The college football national championship game is set, with the Michigan Wolverines facing the Washington Huskies on January 9th in Houston. This matchup features a rematch of an early regular season thriller that Washington won by three points. With over a week left until kickoff, fans and analysts are breaking down this clash of titans.
Lead Up to the Rematch
Michigan and Washington took starkly different paths to reach college football’s biggest stage. The Wolverines, powered by a smothering defense, crushed SEC champion Alabama to win the Fiesta Bowl semifinal. Meanwhile, the Huskies relied on Michael Penix Jr.’s video game numbers to outlast Texas in a Rose Bowl shootout.
Despite the contrasting styles, both teams made statements in dominant semifinal wins. Michigan showed that not even the Crimson Tide can crack defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s unit. And Washington demonstrated that, with Penix at the helm, no deficit is too large to overcome.
These impressive showings set the stage for a title game matchup for the ages. Michigan gets a shot at avenging its early September loss to UW. That game saw the Huskies escape Ann Arbor with a 37-34 win, fueling doubts about whether Jim Harbaugh could win the big one. For Washington, a national championship would punctuate Penix’s storybook comeback year and cement Kalen DeBoer’s status among the sport’s top coaches.
How They Match Up
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Despite nearly identical spotless records, Michigan and Washington pose stark contrasts in styles. The Wolverines tout the nation’s #1 scoring defense, having allowed just 11.3 points per game. Coordinator Jesse Minter fields a vicious pass rush and lockdown secondary that flustered even Bryce Young. Opponents average just 264 total yards versus Michigan – nearly 100 fewer than the next best defense.
By contrast, the Huskies wield the country’s #1 passing attack behind Michael Penix Jr. The lefty gunslinger leads the nation with 4,512 passing yards and 42 touchdowns while averaging a blistering 9.8 yards per attempt. His chemistry with Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan sparks scoring bursts that can deflate opponents quickly.
This irresistible force, irresistible object matchup has already played out once this year. In September’s thriller, Washington leaned on its aerial attack to build a large lead before surviving Michigan’s furious rally. The 37-34 win proved that the Huskies’ offense presents a tough riddle for the Wolverines’ defense to solve.
Rematch Outlook and Prediction
Despite Washington’s early season win, oddsmakers have installed Michigan as a 6.5 point favorite in the title game. The Wolverines’ dominant semifinal performance cemented their status as the nation’s most complete team. Their defense should put up more resistance in round two against Penix and company.
However, discounting the Huskies would be unwise. Penix has carried his team through adversity all season long, including rallying from an early 28-10 deficit versus Texas. If he catches fire early again, Michigan could be playing catchup for the second time against this unstoppable offense.
In the end, Michigan’s defense should redeem itself just enough to secure the program’s first national title since 1997. The Wolverines prevail in another instant classic, 31-27, to complete an improbable perfect season. But if Penix has one last magical performance left in his storybook year, Washington could crash the party to win its second championship.
Regardless of the outcome, this matchup features elite teams that overcame steep odds to reach college football’s grandest stage. The CFP committee got this final pairing right, setting up a final chapter worthy of this great season’s storylines.
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