National Championship Preview: Final Thoughts, Prediction

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8Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Final Thoughts, Prediction

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

7Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Michigan Defense vs. Washington Offense

Michael Penix (#9, image via Washington Athletics)

Michigan ranks #9 in rushing defense (93.1 yards allowed/game) and #7 in yards allowed per carry (3.03). Last week they allowed a season-high 172 yards on the ground, but 63 of those yards came on 21 attempts by Alabama QB Jalen Milroe. Michigan backup DT Rayshaun Benny was lost for this game after a lower body injury last week, but the Wolverines still dominated the line of scrimmage against the Crimson Tide, and fellow DT Mason Graham was named MVP of the Rose Bowl. Middle linebacker Junior Colson leads the team with 89 tackles, and fellow LB Michael Barrett is second with 61. The third guy is LB Ernest Hausmann (44 tackles), whose playing time seems to have diminished in Michigan’s postseason. Michigan is #55 in tackles for loss (5.86 per game), led by OLB Jaylen Harrell and DE Braiden McGregor with 9 each. Washington’s rush offense ranks #102 nationally (123.6 yards/game), and they’re tied for #55 in yards per carry (4.42). The leading rusher is Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson (6’0″, 218 lbs.), a senior who has 222 carries for 1,162 yards and 16 touchdowns this season; Johnson suffered an ankle injury last week and may be limited or slowed by the injury. Freshman Tybo Rogers (5’11”, 185) seems to be the primary backup at this point in the season, as he had 5 carries for 19 yards last week when Johnson was hurt; altogether, he has 43 attempts for 182 yards and 0 touchdowns this year. The offensive line for the Huskies won the 2023 Joe Moore Award for being the top offensive line – Michigan won it in 2021 and 2022 – so they play very well together. Redshirt junior LT Troy Fautanu (6’4″, 317) will probably get drafted in the first couple rounds, and redshirt sophomore RT Roger Rosengarten (6’6″, 300) is also a solid player who could get drafted in the middle rounds. Center Parker Brailsford (6’2″, 275) is a redshirt freshman thrust into a starting position due to injury.

Advantage: Michigan. Washington has decent success in the run game, but they don’t really commit to it, since their strength is in the passing game. They also rely heavily on Johnson and haven’t got much from the backup running backs, so if Johnson is slowed by his ankle injury, that could spell trouble for the run altogether.

Michigan ranks #2 in passing defense (150 yards allowed/game), #5 in yards allowed per attempt (5.8), and #3 in defensive passing efficiency. They have allowed 7 passing touchdowns while nabbing 16 interceptions on the season. Last week Milroe completed almost 70% of his throws, but they were short gains (5.0 yards/attempt). The Wolverines are tied for #17 in interceptions per game (1.14), led by Mike Sainristil’s 5, and 4 of their 16 picks have been returned for scores. Michigan sacked Milroe 6 times in the Rose Bowl, bringing them up to #21 in sacks per game (2.71). Harrell has 6.5 sacks, OLB Josaiah Stewart has 5.5, and McGregor has 4.5. It’s going to be much tougher to get to the QB in this one, though, because while Milroe has a reputation for holding onto the ball too long, Washington QB Michael Penix (6’3″, 213) has one of the quickest releases in the country. Penix transferred from Indiana following the 2021 season and is in his sixth year of college, having had his best season for the Hoosiers when Washington head coach Kalen Deboer was Indiana’s offensive coordinator in 2019. Penix finished second in the 2023 Heisman voting and has the Huskies ranked #1 in passing (350 yards/game), #6 in yards per attempt (9.4), and #11 in passing efficiency. Penix is 336/504 (66.7%) for 4,648 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He’s ridiculously accurate and, in my opinion, is the most impressive pure passer in the country. He’s throwing to junior WR Rome Odunze (6’3″, 215), who has 87 catches for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns; junior WR Ja’Lynn Polk (6’2″, 204), who has 65 catches for 1,122 yards and 9 scores; and junior WR Jalen McMillan (6’1″, 192), who has 39 catches for 526 yards and 4 touchdowns. They also have threats at tight end with fifth year senior Jack Westover (6’3″, 248) with 41 catches, 394 yards, and 4 touchdowns, and fifth year senior Devin Culp (6’4″, 237) with 15 catches for 194 yards and 2 scores. Washington is #4 in sacks allowed per game (0.79), due to both a solid offensive line and Penix’s quick decision making.

Advantage: Washington. Penix is the best passing QB in the country, and he has some good receivers. I think the offensive line looks better than it is because of Penix. Michigan’s pass rush is going to be negated somewhat by the play calling and Penix, so even though I think Michigan’s defensive line is better than Washington’s offensive line, the ball’s going to get out. It’s going to be very important for Michigan’s defensive backs to tackle well and get Odunze, Polk, McMillan, etc. on the ground quickly after they catch the ball.

6Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Michigan Offense vs. Washington Defense

Bralen Trice (#8, image via 247 Sports)

Michigan is #62 in rushing offense (159.5 yards/game) and #72 in yards per carry (4.25). They’re tied for #4 in rushing touchdowns (36) with Air Force, a team that only attempted 105 passes for the entire season. Blake Corum has rushed 237 times for 1,111 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he is now the leading touchdown scorer in Michigan history with 59 total scores. Donovan Edwards (113 carries, 393 yards, 3 TD) is second on the team in rushing but has struggled mightily, while RB Kalel Mullings (33 carries, 201 yards, 1 TD) and QB J.J. McCarthy (60 carries, 171 yards, 3 TD) are also threats on the ground. The offensive line performed well last week against Alabama despite having to RG Zak Zinter with Karsen Barnhart and inserting RT Trente Jones. Washington’s defense is #43 in yards allowed per game (137.1) and #86 in yards allowed per carry (4.4). Against top-10 ranked teams, the Huskies have allowed 88 carries for 508 yards (5.77 yards/carry) and 6 touchdowns. The leading tackler is fifth year senior SS Dominique Hampton (6’3″, 220 lbs.) with 99 stops, followed by fifth year senior MLB Edefan Ulofoshio (6’1″, 236) with 90 tackles and backup WLB Carson Bruener (6’2″, 226), the son of former Washington and NFL tight end Mark Bruener, with 80 stops. They’re #119 in tackles for loss per game (4.43), led by redshirt junior EDGE Bralen Trice (6’4″, 274) with 11.5 and Ulofoshio with 8.0. They also have a mammoth nose tackle in 6’6″, 327 lb. fifth year senior Ulumoo Ale, who has 16 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss this year as a space-eater.

Advantage: Michigan. Good teams have had solid success against Oregon, and even though Texas and Oregon have statistically better rushing attacks than Michigan, the Wolverines should present issues for the Huskies up front.

Michigan’s pass offense ranks #73 nationally (218.9 yards/game), #14 in yards per attempt (9.0), and #5 in passing efficiency. McCarthy started off last week’s Rose Bowl with an ugly interception on the first play – that was luckily overturned due to the Alabama player having his foot out of bounds – but otherwise, he played a solid game after a few lackluster performances. Overall, he has completed 73.2% of his passes for 9.1 yards/attempt, 22 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. There’s a cluster of receivers at the top of the receiving list, all with 42-45 receptions: WR Roman Wilson (45 catches, 735 yards, 12 TD), TE Colston Loveland (42, 585, 4), and WR Cornelius Johnson (44, 579, 1). The Wolverines are #29 in sacks allowed per game (1.36) and gave up just 1 to a very good Crimson Tide pass rush last week. Meanwhile, Washington is #123 in passing defense (267.1 yards allowed/game), #32 in passing efficiency defense, and tied for #22 in yards allowed per attempt (6.6). They have allowed six 300+ yards passing games this season, including to 3-9 Stanford and 5-7 Washington State. (By comparison, the most passing yards Michigan has allowed was 271 against Ohio State.) Washington is #116 in sacks per game (1.5), but Trice has 6 in his last seven games after having just 1 in his first seven contests. Second on the team is fifth year senior Zion Tupuola-Fetui (6’4″, 254) with 3.5. The Huskes are tied for #17 in interceptions per game (1.14), led by redshirt junior Husky (that’s their nickel hybrid) Mishael Powell (3 INT, 99 yards, 1 TD at 6’1″, 210) and CB Jabbar Muhammad (5’10”, 183) with 3 INT for 53 yards.

Advantage: Michigan. Having watched a lot of Oregon and Texas against Washington, the Huskies’ defensive backs had a difficult time tackling – which also should help in Michigan’s run game – and they were also bailed out by some ugly, untimely drops by the Longhorns. As long as Michigan can avoid self-inflicted issues with drops, they should be able to find some success and get some yards after the catch.

5Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Washington Roster Notes

Giles Jackson

Michigan has an 8-5 all-time record against the Washington Huskies. The first time they played was in 1916. The last time they played was a 31-10 win by Michigan in 2021.

