Two undefeated teams square off when the Washington Huskies and the Michigan Wolverines battle in the CFP National Championship Game.
Time: 7:30 PM ET
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
After two thrilling and historic College Football Playoff semifinal games on New Year’s Day, both Michigan and Washington are coming off epic victories that tested their limits. Both teams had perfect regular seasons, followed by the Wolverines winning the Big Ten and the Huskies winning the Pac-12 Championship Game. These schools have met only six times in history, with Michigan leading the series 4-2. The two programs have undoubtedly earned their spots in the title game, but the Wolverines are favored by around a handful of points ahead of the matchup.
The story for both squads has been one of resilience. Despite being one of the top ranked teams all year, Michigan has taken an us-against-the-world attitude in the aftermath of the sign-stealing scandal and multiple suspensions of head coach Jim Harbaugh. On the Washington side, Kalen DeBoer has done a phenomenal job as well—but they’ve arguably flown under the radar in the Pacific Northwest—and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and company have found ways to win close games, including two thrillers over a powerful Oregon team.
This figures to be a very well-played contest that could come down to the quarterbacks. Penix Jr. delivered dimes throughout the Fiesta Bowl victory over Texas, and he finished as the Heisman runner-up during the season. Meanwhile, Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy doesn’t have quite as much asked of him, but he’ll be tasked with keeping drives alive—and he came through with clutch plays in the comeback to beat Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
Though it’s an obvious one, an X-factor is the ground game for Michigan led by Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Corum has 26 total touchdowns this season and scored the overtime game-winner—finding the end zone quickly on back-to-back carries in extra time—in a classic Rose Bowl finish. If Harbaugh’s club can control the line of scrimmage—something that Washington is typically able to do—they can potentially command the game and make things easier on McCarthy and the defense.
But on the other side of the ball, containing an elite trio of receivers in Rome Odunze (87 receptions for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns), Ja’Lynn Polk (65 receptions for 1,122 yards and 9 touchdowns), and Jalen McMillan (39 receptions for 526 yards and four touchdowns in ten games) will be a tall task for the Michigan defense. With Penix as the triggerman, Washington gives some 2019 LSU vibes with the way they can air it out.
Overall, this season’s final game featuring the two remaining unbeatens should be a classic. This is the first CFP National Championship Game since the inaugural 2014 season to not feature an SEC school. Michigan is looking for its first national title since 1997, while Washington claims a 1991 national title (Miami was also unbeaten that year). And the Huskies, who are joining Michigan in the Big Ten next season, will look to conclude the Pac-12’s final football season with a championship.
If Washington can win the line of scrimmage, they have a chance to win this game by more than a touchdown (despite being underdogs). However, the ground game for Michigan—with some key plays from Donovan Edwards out of the backfield as well—is the difference in and gets the Wolverines the national title. – Kevin Davis
I keep going back and forth with this pick because I feel Washington is so scary with what they can do with Penix and those receivers—and they are just underrated overall. But my prediction is that Michigan makes enough plays on offense to keep drives moving, and Jim Harbaugh leaves his alma mater with a national championship before heading back to the NFL. – David Chappine