First look at the CFP National Championship: Michigan vs. Washington

The entire season was “Michigan vs. Everybody” within the walls of the Wolverines’ program.

Now it all depends on Michigan vs. Washington.

The No. 1 Wolverines (14-0) will face the No. 2 Huskies (14-0) in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Jan. 8 at NRG Stadium in Houston. This year’s title game, the last of a four-team playoff before the field expands to 12 for the 2024 season, will feature two undefeated teams making their first championship game appearance in the CFP era .

Galvanized by allegations of an elaborate sign-stealing scandal that became the biggest story of the season, Michigan has found ways to overcome obstacles and win, a consistent trait that propelled them to a 27-20 overtime victory. against SEC champion Alabama on Monday night. in the CFP semifinal at the Rose Bowl game presented by Prudential.

“It was a matter of life and death,” Michigan offensive tackle Trevor Keegan said. “We’ve been through some things. We’ve had to overcome obstacles and adversity. People can say it’s adversity. People can see that we cheated. But I really don’t give a damn. It was adversity, and this “The team supported each other. in the other and that was shown in the last quarter and in overtime.

After losing in the semifinals during each of the previous two seasons, Michigan earned its first CFP win.

It is also the last time Washington will represent the Pac-12, as the league has been decimated by realignment and the Huskies will join the Big Ten in 2024.

With Alabama’s loss, this will be the first CFP national championship game since Ohio State faced Oregon in the inaugural 2014 season that will not feature an SEC team.

Instead, it will highlight two teams with a chance to become the sixth team in major college football history to finish 15-0 or better.

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 2 Washington

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T

When: Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN application
ESPN BET Opening Line: Michigan -4.5

Jump to:
Coaches | Roads to the championship
Key players | Matchups to watch
Last meeting | x factors

The trainers

Jim Harbaugh from Michigan: Heading into the 2021 season, Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor was tenuous, as he entered that fall 0-5 against rival Ohio State and without any CFP appearances. Since then, he flipped the script, beating the Buckeyes three straight seasons to win the Big Ten and advance to the CFP. However, this was the first time Harbaugh won a semifinal game, snapping his six-game bowl losing streak. With the victory against Alabama, Harbaugh has a chance to win a national title for his alma mater, where he played quarterback from 1983 to 1986.

Harbaugh, in the second year of a five-year contract with Michigan, can’t escape the speculation surrounding his future with the program. There are still two separate and ongoing NCAA investigations, one into alleged recruiting violations and another into an alleged sign-stealing scheme, which resulted in Harbaugh’s suspension for half of the 2023 regular season. There’s also the flirtations. Harbaugh’s pasts with the NFL. The Michigan administration wants to keep Harbaugh and has made it clear; It’s up to him to accept it. Would winning a national title influence his decision?

Kalen DeBoer from Washington: In just his second season as the Huskies’ head coach, DeBoer has led the program to 21 consecutive wins (the longest active streak in the FBS) and the school’s first appearance in a national championship game. It’s a far cry from DeBoer’s humble beginnings as head coach of his alma mater, tiny University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, but it’s the same goal he had then, when he won so many NAIA national titles (three) and as many undefeated seasons (three) as there were losses.

DeBoer was 67-3 overall in Sioux Falls, including a 17-2 record in the playoffs. DeBoer’s rise from the NAIA to the FCS, to the Group of 5, and ultimately to the sport’s biggest stage, has spanned two decades, seven schools and three head coaching positions, including in Washington. The long-standing relationships he has developed with his staff, including Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, and the continuity of the staff have had a direct correlation to the Huskies’ success. Washington’s entire full-time coaching staff has remained intact since the 2022 season, a rarity in today’s postseason coaching carousel, and DeBoer has been the glue.

How did they get here?

Michigan: Despite their head coach being suspended for six of the 12 regular season games, the Wolverines reached the national title game thanks to their unity, talent and interim head coach Sherrone Moore. With Harbaugh suspended for the final three games of the regular season, against the biggest and toughest opponents on the schedule, Moore led the Wolverines to wins against Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State. The “Michigan vs. Everybody” mentality and merchandise combined with what might be the program’s best team in decades resulted in a perfect season that now includes a win against the most successful program and coach in the sport. Michigan’s aggressive defense sacked Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe six times, and the Wolverines overcame a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to prevail in overtime.

The CFP selection committee considered Michigan a top-four team all season, but did not lift the Wolverines to the top spot until Selection Day, after then-No. 1 Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC title game. No team in the CFP race has ever faced such serious allegations of cheating, but the CFP maintained its stance that as long as a team was eligible to participate in a bowl game, the committee could qualify it. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel was one of 13 members of the committee, but abstained from voting when Michigan was being considered. Michigan has won 14 games in a season for the first time in school history.

Last national title: 1997 (shared with Nebraska)

Washington: This is a team that has been buoyed by their underdog status and perceived lack of respect. The Huskies’ 36-33 win against Oregon on Oct. 14 signaled that they should be considered the Pac-12’s top contender for the CFP this season, but not everyone was convinced they were a top-four finisher. The selection committee was unimpressed with ugly wins against Arizona State and Stanford, and questioned the Huskies’ defense. It wasn’t until November, after Washington reeled off back-to-back wins against USC, Utah and Oregon State to reach 11-0, that the Huskies cracked the committee’s top four.

Washington was still underdogs by 9.5 points against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, which the Huskies won. Washington was once again the betting underdog against Texas, another lower-ranked opponent that lost, in Monday’s semifinal. However, once again, Washington’s offense had the advantage, fueled by Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr. This time, the signal-caller took advantage of a Texas pass defense that has now allowed six of its opponents to throw for more than 300 yards. this season.

Last national title: 1991 (shared with Miami)

Key players. Main players

Michigan: RB Blake Corum. When starting right guard Zak Zinter suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Wolverines’ win against Ohio State, the team lost its top run blocker. That was evident in the Big Ten title game against Iowa, as none of Corum’s 16 carries went more than 6 yards. That was not the case against Alabama, as Corum recorded 118 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. His 56 career rushing touchdowns are the most in school history.

Washington: WR Roma Odunze. It’s hard to separate Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk, as they represent one of four 1,000-yard receiving tandems in the FBS, but Odunze has been particularly decisive. He entered the semifinal against Texas with 82% of his receptions going for first downs or touchdowns.

Showdown to see

Michigan’s defensive line versus Washington’s offensive line. Michigan has recorded 16 sacks in its last four games, including four against Iowa and six against Alabama. Michigan muscled its way into the Crimson Tide backfield and limited its running game to 43 yards in the first half while sacking Milroe five times.

Entering Monday, Penix had completed just 41% of his passes when out of the pocket. Washington, however, only allowed 11 sacks all season and the Longhorns couldn’t get to Penix. If Michigan is going to find a way to win, it has to find its way back into the backfield.

Last meeting

September 11, 2021: Michigan 31, Washington 10. Washington has seen Corum before. In 2021, he ran for a 67-yard touchdown to give Michigan a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Washington finished 4-8 that year under former coach Jimmy Lake, while Harbaugh finished 12-2 with a loss to Georgia in the CFP semifinals.

x factors

Michigan special teams. The Wolverines muffed a punt in the first quarter against Alabama, missed an extra point in the second quarter due to a botched snap and missed a field goal wide left in the fourth quarter.

Washington defensive end Bralen Trice. For the second consecutive season, Trice was named team MVP on defense. She sacked Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers twice on Monday night and was equally disruptive against Oregon this season, recording four tackles and a pass deflection in the Pac-12 title game.

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