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CFP final matches Penix’s prolific passing vs. Michigan’s top defense

The Tampa Bay Tech alumnus has thrown for 4,500 yards in back-to-back seasons.
 
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies’ 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies’ 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. [ DAVID BECKER | AP ]
Published Jan. 2

Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t faced a defense like Michigan’s, and the Wolverines certainly haven’t faced a quarterback like the Heisman Trophy runnerup from Washington.

The matchup will be the most intriguing in the College Football Playoff championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston next Monday. That much was assured after the performances of Penix and Michigan’s best-in-the-nation defense in the CFP semifinals Monday.

Penix, who graduated from Tampa Bay Tech, threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies’ dramatic 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan harassed Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe most of the afternoon and stopped him short on fourth-and-goal at the Wolverines 3 to finish a 27-20 overtime win in the Rose Bowl.

Michigan-Washington will be the third all-time meeting between 14-0 teams. The Wolverines are listed as early 4 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Michigan defensive back Josh Wallace (12) recovers a fumble by Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) during the second half of the Rose Bowl.
Michigan defensive back Josh Wallace (12) recovers a fumble by Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) during the second half of the Rose Bowl. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]

Washington will give the disintegrating Pac-12 a chance to go out in a blaze of glory. Ten of the Pac-12 programs are dispersing to three of the four remaining power conferences next season. The Huskies will join Michigan in the Big Ten.

Penix, who suffered major knee injuries at Indiana before transferring to Washington last season, became the first quarterback since Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes in 2015-16 to pass for 4,500 yards in back-to-back seasons.

“I said it before the season started: Our goal is to win the national championship,” Penix said. “Now we’ve got the shot to do it. Husky Nation, stand up. We’re going to the natty. Let’s go!”

The most recent Pac-12 national champion was 2004 Southern California. The Huskies’ only championship was split with Miami in 1991. That was the Huskies’ last unbeaten team. College Football Hall of Fame member Don James was the coach, Mark Brunell was the quarterback and Steve Emtman was one of the most dominant defensive players of the era.

The Huskies will carry a 21-game winning streak — the longest in the nation — to Houston. Each of the last 10 have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan (11) makes a touchdown catch against Texas during the second half of the Sugar Bowl.
Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan (11) makes a touchdown catch against Texas during the second half of the Sugar Bowl. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

The Wolverines will play for their first national championship since they shared the title with Nebraska in 1997, the year team leader Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy and Tom Brady was the backup to Brian Griese.

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This year’s Wolverines are built around a defense allowing FBS lows of 243 yards and 10.2 points per game. Their pass defense gives up just 150 yards per game and has surrendered just seven touchdowns, the fewest in the country.

Michigan is the only Big Ten team besides Ohio State to reach the CFP championship game.

The Wolverines are 8-5 all-time against Washington and most recently won 31-10 in Ann Arbor in 2021.

Michigan turned in disappointing semifinal performances against TCU and Georgia the past two years. The Wolverines’ breakthrough came after a tumultuous regular season. Coach Jim Harbaugh missed six games because of suspensions, three for recruiting violations and three in connection to a sign-stealing scandal.

Michigan’s strength of schedule also was questioned until it knocked off a top-10 Penn State and beat Ohio State for a third year in a row.

“The fight started Week 1,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. “Everything we’ve been through, all that adversity ... A team that goes through that adversity, it can’t get to the heights we’re trying to reach. We did a tremendous job of responding through all that and pushing through. We’ve got one more game, so the job’s not finished yet.”

By ERIC OLSON, Associated Press