2023 College Football: CFP National Championship Takeaways

This is it. Everything that the 128 FBS teams have gone through has culminated in this moment. Now, only two teams remain. They happen to be the only two unbeaten teams in the country: Michigan and Washington. I imagine the CFP committee is flexing somewhere right now given that their top 2 teams both made it to the title game. Based on these games the past two years though, I can’t wait for CFP expansion next season. So who won the Dr. Pepper trophy and how? Let’s see what went down in my CFP National Championship takeaways!

(1) Michigan 34, (2) Washington 13

We did a bit better than last year’s complete blowout, but this game still felt a bit one-sided. In fact, Michigan never trailed despite the game being within one score at multiple points. The first drive of the game set the tone, with Michigan taking the opening kickoff and marching 84 yards for a TD. It wasn’t that they scored but how they scored that should have alarmed Washington fans. The Huskies demonstrated some of the worst run defense I’ve ever seen. That continued for the entirety of the first half, as Michigan averaged over 12 yards per carry during the first two periods.

The first two offensive series for the Wolverines were comically easy. RB Donovan Edwards hasn’t been used much during the second half of the season, and I have no idea why. Tonight though, he took one carry on each of Michigan’s first two possessions. The first one went for a 41-yard TD, and the second one went for a 46-yard TD. Edwards’ speed made those touches go the distance, but the offensive line opened gaping holes and gave their RBs multiple yards before contact. I guess they were upset that Washington’s line won the Joe Moore award this year after they won it themselves the previous two seasons.

When Washington’s offense came onto the field, things were supposed to get better. However, there were complications. RB Dillon Johnson, who was injured against Texas last week, tried to play through pain but hurt his foot on his very first carry. He lasted the whole game but was clearly compromised. Apparently Washington doesn’t have a decent RB2, because they let Johnson plod for 33 yards on 11 carries, making the offense one-dimensional. Another ominous sign was that the Huskies burnt 2 timeouts on the opening drive but only came away with an FG. Their second drive was a 3 and out.

Already down 17-3 before starting their 3rd series, Washington started to move, but their offensive line flinched twice. That set up an untenable 3rd and 19, but the Huskies went on 4th and 7. Star WR Rome Odunze (5/87) was wide open on a busted coverage, but QB Michael Penix Jr missed the throw. Constant pressure (as well as simulated pressure) messed with Penix all night, making him rush throws and preventing him from setting his feet. The Huskies caught a break when the Michigan offense started to stall, allowing them to settle down.

On one series, Michigan planned to punt on 4th and 2 from the Washington 38. HC Jim Harbaugh called timeout and sent his offense back out there. The Wolverines failed to convert, and the Huskies took advantage and scored a TD. Down just 7 points at halftime, Washington received the 3rd quarter kickoff with a chance to tie the game. Penix, under more pressure, tossed a ball up for grabs on the first play. It was picked off by DB Will Johnson. This time though, the Washington defense held up and forced a field goal. That unit played much better in the second half, closing gaps and forcing Michigan to try and win through the air.

You know what I’m going to say next: with JJ McCarthy at QB, that wasn’t going to be a viable plan. He went just 10/18 for 140 yards, once again failing to reach 150. Michigan punted on their next 3 drives as McCarthy couldn’t get anything going. I’ve seen this guy has high as #5 on some draft boards. What on earth am I missing? If the Wolverines didn’t put an incredible team around him, they’d go nowhere. I’ve never seen someone get so much credit for doing so little. The RBs, Blake Corum (21/134/2) and Edwards (6/104/2) carried the offense in this game, and they’re the ones worthy of day 2 picks.

Regardless of Michigan’s throwing troubles, their defense had no such struggles. Washington only managed 1 FG the rest of the game. It helped that Michigan got away with a lot of holding on both offense and defense; even Kirk Herbstreit took a brake from the broadcasters’ Michigan love-fest to comment on it. The Huskies were abysmal on 3rd down (2/14, with 0 second-half conversions), though frankly the Wolverines (1/10) were just as awful in that stat. Between tight coverage, fierce pressure, and numerous drops by his WRs, Penix (27/51, 255 yards, TD, 2 INTs) couldn’t get anything going.

Eventually, Washington’s run defense broke down again, and Corum started running wild. He scored his 2 TDs, which were sandwiched around an INT by DB Mike Sainristil (who took it back 81 yards). I question why Washington didn’t force-feed Odunze. He was the only “weapon” holding onto the ball, and he’s a mismatch for almost any college CB. Odunze is likely to be a top-15 pick this April, and I would’ve thrown the ball up and let him make plays. There wasn’t much to lose once the 4th quarter got started. Maybe HC Kalen DeBoer‘s plans were ruined by DT Mason Graham, who wrecked everything in his path all night.

Washington’s 21-game winning streak was snapped. You live dangerously when you win 10 games in a row by 10 points or less I suppose. Penix was a borderline first-round pick, but I can’t see that happening at this point in time. He has been a prolific passer, but a few things scare me. In fact, I actually see him as a very poor man’s Tua Tagovailoa. I don’t mean that just because they’re both lefties. Each is a very accurate passer with good arm talent. However, both can struggle when throwing on the run and moved off their spots. Durability concerns also come with Penix, who suffered 3 season-ending injuries at Indiana.

Looking ahead to next year, Mississippi State QB Will Rogers is coming to Seattle with Penix headed to the NFL draft. He should be a good fit as the Huskies make their transition to the Big 10. As far as Michigan is concerned…I guess cheaters win. The players probably aren’t guilty of anything, but Harbaugh has run an extremely shady program. He was suspended TWICE this year for infractions, but he might bolt to the NFL now that he has his national championship. It’s a shame that this title feels so tainted (and that Georgia would’ve wiped the floor with them). The players deserve it, but the school really doesn’t.

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