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Stetson Bennett, key players who’ll decide CFP semifinals

A four-team playoff on New Year’s Eve is such poor execution of a good idea that it could only be done by one sport. College football never did succeed at redefining a holiday that exceedingly few people have ever wanted to spend in front of a television, but at least it’s trying again this year.

The four-team format will only be around for one more season after this one and let’s face it, the list of classic semifinal games since it started in 2014 is exceedingly short. But the good news? The spreads for both Michigan-TCU (U-M -7.5) and Ohio State-Georgia (UGA -6.5) have fallen under one score. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get the football-watching day we deserve for skipping New Year’s parties in favor of the Peach Bowl.

If you haven’t been spending Saturdays all year on the couch, though, you’ll need a primer before that. Here are the players to watch in the College Football Playoff.

Max Duggan, QB, TCU

TCU quarterback Max Duggan during the Big 12 Championship game against Kansas State on Dec. 3, 2022.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan.
USA TODAY Sports

Duggan fell short in the Heisman Trophy race, but his performance in a losing effort in the Big 12 title game was something to behold. Duggan ran for 110 yards, threw for 250 and pulled the Horned Frogs into overtime almost single handedly, bloodying himself in the process. That was good enough to help him finish second in the Heisman voting. This is a quintessentially tough, fun-to-watch player and TCU will need everything from him again to pull off the upset over Michigan.

Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan

Ohio State defensive back Ronnie Hickman, right, tries to tackle Michigan running back Donovan Edwards during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio.
Michigan running back Donovan Edwards.
AP

The Wolverines are missing star running back Blake Corum, who suffered a knee injury against Illinois that’s expected to keep him out for the rest of their season. That means the burden for their run-heavy offense will fall on Edwards, a true sophomore who already looks ready to be the guy once Corum moves on to the NFL. Edwards filled the bell cow role to a T against Ohio State, rushing for 216 yards and two touchdowns that helped seal the win. He’s averaging 7.5 yards per carry on the season, but if TCU can find a way to slow him down and force quarterback J.J. McCarthy to make plays, it could be the path to slowing down Michigan.

Kendre Miller, RB, TCU

TCU Horned Frogs running back Kendre Miller (33) carries the ball during the Big 12 Championship game between TCU and Kansas State on December 3.
TCU running back Kendre Miller.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For all the talk around Duggan, it’s easy to forget about Miller. The junior ran for 1,342 yards this season along with 17 touchdowns, balancing out an offense that can easily be pigeonholed as Duggan throwing the ball up to Quentin Johnston. Michigan’s plans to contain the Horned Frogs are centered not on the quarterback, but on stopping the run. That’s for a reason. Miller has been held under 100 yards in each of his last three games, and if the Wolverines can replicate that, it may force TCU into being one-dimensional.

Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia

Stetson Bennett #13 of the Georgia Bulldogs rolls out in the first half against the Samford Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett.
Getty Images

Bennett was the belle of the ball in last year’s Playoff, and he’s back again this time around. No one is underestimating the former JUCO transfer turned hometown hero — he’s thrown for 3,425 yards, got Heisman Trophy votes and powered one of the best offenses in the country this season to an undefeated record in the SEC. At this point, the only thing left is to become the first quarterback to win back to back titles in the CFP era, and the first in any era since A.J. McCarron with Alabama.

Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) makes a reception against Maryland Terrapins defensive back Deonte Banks (3) during the Ohio State Buckeyes game versus the Maryland Terrapins on November 19, 2022 at SECU Stadium in College Park, MD.
Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the biggest stage of the year, Harrison — a five-star receiver with a famous name whose play had backed up the pedigree all year — was … disappointing? That might be a little bit harsh when he went for 120 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against Michigan, but the Wolverines were happy to take it. They held the Buckeyes to just 23 points and stopped Harrison from breaking the game open. Georgia would be thrilled to do the same. With Jaxon Smith-Njigba not returning for the Playoff, Ohio State’s passing game will run through Harrison.

Jalen Carter, EDGE, Georgia

Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) tries to wrap up Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) during the college football game between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs on October 29, 2022, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Carter might end up being the highest-drafted prospect between the four teams in the CFP. That’s in part due to Alabama falling short, but the 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior is a monster on the edge for Georgia. He’s been compared to Quinnen Williams, and was thought to be perhaps the best NFL prospect on last year’s Bulldogs team, which only won the national championship and sent five defensive players to the NFL. Keep an eye on No. 88 on Saturday.

