Who to watch in CFP semi-finals

December 29, 2022

#2 MICHIGAN (13-0) vs #3 TEXAS CHRISTIAN (12-1); FIESTA BOWL; 4 PM ET; ESPN … While its no big surprise that its Georgia and Ohio State in one of this year’s national semi-finals, not many people likely had Michigan versus TCU in the other, although it will in fact be the second year in a row for the Wolverines to be in CFP playoffs. Unlike last year, though, when Michigan had a number of leading draft prospects including DE Aidan Hutchinson who would ultimately be the 2nd player selected overall at the 2022 draft, the Wolverines don’t have anyone who is even close to being an opening round pick this year as the team is very young. However, Michigan does have a typical Big Ten offensive line anchored by talented C Olu Oluwatimi (#55, 6-3, 310), OG Zac Zinter (#65, 6-5, 315) and LT Ryan Hayes (#76, 6-6, 305), each of whom should get plenty of second-day interest. Oluwatimi, in particular, is a rising prospect who won both the Outland and Rimington Trophies this fall. And despite losing star RB Blake Corum to a season-ending shoulder injury, the Wolverines will still be pounding the ball with explosive true sophomore RB Donovan Edwards (#7, 6-0, 205), who led the country with an average gain of 7.5 yards per carry this fall, filling in for Corum. However, rising DE Mike Morris (#90, 6-5, 290) could actually be the Wolverines best prospect for 2023 who led the team with 7.5 sacks this fall; he’s a 290-pounder who will often line up as an OLB. At the same time WR Ronnie Bell (#8, 6-0, 190) and NT Mazi Smith (#58, 6-3, 335) are mid-round candidates, while WR Cornelius Johnson (#6, 6-2, 210), TE Luke Schoonmaker (#86, 6-5, 250), G/T Karsen Barnhart (#52, 6-4, 310), OG Trevor Keegan (#77, 6-5, 305), LB Michael Barrett (#23, 6-0, 235) and DB Mike Sainristil (#0, 5-10, 185) are later round or free agent types.

Heading into the game, there is a real question whether TCU can hang with the very deep Michigan team. No question, though, that the Horned Frogs have the best prospect for the 2023 draft of the two teams as WR Quentin Johnston (#1, 6-3, 215), a rangy, big-play threat, has emerged as a legitimate top ten prospect despite being banged up a lot this fall. He also emerged as the go-to receiver for star TCU QB Max Duggan (#15, 6-2, 210), a dual-threat type who finished second in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting after throwing for over 3,300 yards and 30 TDs this fall while running for another 400-plus yards. And that has lifted Duggan literally all the way from being a draft afterthought to a legit late second-day candidate. Meanwhile, Johnston pairs with fellow WRs Taye Barber (#4, 5-10, 190) and Derius Davis (#11, 5-10, 175) to give TCU one of the better receiver corps  in college football; and for good measure, Davis doubles as one of the more electrifying punt returners in college football. At the same time, CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (#1, 5-9, 180) is a likely second round pick this year, while OG Steve Avila (#79, 6-3, 330), a consensus All-American, may not have to wait much longer. At the same time, DE Dylan Horton (#98, 6-3, 275), LB Dee Winters (#13, 6-1, 230), CB Josh Newton (#24, 6-0, 195) and C Alan Ali (#56, 6-4, 300) are later round candidates.

