The end of the 2023 college football season has arrived as two undefeated teams vie for the national championship.
Michigan and Washington are looking to become just the sixth team in major college football history to finish a season 15-0.
The matchup at NRG Stadium in Houston is between two teams that will play against each other as conference foes next season as Washington departs the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.
Both programs are looking to break lengthy national championship droughts and will be playing in their first CFP title game.
Michigan last won the national title in 1997 (shared with Nebraska) while Washington’s last championship was in 1991 (shared with Miami).
It will be a matchup of opposite strengths as Michigan’s dominant defense takes on the high-powered offense from Washington.
Let’s take a dive into what to look for as Michigan and Washington play for the final four-team playoff trophy.
The Washington Huskies will again enter the championship game as underdogs after being underdogs in their last two games against Oregon and Texas.
It’s been a season of close calls for Washington, winning their last 10 games by 10 points or less.
Despite not winning pretty to end the regular season, the Huskies continued to win with the best passing offense in the country.
Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr., Washington leads the country in passing yards (350.0) and has two wide receivers who have gone over the 1,000 mark in Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk.
Their offensive line was voted the Joe Moore Award winner as the top group in the country and has allowed Penix to be sacked just 11 times this season, tied for the fourth-fewest in the country.
“The key is going to be our protection because Michigan can really get after the quarterback,” Washington legend Warren Moon told Fox News Digital. “But we have what was voted as the best offensive line in the country, so I think that’s in our favor, too.”
“If we can block them up front and handle the pressure that they will bring, I think we’ll do very well in the secondary as far as throwing the football because we have three really talented receivers. Two of them [are] over 1,000 yards. They’re all good after the catch, and they drop very, very few balls. And we have a very underrated tight end in Jack Westover.”
The Huskies will be facing a Michigan defense that allowed the least amount of points (9.5) in the country and the second-fewest yards (239.7) while getting after the quarterback.
The Wolverines are 19th in the country with 38 sacks on the season and got to Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe six times in the Rose Bowl.
On the back end, the Michigan secondary allows just 152.6 passing yards per game but will be facing its toughest challenge of the season in Washington’s offense.
“Michigan is elite defensively, but they’ve gotten to feast on horrific, horrific offenses in the Big Ten,” Fox Sports analyst Brock Huard told the Associated Press. “So from a stress test, Michigan has not seen anything the likes of Washington’s offense.”
The calling card all season for Michigan has been its defense, which has stifled opponents throughout the year.
The offense is often overlooked due to the prowess of the defense, but the matchup with Washington could give the Michigan offense its time to shine.
The Wolverines want to run the football and will attempt to do so against a Washington defense that allows 138.8 yards per game. Washington allows 4.40 yards per carry – 86th in the country – per the AP.
Senior running back Blake Corum was spectacular against Alabama in the semifinals, gaining 118 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. He leads the nation with 26 rushing touchdowns.
“I feel like he, in my eyes, is the most valuable player of our team. There’s so many of them that are right up at his caliber, but especially from an offensive perspective, I feel like he’s one of the guys that makes our offense go,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said last week, according to Fox Sports. “Just everything he’s been through, all the adversity that he’s been through, just from his upbringing to this past year, just everything about who he is and just his character, how he attacks every single day, it just rubs off on all of us.”
“[He’s] just one of the most valuable players on our team — if not the most.”
McCarthy went on a career-defining drive late against the Crimson Tide, converting a crucial fourth down in Alabama territory to send the game into overtime. He’s 25-1 since taking over as the starter in 2022 and will be facing a Washington defense that allows 263.2 passing yards per game.
“I’ve said it before, but right here, this is the greatest quarterback in University of Michigan, college football history,” Jim Harbaugh told media members after beating Alabama “Got a long way to go to get where Tom Brady eventually got to, which is the GOAT.”
“But in a college career there’s been nobody at Michigan better than J.J. I know we talk about it an amalgamation of quarterbacks. He is that guy.”
McCarthy will become a legend in Ann Arbor if he’s able to bring home the title.
Fox News’ Scott Thompson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.