Michigan vs. Washington: What to know about CFP title game matchup


After a raucous Rose Bowl and a Sugar Bowl so sweet it could make your teeth rot, the College Football Playoff national championship game is set.

The game features two teams who combined to go 28-0 this season and will each play in the Big Ten Conference next season. And they did it in a year when Georgia was looking to become the first team since World War II to win three straight national titles as the crown jewel of a dominant SEC.

And now the SEC will find out for the first time in nearly a decade what it’s like to watch this game from a couch.

No. 1 Michigan, undefeated champion of the Big Ten, will square off against No. 2 Washington on Monday in Houston.

Let’s take a look at the matchup, how each team got here, and what to know about each team.

NO. 1 MICHIGAN (14-0)

Michigan’s win against No. 4 Alabama not only earned the Wolverines their first CFP semifinal win in three opportunities but put a stop to the SEC’s decade of dominance.

Until New Year’s Day 2024, the SEC had played in eight consecutive national championship games, winning four.

And the Wolverines did it with defense. With six sacks, they put Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe in the brown paper bag twice more than Georgia did in the SEC title game. They also allowed just 283 yards and held the Tide to 3-for-13 on third downs, and 0-for-1 on fourth-and-goal to win the game.

The Tide trailing Michigan 13-10 at half felt unimportant. The Tide fell behind Tennessee 20-7 at the half and trailed Auburn at the half. In each game, Bama came back to win. And despite becoming the first team to lead Michigan in the second half all year, Bama could not come back to beat Michigan in overtime.

The best Michigan team we’ve seen since 1997 is on its way to the national title game.

Rose Bowl: J.J. McCarthy, Michigan outlast Alabama in OT

The Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Three years ago, the Wolverines went 2-4 and Harbaugh looked like he might be on his way out of Ann Arbor. What ensued was one of the best turnarounds we’ve seen in the sport, with three Big Ten titles, three trips to the College Football Playoff, the program’s first win in a CFP semifinal, a 14-0 record, and the right to be called the home team as the No. 1-ranked team in the CFP national title game.

For Harbaugh, his legacy continues to grow. He took San Diego to its first Pioneer Football League title, Stanford to its first BCS win, the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012 — and now Michigan to its first appearance in the national title game this century.

[Why Michigan’s Rose Bowl victory was the quintessential Jim Harbaugh game]

Who to watch on offense

Blake Corum showed himself to be the best player the Wolverines boast with 83 rushing yards and a TD run in overtime that personified the 2023 team — slashing, gashing, a force that will not be stopped.

With his TD, he set the school record for career rushing TDs in a career and solidified his place in history as one of the best backs the Wolverines have ever fielded.

The Wolverines are 31-0 when Corum scores a rushing TD, which came on Michigan’s last offensive play of the game.

Despite trailing in the second half for the first time all year, quarterback J.J. McCarthy led the Wolverines to a comeback win with 221 passing yards and three TDs — his first passing game with more than 150 yards and two passing TDs since Michigan’s win against Michigan State on Oct. 21.

Who to watch on defense

The Michigan secondary, led by nickel corner Mike Sainristil, held Alabama to just 116 passing yards in its Rose Bowl win — allowing just five pass yards per attempt, while the Michigan front seven sacked quarterback Milroe six times — five of those in the first half.


Like the Wolverines, the Huskies have reached 14-0 for the first time in school history, won their first College Football Playoff semifinal game in school history, and will play for a national title for the first time since finishing No. 1 in the Coaches Poll following the 1991 season. This after beating Texas in a wild Sugar Bowl on Monday night.

Sugar Bowl: Michael Penix Jr. and No. 2 Washington hold off No. 3 Texas

The Coach: Kalen DeBoer

All he does is win.

Washington is 11-1 in one-score games and 10-0 against ranked ones under DeBoer. He’s also …

  • 14-0 this year
  • 25-2 in two seasons at Washington
  • 104-11 for his career
  • The owner of four undefeated seasons, and three national championships at NAIA Sioux Falls

Alongside Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Harbaugh, he’s one of the three best coaches in the sport over the last two years.

Who to watch on offense

Michael Penix Jr., vindicated those who thought he should’ve won the Heisman Trophy with a signature performance against Texas’ defense. He completed 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards with two TDs and zero INTs.

What’s more? He completed at least five passes to four pass catchers in the Sugar Bowl win.

The health of running back Dillon Johnson will be important to monitor. He left the game late with a lower leg injury. Though he rushed for just 47 yards in the Sugar Bowl, he rushed for more than 1,100 this season and became an important weapon in the Washington arsenal, especially in the second half of the season.

Who to watch on defense

A Washington defense that is built on bending but never breaking did just that against Texas. It will have to do just that against the Wolverines if it expects to win.

But if the Dawgs defense can keep the game to one possession, Penix Jr., can win it for them.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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