#1 GEORGIA (13-0) vs #4 OHIO STATE (12-1); PEACH BOWL; 8 PM ET; ESPN … While the Michigan-TCU semi-final match-up is clearly something of a surprise, most college football watchers figured that Georgia and Ohio State were almost destined to meet somewhere in this year’s playoffs. The two programs come into Saturday’s Peach Bowl seemingly headed in opposite directions with the defending national champion Bulldogs on a roll, while the Buckeyes are looking for answers after some recent struggles which included a rather thumping loss to Michigan in their annual showdown. And no player in the CFP playoffs is more in need of some answers than Ohio State QB CJ Stroud (#7, 6-3, 220)who piled up some big numbers this year, but struggled down the stretch at times, completing less than 60% of his passes in his final four games. Needless to say, Stroud would like a solid performance against college football’s #1 defense to cement a top 5 grade for the upcoming draft. It likely isn’t going to help, though, that neither WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba nor sophomore RB Treyeveon Henderson will play because of injuries. Smith-Njigba, in particular, was considered to be a top ten prospect heading into the season, but didn’t play much this fall because of a lingering hamstring injury. That hasn’t necessarily slowed the Buckeyes’ pass offense, though, as sophomores Marvin Harrison (#18, 6-3, 205) and Emeka Egbuka (#2, 6-1, 205), along with veteran Julian Fleming (#4, 6-1, 205), have more than picked up the pace, although the former two won’t be draft eligible until next year. The Buckeyes also hope to have veteran back-up RB Miyan Williams (#3, 5-8, 225) in uniform after he missed practice much of the week while battling a bug of some kind this week. Whoever does ultimately carry the ball for the Buckeyes will work behind arguably the top OT combination in the country in LT Paris Johnson (#77, 6-5, 310) and massive RT Dawand Jones (#79, 6-7, 350). Johnson is considered to be another OSU top 15 candidate, while Jones isn’t all that far behind. The Ohio State OL also features C Luke Wypler (#53, 6-3, 300) and star OG Matt Jones (#55, 6-3, 315) both of whom are second day candidates. Meanwhile, OSU players to watch on the other side of the ball include DEs Zach Harrison (#9, 6-6, 270) and JT Tumoloau (#44, 6-4, 275), DT Michael Hall (#51, 6-2, 290, ILB Tommy Eichenberg (#35, 6-2, 235), safety Ronnie Hickman (#14, 6-1, 205), and CBs Cameron Brown (#26, 6-0, 190) and CB Denzel Burke (#5, 6-0, 195), although the latter also isn’t draft eligible this year.

The defending national champion Bulldogs, especially their dominating defense, took some major hits at the 2022 draft when 5 former Georia defenders were selected in the opening round including DE Travon Walker, the first player picked overall. UGA won’t have the same impact on this year’s draft, but do have at least one top 5 prospect in DT Jalen Carter (#88, 6-3, 300), who more than one team has at the very top of the board. The bad news for Ohio Stat is that Carter, who can be unblockable when he’s healthy, is reportedly healthy again after battling an ankle injury pretty much all season. And Carter could be joined in this year’s opening round by CB Kelee Ringo (#5, 6-2, 210) and ER Nolan Smith (#4, 6-3, 235), although the latter will not play this weekend because of an injury. Meanwhile, other Georgia defenders pro scouts will be watching in this one including MLB Robert Beal (#33, 6-3, 250) and safety Chris Smith (#29, 5-11, 200).

The Georgia offense doesn’t get the pub, but its also a very efficient unit which has ranked in the top ten nationally in total offense all season. Its led by underrated QB Stetson Bennett (#13, 5-11, 190) who is a little undersized for a pro prospect, but is a gamer who gets the ball where its supposed to be. For the record, Bennett has completed 68% of his pass attempts this fall for almost 300 yards per game including 20 TD passes against 6 picks. The strength of the UGA offense are the TEs including Brock Bowers (#19, 6-3, 230), who is arguably the best at the position in college football but won’t be draft eligible until 2024 and Darnell Washington (#0, 6-6, 270). The Dawgs are also set at RB with Kenny McIntosh (#6, 6-0, 210), Kendall Milton (#2, 6-0, 220), both of whom are considered to be second day prospects, and junior Daijun Edwards (#30, 5-10, 205) all running for over 500 yards each. They work behind a very good OL that includes OTs Broderick Jones (#59, 6-4, 310) and Warren McClendon (#70, 6-3, 300) and C Sedrick van Pran (#6-3, 310). Jones, in particular, is a rising prospect could ultimately generate some first-round interest.