  • Washington tight ends coach Nick Sheridan was a walk-on quarterback at Michigan and started a handful of games in 2008 under Rich Rodriguez
  • Washington “general manager” Courtney Morgan played offensive line at Michigan and spent 2021 as the Wolverines’ director of player personnel
  • Washington players recruited by Michigan include: RB Sam Adams II, OL Geirean Hatchett, OL Landen Hatchett, WR Giles Jackson, RB Daniyel Ngata, CB Caleb Presley
  • Washington WR Giles Jackson spent 2019-2020 at Michigan, rushing 12 times for 74 yards and 1 touchdown; making 24 catches for 309 yards and 1 touchdown; returning 37 kickoffs for 976 yards and 2 touchdowns; and returning 2 punts for 5 yards
  • Washington RB Sam Adams II is the son of former NFL defensive tackle Sam Adams
  • Washington OL Jalen Klemm is the son of former NFL offensive tackle Adrian Klemm
  • Washington TE Ryan Otton is the younger brother of current NFL tight end Cade Otton
  • Michigan has zero players on the roster from the state of Washington
  • Washington has two players from the state of Michigan: twin brothers Armon and Jayvon Parker from Dearborn (MI) Fordson. Armon is a 6’3″, 307 lb. defensive tackle, and Jayvon is a 6’3″, 297 lb. defensive tackle. Jayvon has 4 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry this season.
1Jan 2024
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Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan Defense vs. Alabama Offense, Prediction

Jalen Milroe (image via Alabama Athletics)

Michigan is #6 in rush defense (87.1 yards allowed/game) and yards allowed per carry (2.93). They have only allowed 7 rushing touchdowns all year (tied for #4), and 3 of those were “tush push” plays against Maryland. The team that had the most success against Michigan was Penn State, and that was with a quarterback who ran 10 times for 49 yards and 1 touchdown in Drew Allar. Allar isn’t that mobile of a quarterback, so he caught Michigan by surprise a little bit with some of his runs. Linebacker Junior Colson leads the team with 79 tackles, despite playing a chunk of the season with casts on his hands. In fact, three of his top four tackle totals have come in the past four weeks while injured. Michigan is #72 in tackles for loss (5.54 per game), led by OLB Jaylen Harrell with 8.0 and DE Braiden McGregor with 7.0. Alabama has a massive offensive line, with three starters listed at 352 pounds . . . or more. That includes standout junior right tackle J.C. Latham (6’5″, 360), who is expected by some to be the first tackle taken in the 2024 NFL Draft. But it also includes freshman left tackle Kadyn Proctor (6’7″, 360), who has struggled at times, though he has improved in the latter half of the season. That line has powered a team that ranks #46 nationally in rushing (172.69 yards/game) and #64 in yards per carry (4.33). Senior RB Jase McClellan (5’11”, 212) has 166 carries for 803 yards and 6 touchdowns to lead the way for the Crimson Tide, but he may not be available due to injury. His backup is senior Roydell Williams (5’10”, 214), who has 110 carries for 561 yards and 5 touchdowns. But the X factor is QB Jalen Milroe (6’2″, 220), who leads the team with 12 touchdowns and has run for 468 yards this year.
Advantage: Michigan, with the caveat that Milroe could be a huge X factor. He has two 100-yard rushing games, including 20 carries for 155 yards and 4 touchdowns against LSU. Michigan has yet to see a true dual-threat QB.

Michigan is #2 in pass defense (152.6 yards allowed/game), #4 in passing efficiency defense, and #5 with 5.8 yards allowed per attempt. They have allowed 7 touchdowns and nabbed 16 interceptions, led by nickel corner Mike Sainristil with 5 picks. Michigan is #38 in sacks per game (2.46), led by Harrell with 6.5 and fellow OLB Josaiah Stewart with 4.5. Star CB Will Johnson missed the Iowa game and half of the Ohio State game, but he’s supposedly healthy and ready to go for the Rose Bowl. He has 3 interceptions and 4 pass breakups this year. Alabama is #61 in passing (228.5 yards/game) but #5 in yards per attempt (9.8) and #8 in passing efficiency. Milroe is completing 65.5% of his throws for 2,718 yards, 10.4 yards per attempt, 23 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He has 10 touchdowns and 1 interception in his past four games, which contrasts with Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy’s 1 touchdown and 1 interception during the final stretch. The Crimson Tide have allowed 3.31 sacks per game, which is #118 in the nation. Senior WR Jermaine Burton (6’0″, 194) is a home run threat averaging 22.2 yards/catch (35 catches, 777 yards) and leading the team with 8 receiving touchdowns. Sophomore WR Isaiah Bond (5’11”, 182) is the #2 guy with 44 catches, 621 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Amari Niblack (6’4″, 233) is a tight end by name, but his 19 catches for 321 yards (16.9 yards/catch) and 4 touchdowns show he’s a big play threat, and he moves more like a receiver.
Advantage: Michigan. Burton is the most dangerous threat, but if Will Johnson is healthy, he can hopefully help limit Burton’s number of touches. Again, the big factor here is what happens if Michigan’s pass rush can’t get to Milroe.


  • Alabama 27, Michigan 24. Maybe it’s just PTSD from the last couple times Michigan has played Alabama and then the Georgia game in 2021, but overall, I don’t see Michigan matching up with the speed Alabama has all around. That’s especially true at edge rusher, where I think Alabama is going to cause a lot of problems for McCarthy and the passing game. A lot of people are saying McCarthy is going to have to play his best game, and I don’t see how that happens with the pass protection problems Michigan has had.