The second big bowl game on the New Year’s Eve football schedule delivered a matchup between the TCU Horned Frogs and Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl. A win for either team catapults them forward, with a chance to win the grand prize, the College Football National Championship.
Needless to say, the stakes were high. But there could only be one team who wound up happy at the end of the day.
Oddsmakers predicted it would be Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines who emerged victorious, coming in as -7.5 point favorites against Heisman runner-up Max Duggan’s Horned Frogs, but that wasn’t the case.
Breaking down what was one of the most anticipated bowl games so far, we examine the four biggest winners and losers from a wild Fiesta Bowl.
Fiesta Bowl winner: Sonny Dykes’ magical year continues
On one side, you have the widely-respected former NFL player/coach in the experienced Jim Harbaugh leading Michigan’s sideline. On the other, is Sonny Dykes, who capitalized on some mild success at SMU to land in the lead chair for Texas Christian University.
But it’s been a fantastic run so far for coach Dykes, reaching the College Football Playoff, helping Max Duggan become a Heisman finalist in the process. While we still don’t know whether the Horned Frogs will be tasked with taking on Ohio State or Georgia, it’s safe to say the Big 12 team will be viewed as heavy underdogs in the CFP National Championship.
Loser: Michigan’s miscues became a theme
While Michigan stayed in the game until the very last play, how they began the game ended up being a theme on the night. From immediately marching down the field to get in scoring position on the first drive, only to come up short at the goal line, to J.J. McCarthy tossing a pick-six on the following possession, Michigan continued to shoot themselves in the foot.
Sure, there were plenty of controversial calls by the zebras along the way, but it’s not hard to see how a different approach could have made the difference in what ended up being a one-score game. McCarthy may have thrown two interceptions, but so did Max Duggan. Factoring in that Michigan actually outgained TCU, it’s almost baffling that Michigan couldn’t overcome their early struggles, that’s even with Jake Moody blasting a 59-yard kick.
In the end, Michigan’s mistakes were just too big to overcome. With three first-half turnovers, plus two more in the second half, Michigan made getting a victory extremely hard on themselves, and it showed in the final score.
Winner: Fans of college football
For anyone who tuned into the Fiesta Bowl, they got a fantastic back-and-forth scoring battle that went down to the wire. This game had everything, from defensive touchdowns, controversial calls, trick plays, and plenty of long touchdowns that continued to keep the matchup competitive.
The over/under was set to 55.5 points coming into the day, but it quickly became clear in the second half that the Vegas betting line was in danger. With a total of 96 points scored, there was no shortage of fireworks from both teams. Fans couldn’t have asked for a more competitive scrum. We can only hope the rest of the College Football Playoff delivers such intense action.
Loser: Jim Harbaugh comes up short once again
There really is only one item left on coach Jim Harbaugh’s checklist as a college football coach. He’s proven he can win the big game against the Wolverines’ rivals, defeating Ohio State, but he’s still searching for the white whale in a College Football National Championship. Of course, it’s an extremely difficult task. Even for the most talented teams in the nation, no one is really seen as a heavy favorite throughout the year, but Harbaugh’s never come this close.
Unfortunately, he once again heads home disappointed. We can celebrate the fact that he helped lead an undefeated regular season effort for the first time in his coaching career. We can celebrate the wins over the Buckeyes each of the past two years, but for Harbaugh, he’s not happy without a ring.
This latest loss could serve as more fuel, providing a bitter taste of defeat, leading to even larger stakes heading into the 2023 college football season, or it could prompt Harbaugh to seek out a chance to return to NFL sidelines as a head coach. We never really know until the NFL coaching carousel begins to spin.