet Earth. I grabbed my jacket and headed for the airport. The mise en scène: Yawning Ohio State fans leaning forward with a sort of sleepy anticipation while Frank Sinatra wafted gently from a cafe. I was clearly the only Notre Dame alum in sight. A young girl wearing a dark gray Ohio State shirt several sizes too big and a pair of dove gray Vans perched beside her father and ate yogurt, wide-eyed and glued to a television screen showing a CNBC anchor talking about the president’s speech on the soul of the nation. She caught my attention. It looked like she believed.
Belief. A silly word at times when you consider the evidence. 0 games played. A new configuration of players and coaches with months of experience together — let me clarify, months conducting football experiments in a vacuum simulating what might come up if their hypotheses end up being correct. A science experiment whose outcome can make a man cry like he did when he got cut from the middle school basketball team or give a young couple a surprise a few weeks after a win. Last year this team only lost two games and rewrote the record book in their Rose Bowl victory over Utah. Quarterback C.J. Stroud finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. On paper all this translates to national championship contenders and a preseason ranking of number two in the country. I set out to investigate if that young girl of no more than 13 years was right. Was she right to believe in this team this year?
The tempest came Saturday. What was a cordial peacetime ceasefire between Ohio State and Notre Dame fans combusted. The chasm could be seen in parking lots where some brave tailgates hosted a single green shirt in a sea of lava. I found myself in a perilous position: a 17.5-point underdog on foreign soil. I journeyed far off campus to see familiar faces among the white tents of Our Lady. The refrain among the Notre Dame faithful rang out like a glorious Sunday hymnal or heavenly chorus: “I’m here for the upset.” Music to my ears. Belief, but a different type than the little girl of 13’s. This was a tired belief. The tested belief of an older generation who had their hearts broken by their favorite child too many times and argue late into the night in muffled tones whether or not they should offer one last chance one last time. Promises of change have come to nothing. The family, still wounded after 34 years of separation from the national championship trophy, finds it harder and harder to believe. Saturday the Irish were hopeful, much like the prodigal son’s father. Light rain and newborn skies painted the scene as outnumbered Notre Dame fans pushed their way into the gates of Ohio Stadium, hoping to see a glimpse of the weary trophy on the horizon line.
Then the gates opened. The field, where I stood in awe, looked every bit the belly of a raging volcano. Ohio Stadium awoke from its slumber. Eight weeks of life before dormancy — a short and explosive consciousness. I could tell the stadium wished to wake again. That’s all it ever wished for. 27 NFL teams were represented among the 106,594 in attendance. To think, less than fifty people in that mass of humanity have the ability to employ one of these NFL hopefuls in their desired profession. A funny way to interview for a job. But this isn’t just about draft position and generational wealth. This is about glory. To win glory, you must be willing to do what others would not. Facing a giant deep in the belly of a volcano qualifies. The game felt volatile, uneven ebbs and flows set to a score by a circle of Ohio State fans once anguished now rapturous. Brutus leapt over the South end zone pylon and put his arm around me. It was difficult not to be swept away in it all. I could see why that young girl in gray believed.
It dawned on me in that dreamlike state that perhaps this feeling — this je ne sais quoi — was occurring everywhere and would occur everywhere for months. There would be eruptions in every Big Ten college town this fall. Perhaps agony and rapture do not belong to Columbus alone. They might belong to all of us, like water and air and sunshine. What magic. I was terrified.
In black night, the volcano cooled and tensions simmered. Even the cicadas in Buckeye Grove failed to sing for Notre Dame as the defeated giant lumbered out of the South stadium exit. There was no pageantry in the end, only mundane sounds of engines rumbling and luggage landing underneath several large white buses. In the wake of the battle, peace resumed its reign but clearly boundaries have been redrawn. Notre Dame will no longer be ranked number 5. Compliments, goodbyes, and well wishes filled the muggy evening air as fans went to forage for food. Men in cars stuck in traffic haggled with students carrying pizza boxes and McDonald’s was completely full — even Denny’s had a 25 minute wait for a table at 12:30am. I went back to my hotel room to mourn and think. I survived a trip into the volcano and came back not unchanged. My belief tested but not destroyed. Then my mind drifted to the other top 25 teams who woke up hopeful and went to sleep discouraged. This feeling wasn’t unique to me. There are four spots in the College Football Playoff, aren’t there? Maybe, just maybe…2:00am is not the time to reason. No, 2:00am is for dreaming so off I went in search of something more in sleep. I wondered what the young girl in gray saw that I didn’t and hoped to one day believe like her again.
