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College Football Playoff National Championship Prediction 2023-24

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Monday night's National Championship Game will bring a sense of finality in more ways than one - not only will it conclude the 2023 college football season, it will be the final year a National Champion is determined from a four-team Playoff field, the last time Michigan & Washington face off before they become Big Ten foes (at least for the foreseeable future) and the final run for some of the sport's stars, such as Michael Penix, Blake Corum, and more. If that wasn't enough reason to tune in, the game will feature a fascinating clash of styles between the hard-nosed Wolverines and a fun-to-watch Huskies team that will throw the ball all over the field. Needless to say, the 2023 season should cap off in epic fashion between a pair of teams that deserve to be in the spotlight.

Michigan may enter as the slight favorite, but it's hard to deny that the Huskies feature the best player on the field in Michael Penix. After a record-setting season, Penix built on it with the most dominant quarterback performance in a Playoff game we've seen since Joe Burrow in 2019. He was throwing absolute lasers all over the field against a quality Texas defense, finishing with 430 yards of passing. Now, he gets his greatest test of the 2023 campaign in this Wolverine defense, which is led by an experienced and well-coached secondary. Michigan is just not a pass defense that's going to break down very often - they have elite defenders at every level and play an exceptionally disciplined brand of football. With that being said, Michigan has yet to face a vertical passing offense quite like Washington's. Even against some of the better opponents on their schedule, the Wolverines have faced teams that occasionally struggle to get the ball down the field through the air - that just isn't the case with Penix and his collection of receivers, including Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk, and Jalen McMillan. The chess match between Penix and this Michigan secondary will not only be a deciding factor, it's one of the best pure matchups we've seen on the year. Yet, Washington will still need their ground game to give their offense a semblance of balance, and the injury to Dillon Johnson in the semifinal is cause for concern. Johnson has been the unsung hero for Washington down the stretch, but left the Sugar Bowl early and has been limited in practice all week. It sounds like Johnson should play, but he'll be far from 100 percent, which could have an outsized impact in this one. For as dominant as Washington's pass offense is, Johnson plays such a key role in situational and short yardage moments - not having him fully healthy is the type of disadvantage that can swing even matchups such as this one. 

It should be a fascinating battle the other way, too, as a ground-and-pound Michigan offense will look to show what they can do against this Husky defense. The Wolverines aren't going to lean on the big play as much as Washington, but that's worked out just fine for them on the year. They play a much more methodical brand of football, on that might not be quite as exciting but is very effective. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy responded to his detractors with a stellar showing in the Rose Bowl win, and now looks to keep the momentum alive against a susceptible Washington secondary. Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson remain the top weapons on the perimeter, but I'm curious to see how ultra-versatile Semaj Morgan responds after a poor showing in the semifinal win. Morgan gives this Wolverine offense a dynamic that has been missing in recent years, but he'll have to prove he's ready for this stage. On the ground, Michigan is going to lean on their ground game until Washington proves they can consistently stop it, which means we are going to see a heavy dosage of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards in this one. Those two operate behind a Michigan O-Line not quite at full strength, with Zak Zinter on the sidelines still after his horrific injury in the Ohio State game, but still playing excellent football. That battle in the trenches between Michigan and this Husky defensive front should be a good one - Washington may not have elite defensive numbers, but they've stepped up when needed and feature a front seven that should be able to put up a fight against the Wolverines. In particular, Bralen Trice, who is likely to be hearing his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft come this spring, was dominant in the semifinal and will look to create the chaos necessary to disrupt this Michigan offense.

There's plenty to like about this National Championship Game matchup, from the matchups on the field to the feelings of freshness from seeing two programs at this stage that haven't played for a National Title in some time. It also feels different than what we saw last year - we should have a competitive game that will likely be decided deep into the second half. I don't think you can go wrong picking either one of these teams based on what they've done this year and how they match up, but after four months of football, I remain steadfast in my belief that my preseason National Title pick Michigan is going to finish the job. This is the most well-rounded team in the country and for all the distractions off-the-field, the team has looked focused and hungry all season long. It feels like Michigan has been building to this eventual goal for some time now, and even though Washington is a worthy foe, I expect them to finish the job come Monday night.

The Pick: Michigan, 35 Washington, 31

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