Sports Journalism Blog

(Editor’s note: Sports Capital Journalism students Andrew Thomison and Mitch Friesenborg are covering the College Football Playoff National Championship at NRG Stadium in Houston. Here are their predictions for the game between the Michigan Wolverines and Washington Huskies.)  

The meeting between Kalen DeBoer’s Washington Huskies and Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines could have the makings of, quite possibly, one of the greatest matchups in the 10-season College Football Playoff era. For starters, you have two of the most dynamic offenses in the sport, with quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and J.J. McCarthy, both of whom could be poised for the NFL Draft come April, at the center of it all. Add to that other number of offensive star players for both programs, including Michigan’s running back Blake Corum and Washington’s wide receiver Rome Odunze, and there’s a lot to like about this matchup.

Michigan’s Harbaugh has been on the big stage before, not at the collegiate level but at the professional level, when the San Francisco 49ers took on the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. DeBoer’s championship competion took place at the NAIA level, when he led the University of Sioux Falls to titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Defensively, both teams present challenges, most notably an ability to get after the quarterback. Don’t discount the secondaries. I’m taking Washington in a close victory over Michigan. Washington’s offensive line, which won the Joe Moore Award, prevented Michigan from winning that award for a third straight year. I believe the Huskies’ offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and tempo and slow down Michigan’s pass rush, which will help catapult Washington to their first National Championship since 1991. Defenses do win championships, but not this time around.

Washington 30, Michigan 27

By Andrew Thomison | @Andrew_Thomison 

When the offensive line of the Washington Huskies received the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the nation, Michigan was prevented from winning for a third consecutive year. The two top teams in the nation came to resemble one another in several significant ways. Each team won a semifinal game that ended with a defensive stand. Michigan and Washington are looking for their first national championship since the 1990s. In the era that defined seasons by poll results, those championships had to be shared — Washington’s with Miami in 1991, Michigan’s with Nebraska in 1997. Their logos — the ‘M’ and ‘W’ — are inverted versions of each other.

One of the most important areas that can separate the Wolverines and Huskies could be a key factor that decides the game. Michigan leads the nation in fewest penalties per game with 2.86, while Washington ranks 124th with an average of 7.64 penalties per game. That’s the difference between points on the board and unsuccessful drives. This is Michigan’s third playoff in as many seasons; this generation of Huskies was not yet in college when Washington made its only previous playoff appearance.

There’s no denying Washington’s success this year, its victories against Oregon and Texas are just as impressive as Michigan’s wins over Alabama and Ohio State. Even so, the margin for error is much smaller for the Huskies. Michigan boasts both a top-15 offense and defense, and while Washington fields the nation’s best aerial attack, it contrasts with a unit that ranks 94th overall in total defense. When the defense needs a fourth-down stop to prevent Michigan from doing the same? The Wolverines have shown that they are cold-blooded more often than the Huskies.

If both these teams are drivers, Michigan is driving a Humvee. Not necessarily flashy, but stubbornly resilient and thrives in combat. Washington has the keys to a Lamborghini, and have taken it for a joyride this season, driving in the fast lane for as long as they can. I can’t help but wonder if they run out of gas before they cross the finish line.

Michigan 28, Washington 24

By Mitch Friesenborg