How to watch the 2023 All-American Bowl: TV channel, live stream info, start time, rosters, and more
The 2023 All-American Bowl takes place this Saturday, January 7 inside the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas as 100 of the nation’s top senior football players will go head-to-head in this highly anticipated all-star game.
Live coverage begins at 1:00 PM ET on NBC and Peacock. See below for additional information on how to watch the 2023 All-American Bowl.
The All-American Bowl made its debut in December 2000 at Highlander Stadium in Dallas, Texas and since then has become one of the most-watched high school sporting events in America. Notable alumni that have participated in the event include NFL Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (2011), Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliot (2013), Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence (2018), former Broncos QB Tim Tebow (2006), former Cleveland Browns OT Joe Thomas.
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On December 31, Michigan will take on TCU in Phoenix while Ohio State will face reigning national champion Georgia in Atlanta in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The winners will play each other for the national title on January 9 in Los Angeles.
This marks the first season since the CFP’s inception that two Big Ten teams have earned a spot in the same year. It’s Michigan’s second appearance (2021) and Ohio State’s fifth (2014, ’16, ’19, ’20). Ohio State is the only Big Ten team with a CFP national title, which the Buckeyes won the first time the playoff was held after the 2014 season. This is TCU’s first appearance in the playoff and Georgia’s third (2017, ’21).
Below are previews and predictions for both semifinal games. Betting information is provided by BetMGM** and is current as of Dec. 31 at 9:55 a.m. ET. Click on the links provided for each game to see the most up-to-date lines and odds.
The team at NBC Sports EDGE has you covered for the entirety of bowl season, including the CFP semifinals and more, providing their favorite plays on everything from sides and totals to player props. Click here for insights, picks and reactions to all 42 bowl games across this holiday season, and see below for Saturday’s YouTube Q&A from the EDGE team answering all your betting questions.
Michigan (13-0) and TCU (12-1) will face off for the first time in college football history in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl. Michigan is making its second straight appearance in the CFP, and second straight as the No. 2 seed. Last season, Michigan took on Georgia in the semifinals and looked totally out of place as the Bulldogs won 34-11 in a dominant performance en route to their national title a couple weeks later.
This year’s Michigan team may have an easier road in the semifinals, taking on first-time playoff team TCU, whose 12-1 run this season under new head coach Sonny Dykes has been remarkable. TCU will look to be the first Big 12 team to make the national championship game in the playoff’s nine-year history. (Oklahoma is the only other Big 12 school to make the CFP; the Sooners lost in the semifinals all four times they appeared.)
We last saw Michigan and TCU in their conference championship games. Michigan was in a tight game through the first half against Purdue for the Big Ten title, but pulled away from the Boilermakers in the second half to win 43-22. TCU, meanwhile, suffered its first loss of the season in the Big 12 Championship, falling in overtime to Kansas State.
The latest data has TCU slightly worse than Kansas State, and there are understandable questions about TCU’s ability to keep up with Michigan. Dykes doesn’t have those questions. Immediately after the CFP selection announcement on December 4, he told ESPN, “We have a ton of confidence that we can compete.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh feels that way too. “I couldn’t be more impressed with them,” he said of the Horned Frogs on December 4. He’s had particular praise for TCU senior quarterback Max Duggan, one of the four Heisman finalists this season. Speaking to ESPN, Harbaugh said Duggan was “unbelievable” in the championship game against Kansas State. “Guy’s a stud.”
Duggan has led TCU to the sixth-best scoring offense in the nation this season, averaging 40.3 points per game. He’s earned a reputation as a fierce competitor, often seeming to will his team to victory during the undefeated regular season.
