National Championship Preview: Final Thoughts, Prediction

National Championship Preview: Final Thoughts, Prediction

January 8, 2024
Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer (AP Photo/David Becker)

I think there’s something to be said for a team with experience in the playoffs being able to push through. For example:

  • Alabama lost the semifinal Sugar Bowl game in 2014, then won the national championship in 2015
  • Clemson lost the national championship game in 2015, then won it in 2016
  • Georgia lost the national championship game in 2017, then won it in 2021 and 2022

Essentially, the only team to win the national championship in the CFP era after not having played in the playoff before was 2019 LSU, powered by Joe Burrow, Jamarr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and several other future NFL stars. (Ohio State won in the first CFP season of 2014, but of course the first winner of a new thing had never won that thing before.)

Washington is brand new to the CFP . . . but their offensive explosiveness has also been compared to Burrow, Chase, Jefferson, and Co. with Michael Penix, Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, Jalen McMillan, and others. The key difference is that those LSU offensive stars were paired with dynamite defensive players like linebacker Patrick Queen, safety Grant Delpit, cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr., outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, etc. I don’t see those types of players on Washington’s defense.

The Huskies have won an FBS record 10 straight games decided by 10 points or fewer. They’re 14-0 this year, and the last time they won by more than 10 points was on September 23, 2023, when they beat Cal by a score of 59-42. That’s not a knock on Washington. They absolutely deserve to be 14-0 and in the national championship game. They’re battle-tested, but they’re also vulnerable.

There are a lot of factors that go into this game, so I won’t say “it all comes down to _____________” or “everything depends on ________________.” That would be way too simplistic. But one huge factor is going to be the tackling on the back end. Washington is going to get its completions, but can Michigan’s linebackers and defensive backs tackle Odunze, McMillan, Polk, Germie Bernard, etc. and limit their yards after the catch? Conversely, if/when Michigan gets the ball to Blake Corum, Roman Wilson, Colston Loveland, Semaj Morgan, etc., can Washington’s defensive backs get them to the ground?

Right now I have more confidence in Michigan’s back seven than I do in Washington’s, so I’m going with the Wolverines.

Michigan 34, Washington 28

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