Mike Morris, EDGE, Michigan

Mike Morris #90 of the Michigan Wolverines in action against Hollin Pierce #72 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during a game at SHI Stadium on November 5, 2022 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Michigan defensive end Mike Morris.
Getty Images

The Wolverines essentially replaced star edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson by committee — which is to say, they don’t have anyone nearly as good this time around. Morris, though, has done as good a job as anyone at stepping into the void, with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season. Getting to Duggan will be a huge key for Michigan, and Morris might be the Wolverines’ best chance at doing so.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.
AP

Stroud has been given that rare chance for a Buckeyes quarterback: the chance to cement a legacy despite failing to beat Michigan. The ignominy of breaking an eight-game winning streak over the Wolverines in 2021, then breaking a 22-year home winning streak over the Wolverines in 2022, would have followed Stroud forever if Ohio State hadn’t gotten in. Now? He’s got a chance to erase that if he can win a national title. Just don’t ask who might be on the other side if the Buckeyes get to Los Angeles.

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Who could be the Jets’ QB next year?

We’ve asked this question before, but we’re asking it again now. Safe to say, the answer won’t be Zach Wilson — not after last week’s debacle against Jacksonville. It is still possible, though, that the answer is inside the building.

Mike White: It’s hard to argue White isn’t the clubhouse favorite at this point. That would be in the literal sense — as in his Jets teammates love playing for him — and the figurative one, as the answer to the question. White has only won two games in his career and making him the full time starter comes with obvious risks. But if he can pilot the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 2010? Well, that’s as good an audition as any.

Derek Carr: It looks like Carr’s Raiders career is over after he was benched for Jarrett Stidham and agreed to step away from the team for the rest of the season. It’s unclear whether Carr will eventually be cut or traded by Vegas — if it’s the latter, then navigating around his monster cap hit could be an issue for the Jets — but assuming there is no reconciliation, Joe Douglas could do well to go after the 31-year-old.

Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrates after a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Derek Carr’s benching in Las Vegas likely means the end of his tenure with the Raiders.
Getty Images

Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo going 7-3 as the 49ers starter complicates what looked like an easier equation before Trey Lance got hurt. But the Niners spent the third overall pick on Lance, and presumably still intend for him to be their long-term starter at Garoppolo’s expense. It’s obvious that Jimmy G still has a lot left in him and could elevate the Jets. And he will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Teddy Bridgewater: Of the potential stopgap options who are hitting free agency this March, Bridgewater might make the most sense. He is, technically, a former Jet, though he never suited up for the team, and was a starter in the league as recently as last season. Given the right weapons around him and a good defense, he might be able to game-manage the Jets into the playoffs.

Rookie TBD: The Jets won’t have a top-five pick and this QB class drops off after Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, but if Douglas takes a liking to one of the players projected to go further down — or decides Young or Stroud are worth trading up for — then that could be an option as well. Kentucky’s Will Levis, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Stanford’s Tanner McKee are other names that could potentially go in Round 1.

We need new Winter Classic venues

The 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic build out continues at Fenway Park on December 28, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Fenway Park will host its second Winter Classic when the Bruins take on the Penguins next week.
NHLI via Getty Images

Did Fenway Park need a second Winter Classic so soon? One of the best parts of outdoor hockey games as a concept is seeing a unique venue. Well, we saw Fenway Park as a hockey venue in 2010, when the Bruins beat the Flyers in overtime. Yes, that was a while ago, but the list of teams that have hosted a Winter Classic isn’t exactly long. This is already the third time the Bruins have gotten it (with two at Fenway and one at Gillette Stadium). The Blackhawks have also done so twice. For an event that has only existed since 2008, this seems unnecessary.

Why not feature the Kraken at T-Mobile Park? Or the Islanders at Belmont Park? Or a Canadian team — there’s no reason the Heritage Classic should prevent the Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Jets, Maple Leafs, Senators or Canadiens from partaking in the Winter Classic. An outdoor Maple Leafs-Canadiens game on New Year’s Day (a matchup that somehow has never taken place in the Heritage Classic) sounds delightful. Ohio State hockey plays Michigan hockey at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium in February. The Blue Jackets can’t host a Winter Classic at Ohio Stadium?

This is not to demean Fenway, a great venue that proved a success the first time around. But the NHL must spread the wealth a little.

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