“We gotta make sure we play our game,” Duggan said earlier this month of TCU’s approach to the Fiesta Bowl. “Don’t make it bigger than we need to, don’t make the lights brighter than they need to be, just be ourselves and be confident.”
He’s had help this season in the form of junior running back Kendre Miller, whose 17 rush TDs make him the seventh-highest rushing scorer in the country.
But the Horned Frogs haven’t faced a team like Michigan yet, certainly not one with this kind of defensive strength: the Wolverines are third in the nation in total defense (277.1 yards/game), third in the nation in rush defense (85.2 yards/game), and fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.38 points/game). In games when the Michigan offense has struggled (see Illinois in Week 12), the defense has kept the team in the game.
Michigan’s offense has changed shape a bit in recent weeks, after star running back Blake Corum suffered a knee injury against Illinois and underwent season-ending surgery. Even without Week 13 and the Big Ten Championship to bolster his resume, Corum sits ninth in the nation in rush yards (1,463) and fourth in rush TDs (18).
In Corum’s absence, the Wolverines have leaned on sophomore Donovan Edwards in the run game and given a little more work to sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy in the pass game. Edwards has proven a worthy replacement, rushing for two long TDs against Ohio State and earning another 185 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. McCarthy has similarly stepped up, throwing for three TDs in each of the last two games, with four of those in excess of 25 yards. Before Week 13, McCarthy only had one three-TD game this season, in early October at Indiana.
McCarthy’s performance has turned heads as he’s gotten more comfortable running the Michigan offense. “I haven’t seen him get nervous,” Harbaugh said in early December. “Have never seen this kid rattled.”
The defensive side of the ball might be the brighter spot for the Wolverines, but the offense holds its own: At 40.1 points per game, Michigan sits seventh in the nation in scoring offense (recall that TCU is sixth with 40.3 points/game). Michigan’s discipline has made an impact, too, as the team averages 33 minutes of possession and just over four penalties per game.
Asked if this year’s playoff is about redemption, Harbaugh answered with a definitive no. “It’s been nothing but a happy mission…not an angry mission.”
Michigan vs. TCU Matchup History
While TCU and Michigan have never faced each other, there is some data about their success against the other’s conference. TCU has a long history of games against Big Ten teams, dating back to 1937. Since 2000, TCU is 7-2 against Big Ten teams, most recently beating Purdue in September 2019.
Michigan has faced Big 12 teams just six times, losing the last three of those in Bowl games in the 2013, 2005, and 2004 seasons. Its last win over a Big 12 team came in 1997 over Baylor.
Prediction: Michigan has been a second-half team all season, so it would be unsurprising for this game to be close at the beginning or even for TCU to take a lead. But if they come prepared, the Wolverines’ talent should ultimately overpower the Horned Frogs in Phoenix. Michigan should cover, and the Over is likely in play if the Wolverines can break things open offensively.
Georgia (13-0) and Ohio State (11-1) promises to be an excellent matchup between two teams with comparable stats but differing styles on the field. Georgia is the reigning national champion in its third playoff appearance (2017, ’21), while Ohio State makes its fifth playoff appearance (2014, ’16, ’19, ’20). The Buckeyes won their only national title the first time the playoff was held after the 2014 season.
Ohio State is the only team in the 2022 playoff that didn’t play in its conference championship game; the team got in after USC lost the Pac-12 title game to Utah earlier this month. Georgia is coming off a 50-30 win over LSU in the SEC Championship game to complete its undefeated season.
The Buckeyes missed the Big Ten title game after losing to Michigan Week 13. Ohio State had been favored to win at home, but Michigan kept things close throughout the first half, and the floodgates opened in the second as the Wolverines overwhelmed the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball to win 45-23. After USC lost the Pac-12 championship game, Ohio State waited for the selection committee’s decision as the Buckeyes, Trojans and perennial playoff team Alabama were all in the conversation. Ultimately the conventional playoff wisdom that two losses is too many won out, and the Buckeyes were in.
“It’s like a second lease on life,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day told ESPN on selection day. “We’re back in control of our own destiny.”
Both Georgia and Ohio State have 2022 Heisman finalists at the helm, with Stetson Bennett leading the Bulldogs and C.J. Stroud in the pocket for Ohio State.
