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The 2023 college football season will be coming to an end in a matter of hours with just one more showdown remaining to take center stage before we embark on the long and grueling offseason. Of course, we're talking about the most important game of the year as we get set to crown a new national champion. On Monday night in Houston No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Washington will go head-to-head in the College Football Playoff National Championship as both programs look for their first national title of the BCS/CFP era. 

This is a game of conflicting styles between two teams that will be conference foes come 2024. Michigan has enjoyed one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory by bullying opponents with a power run game and suffocating defense. While Washington boasts a solid run game of its own, the bread and butter of the Huskies' attack is in the passing game. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was a Heisman Trophy finalist after posting incredible numbers throwing to the deepest receiving corps in the country.

Who will emerge from this battle in Houston as national champions? I wish I knew the answer because I could make a lot of money if I did! Alas, I don't, but I'm more than happy to offer my best guesses about what will play out on Monday night.

Follow along with live updates from the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday. CBS Sports will be with you throughout the game providing live highlights and analysis as Michigan battles Washington.

National Championship: (1) Michigan vs. (2) Washington


The general narrative surrounding these teams will be that Washington is the better offensive team and Michigan the better defensive team. It's an accurate assessment but one that's a bit too generic. Yes, Washington averaged 37.6 points per game, but Michigan averaged 36.0. The vast difference comes in the yardage total, where the Huskies posted 473.6 yards per game to Michigan's 378.4, but that's due more to approach than philosophy.

From an efficiency standpoint, Michigan matches up well with Washington's offense. Washington averaged 3.12 points per possession, ranking No. 5 nationally. The Wolverines were right behind at No. 8, averaging 3.06 points per possession. Washington scored points on 50.3% of its offensive possessions -- No. 4 nationally. Michigan scored on 50.0% (No. 6). What will surprise many is that while Washington's passing attack is more prolific, Michigan's explosive play rate in the passing game (21.9%) was higher than Washington's (21.4%). That speaks more to volume (Michigan takes more shots after grinding opponents on the ground), but it goes to show that the Wolverines' passing attack isn't to be ignored.

Michigan also does a much better job of avoiding negative plays. Penix is a wizard when it comes to avoiding sacks, but Washington still finished No. 33 nationally in negative play rate at 29.9%. Michigan finished No. 3 at 22.7%. It's how Michigan stays on schedule and grinds down opponents. There might not be a lot of 40-yard runs, but when every rush picks up yardage it allows the Wolverines offense to control the game.

Like many Big Ten teams, Michigan's defense endures criticism that its numbers are misleading due to the conference's offenses. Yet, that didn't stop the Wolverines from holding Penn State to 238 yards (413.3 against everyone else), Ohio State to 378 yards (410.4) and Alabama to 288 yards (401.2). The Wolverines have the best defense in the country, thanks primarily to their outstanding defensive line. It's simply better than your offensive line and runs deep. It's how Michigan consistently gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing, which allows its linebackers to flow to the ball in the run game and helps an excellent secondary in the passing game.

It's the primary difference between these teams. Washington has excellent players on defense at every level with Bralen Trice, Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jabbar Muhammad, but it doesn't boast the depth of Michigan's talent pool. This is why I believe Michigan has the advantage. While I'm picking the Wolverines, however, I want to point out that this was the case for Washington in other games, too. But Washington has Penix, Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan. When you have those guys, you can overcome defensive deficiencies. Maybe that happens here, but if we play it 1,000 times, Michigan covers more often than not. Pick: Michigan -4.5


Michigan's offense struggled against No. 4 Alabama because the Crimson Tide took their best cornerbacks and put them on the Wolverines' tight ends quite a bit. I don't think Michigan anticipated that strategy. I know I didn't expect to see Terrion Arnold on Colston Loveland during the game's first possession, but there he was. I doubt Washington has the secondary personnel to get away with the same approach, nor do I think Washington can stop the Michigan ground game as effectively as Alabama.

No. 3 Texas was able to run the ball effectively against the Huskies but got away from it in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan won't abandon its run game. The Wolverines will lean into it, and considering Washington finished the season ranked No. 130 nationally in defensive success rate against the run, I don't see many scenarios in which it can take it away. Plus, Michigan will use it to keep Penix and Co. off the field as much as possible.

While Michigan hasn't seen a passing attack like Washington's this year, the Wolverines defense was built for the purpose of stopping the Ohio State offenses led by Justin Fields, C.J. Stroud and all those NFL receivers. It's not a challenge Michigan isn't prepared to face.

Everything has me leaning towards this game being lower scoring than the total suggests. Some might see this as bad news for Washington, but I don't think that's the case. The Huskies have won games this season scoring 15, 22 and 24 points. It's not their preferred method of operation, but the Huskies can win ugly, too. The Pick: Under 55.5


Michigan RB Donovan Edwards (25.5 yards rushing): There's been plenty of focus on J.J. McCarthy and the Michigan passing game but not nearly as much discussion about the rushing attack. Michigan has failed to average at least 5.0 yards per carry beginning with the Indiana game in mid-October. Alabama held the Wolverines to 4.06 yards per carry and Edwards was a non-factor on the ground, rushing for 11 yards on four carries. That can't be the case against Washington. Blake Corum has 25 rushing touchdowns this season, but he's not the Blake Corum of 2021 and 2022. He's fallen from 6.0 yards per carry those seasons to 4.7 this year; the knee injury he suffered last year has impacted his ability to break the big runs. But Michigan will run the ball a lot against Washington, and Edwards will need to bring that home-run threat. I expect Edwards will have a far greater impact in this game than he did against Alabama. The Pick: Over

Washington TE Jack Westover (27 yards receiving): It's difficult to bet receiving props for Washington wideouts because Penix spreads the ball around so well; you can't be sure which one will have the big day because Washington isn't afraid to take advantage of matchups. One of those matchups I believe the Huskies will look to exploit should involve the forgotten man of Washington's passing attack -- Westover. Nobody has great games against this Michigan defense, but tight ends have exploited a soft spot. Over the last five games, tight ends have averaged 4.4 receptions for 34.8 yards per game against the Michigan defense. Westover had six grabs for 59 yards against Texas and has gone over this yardage total in three of the past five games. The Pick: Over

Who will win Michigan vs. Washington, and which side of the spread hits well over 50% of the time in simulations? Visit SportsLine to find out -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,000 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons.