SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — TCU had done nearly all it could to complete a massive turnaround under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, putting itself in position to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.
All that was left was to beat Kansas State for a second time this season.
They came up inches short — and still reached the CFP.
A restless night behind them, the Horned Frogs got good news on Sunday, earning the chance to play second-ranked Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl hours just after losing in the Big 12 championship game.
“We had a little bit of a sleepless night, but appreciate the committee’s confidence in our players and our program,” Dykes said . “I think it’s all you can ask for at the beginning of the season.”
The Horned Frogs (12-1) could have locked up a CFP spot by beating Kansas State, a team they beat by 10 earlier in the season. They came agonizingly close Saturday night, losing 31-28 when Kansas State’s Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime. TCU’s Kendre Miller was stopped at the goal line on fourth-and-inches the previous series.
That led anxiety in Fort Worth.
The Horned Frogs got some help with Utah’s win over then-CFP No. 4 Southern California in the Pac-12 title game, but had to wait to see if their resume was good enough to earn a playoff spot.
TCU got the nod to play in the New Year's Eve semifinal thanks to five wins over ranked opponents and a gritty performance against Kansas State. TCU was No. 3 in Sunday’s AP Top 25 and the final CFP rankings, just ahead Ohio State, which will play top-ranked and reigning national champion Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
The Horned Frogs are the second team to make the CFP after being unranked in the preseason, joining Michigan last year.
Quite a turnaround for a team that went 5-7 and saw the departure of coach Gary Patterson last season.
“There’s been a lot of lows here in the past four years, but to be able to get the opportunity to get a shot to go to the playoff and two games away from being in the national championship, it’s surreal,” TCU quarterback Max Duggan said.
The next step won't be easy.
Michigan (13-0, No. 2 CFP) backed up its CFP appearance last season with a dominating 2022.
The physical, gritty Wolverines likely would have been in the CFP even with a loss in the Big Ten championship game after rolling over rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
Michigan left no doubt, beating Purdue 43-22 to win consecutive conference titles for the first time since 2003-04. College football’s winningest program now has its first 13-win season, finishing No. 2 in the AP Top 25 and CFP standings.
It's been quite a run for Michigan since a pandemic-altered 2020 season.
Calls for coach Jim Harbaugh's job rang out after that 2-4 season, but the Wolverines are 25-2 since and are two wins from their first national championship since 1997.
"The more physical we game plan the game, the more they seem to embrace it and I love that," Harbaugh said. “They all pull in the same direction and are tremendous, relentless competitors.”
Duggan left everything on the field in the Big 12 championship, including some of his blood.
It was no surprise to his coaches and teammates.
Duggan started the season as TCU's backup, but transformed into a potential Heisman Trophy finalist through a combination of grit and athleticism. The fourth-year quarterback threw for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns with four interceptions, adding 404 yards and six more TDs rushing.
Duggan had to have patches on his bloody elbow replaced several times against Kansas State and was so exhausted he had to lean on his offensive linemen to leave the field late in the game.
“Yesterday's game, that quarterback was unbelievable in terms of being a competitor,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan seemed to suffer a huge blow when running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Donovan Edwards made sure the Wolverines didn't miss a beat.
The running back from West Bloomfield, Michigan, ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State when Corum was limited to two carries. Edwards then ran for 185 yards and a touchdown against Purdue in the Big Ten championship.
“This guy, when it’s a big game, I mean, his whole career, whether it was high school, college now, I mean, he just hits another gear,” Harbaugh said. “He takes off to another level."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas contributed to this story.
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