Stroud is the most efficient passer in the nation in 2022 and also tops the national list for most pass touchdowns with 37. That strength in the passing game has made Ohio State the second-highest scoring offense in the country with an average 44.5 points per game.
In this semifinal, though, each team has an answer for the other’s strengths: opposite OSU’s offense, Georgia ranks second in scoring defense, allowing just 12.77 points per game on average.
Defense is UGA coach Kirby Smart’s calling card, and the performance by the 2022 Bulldogs is all the more impressive considering eight defensive players went to the NFL after the 2021 season (five of them in the first round). That loss of talent brought up questions about Georgia’s ability to deliver at the same level this year, but they’ve come pretty close. (For reference, after all 15 games last season, the Georgia defense finished at 10.8 points allowed per game.)
Smart was unhappy with his defensive side after the SEC Championship game, when LSU scored 30, the most points the Dawgs allowed all season. “We can’t play the kind of defense we played last night and expect to be any kind of champions,” he told ESPN on December 4. “We’ve got some work to do.”
Two keys to the game for Ohio State will be third-down conversions and red zone production. The Georgia defense is third in the nation on third down, allowing conversion just 26.7% of the time, and first in the nation in the red zone, allowing just nine touchdowns on 28 red zone trips by opponents.
The answer to that one: Ohio State is the third-most productive offense in the red zone this season with 44 touchdowns on 55 trips.
When UGA faced Tennessee (a team with an offensive scheme comparable to OSU’s) in November, the Dawgs held the Vols to just two third-down conversions on 14 attempts. They also prevented Tennessee from relying on the deep balls that were central to their offense, holding QB Hendon Hooker to 5.9 yards per completion.
Ohio State has a similar reliance on deep balls in the pass game; Stroud sits fifth in FBS in yards per completion at 14.21, with his top target Marvin Harrison Jr. tied for fourth in receiving TDs with 12 this season. The Buckeyes should have success in Atlanta if they can beat the UGA secondary; if anyone has the receiving core to do it, they do.
Stroud has noted the formidable nature of the Georgia defense. What do they do well? “Everything,” Stroud said, adding that it all starts with junior defensive lineman Jalen Carter. “I think they call him Superman,” Stroud said in an ESPN interview published Tuesday. “He plays like it.”
While the Georgia defense has earned consistent national praise, the team’s offense has quietly had a great season too. Bennett is an exceptionally efficient passer in big games in particular; in games against AP top 25 teams this season, his passer rating is 185.2, the best in FBS. Georgia has the most productive red zone offense in the country, only failing to earn points twice on 71 trips.
Ohio State’s total offense is sixth-best and Georgia’s is seventh; the team’s average totals are less than a yard apart. Georgia’s total defense is eighth in the country and Ohio State’s is 12th, about 12 yards apart. Both teams protect their quarterbacks: UGA has allowed just seven sacks this season (T-second in FBS) and OSU has allowed eight (fifth). Both teams won all but one game this season by 10 or more points (OSU lost to Michigan, UGA beat Missouri by four).
All that to say: this should be a really good game. Georgia gets a bit of an advantage with the Peach Bowl near home in Atlanta, in a stadium where the Dawgs have already played twice this season. Ohio State could reap the benefits of extra rest and preparation in the absence of a conference championship game.
“We’ve got a two-game season ahead of us,” Ryan Day said. Well, maybe.
Georgia vs. Ohio State Matchup History
Surprisingly, Georgia and Ohio State have faced each other only once: the 1993 Citrus Bowl in January 1993, almost exactly 30 years ago. Georgia won 21-14, led by running back Garrison Hearst, over an Ohio State side quarterbacked by one Kirk Herbstreit. Herbstreit will call this one for ESPN.
Prediction: Georgia’s game plan is probably similar to its plan against Tennessee, which worked well. Ohio State’s talent on offense should be able to score, but at a slower clip than usual against the Dawgs’ defense. In the end, it feels smarter to bet on the best defense over the best offense, and the game location could help create extra noise for the Georgia defense. It’s close, but the Dawgs take this one by a touchdown with the Under in play.
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