On Monday night, two unbeaten teams take the field as the No.1-ranked Michigan Wolverines and the No.2-ranked Washington Huskies play for the College Football Playoff national championship at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
The Huskies and Wolverines last met in 2021 on Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor, and Michigan soundly defeated a struggling Washington team 31-10 in its final year under head coach Jimmy Lake. The Huskies would hire current head coach Kalen DeBoer the following offseason, and he has quickly built the team into one of the country’s best.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr., one of the most electrifying players in college football, winner of the Maxwell Award, and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and many others, has reunited with DeBoer after their time together at Indiana and become an unstoppable force. The Huskies average 37.6 points per game and have several wide receivers that will eventually reach the NFL, including senior Rome Odunze — a projected first-round pick in April’s draft.
The Huskies have faced 10 ranked opponents during DeBoer’s tenure and won each time, including six times this season. Now, they have a greater challenge as they face one of the more physical teams in the entire country.
The strengths of Michigan’s team are its defense and its offensive line. The defense allows the fewest points and yards in college football, and the team has the second-best turnover margin. The offensive line sets the tone with its physicality and keeps the offense ahead of the chains, and DeBoer and his team know they will have to match that in all phases to win on Monday.
“We know what Michigan’s done with their running game and their offensive line and just how it controls the tempo of the game,” he explained.
“I’ve always felt that if your offensive line has got that physical presence to them, your whole team probably has that physical presence as well because that’s what they’re going against each and every day in practice,” he continued.
“So the running game is critical, not just what Michigan’s trying to do but what we are as well, to be able to offset anything as far as them attacking Michael and just keeping away from being in a one-dimensional type of spot where it’s obvious pass downs all the time.”
The Wolverines won their third consecutive Big Ten championship this season and made their third straight College Football Playoff appearance, winning for the first time after getting all they could handle from No.4 Alabama. It looked as if the Crimson Tide were about to end the Wolverines’ season, yet Michigan scored a late touchdown when it needed to the most and survived in overtime.
“All we can ask of ourselves, all we can ask of anybody else, go out there and give it your very best,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media. “And that way you’ll feel good about what you accomplish, no matter what that is.”
The Wolverines must avoid making the same mistakes against this Washington team, or the Huskies’ offense will make Michigan pay.
Can the Michigan defense continue its dominance against the best offense it has faced this season, or will Penix and Washington pull off one more upset to close the season and its run in the PAC-12 before joining the Big Ten in July?
The College Football Playoff national championship begins at 6:30 p.m. CT on Monday.