Washington, Michael Penix Jr. take aim at Michigan in CFP title clash
League: NCAA Football
Posted on: 05 Jan, 2024 at 11:49 PM
Credit: Sara Diggins/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
Michael Penix Jr. claims he doesn't remember much about slaying Michigan in 2020 when he was the quarterback at Indiana.
It's safe to say what happens Monday night, good or bad, will stick in his memory bank much longer.
Penix will lead No. 2 Washington into the College Football Playoff national championship game against No. 1 Michigan on Monday in Houston, where the pair of 14-0 teams both will look to end long title droughts.
The Wolverines haven't claimed the national title since winning in split fashion in 1997. The Huskies' drought is a little longer, dating back to another season of co-champions in 1991.
The matchup is the last of the four-team CFP era. A 12-team playoff system will begin next season.
The contest also could be the final one at Michigan for coach Jim Harbaugh as NFL coaching rumors are flying fast and furious.
To get that title, Harbaugh's defense must slow Penix, the Heisman Trophy runner-up who is third all-time in Washington history in passing yardage (9,289) and touchdown passes (66) despite playing in just 27 games for the school since transferring from Indiana.
Harbaugh hasn't forgotten that Penix carved up the Michigan defense to the tune of 342 yards and three touchdowns in Indiana's 38-21 win in 2020.
"He's a super great player. My impressions of him when he played at Indiana were the same," Harbaugh said this week. "Big-time arm talent, tremendous presence in the pocket, sees the field really well. He is so polished. ... Yeah, it's at an elite level."
Yet Penix insists he has very little recall of what was a major deal for the Hoosiers -- ending a 24-game losing streak to the Wolverines.
"I don't really remember much. I just remember winning, really," Penix said. "That was during the COVID year and it's a totally different ballgame."
Said Washington coach Kalen DeBoer: "I think the irony is that, yeah, he's playing another Big Ten team that he's faced before. It's a cool moment for us as a team and for him as well."
Washington leads the FBS with 21 consecutive wins after outlasting No. 3 Texas 37-31 in the CFP semifinals at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The Huskies' last 10 games have all been decided by 10 or fewer points.
Michigan continued its stellar season by rallying for a 27-20 overtime victory over No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Wolverines star running back Blake Corum scored the decisive points on a 17-yard run in OT before the defense stuffed the Crimson Tide on fourth down to end it.
Corum has set the Michigan single-season rushing touchdown record with 25 while also topping 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season. He has 1,111 rushing yards this season.
"I feel like he in my eyes is the most valuable player of our team," Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. "... I feel like he's one of the guys that makes our offense go."
Hanging over the Michigan program is the sign-stealing controversy that led to a three-game suspension for Harbaugh to complete the regular season.
There is speculation that the program could be stripped of wins or perhaps even the national title if it should win.
"I don't know if you want to live in rumorville or speculation," Harbaugh said, "but we just don't really have any room to be doing that at this point."
Michigan holds an 8-5 lead in the all-time series and defeated the visiting Huskies 31-10 in 2021. Corum rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
That game seems like a distant memory to defensive end Bralen Trice, one of the Washington players who played that day in Ann Arbor.
"Yeah, that was a while back, completely different team, different group of guys, but now we have a whole different team, whole different coaching staff, and we have a way better team, way better thing going out here," Trice said. "But the level of preparation and the mindset that this team has is a lot different than that in the past. It's a different time, it's a different era, and this is a team of winners."
Washington running back Dillon Johnson (leg) is expected to play despite being hurt late in the victory over Texas. He has rushed for 1,162 yards and 16 touchdowns.
--Field Level Media