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  • Writer's pictureStone Lexington

Michigan and Washington punch tickets to CFP National Championship; SEC left out

Updated: Jan 7

Michael Penix Jr.

For the first time since the inaugural tournament in the 2014 season, the College Football Playoff National Championship game will not feature an SEC team. The top-ranked Michigan Wolverines (14-0) and No. 2 Washington Huskies (14-0), two future Big Ten schools, have punched their tickets to the title game on Jan. 8 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Both teams have also earned the opportunity to become just the sixth squad in major college football history to finish 15-0 or better.

Michigan smells the roses in Pasadena

In the first semifinal on New Year’s Day, Michigan outlasted Alabama 27-20 at the Rose Bowl in a sloppy game that had eight fumbles (two of them lost), a missed extra point and several special teams gaffes. Trailing 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy engineered a 75-yard game-tying drive that included a 27-yard completion to senior running back Blake Corum on 4th-and-2 with 3:19 left in regulation. With 1:34 left in regulation, McCarthy found receiver Roman Wilson for a 4-yard, game-tying touchdown that sent the game to overtime.

It was only the second overtime game in the 110 editions of the Rose Bowl, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher for both programs. After losing in the previous two semifinals, Michigan was still seeking its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. This season, the program has been embroiled in a developing cheating scandal, and head coach Jim Harbaugh has served two separate three-game suspensions. Meanwhile, Alabama had an opportunity to reach its seventh playoff final, but Michigan shattered the Crimson Tide’s dreams of winning a fourth title in the playoff era.

On the first possession in overtime, Corum ran 17 yards into the end zone, giving Michigan its first lead since late in the third quarter. It was Corum’s 56th touchdown in a Michigan uniform, the most of any player in program history. On the ensuing possession, Alabama found itself with a 4th-and-goal at Michigan’s 3-yard line. What play did the Crimson Tide run with an appearance in the National Championship game on the line? A quarterback draw that Michigan stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The game was over — the confetti poured.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, who was under duress the entire evening and sacked six times in the game, finished with 116 passing yards and zero touchdowns. But the moment was about the quarterback on the other sideline, McCarthy, who is 26-1 as a starter and has never lost to Ohio State. Against Alabama, the Wolverines signal-caller threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

When Michigan ended the SEC’s streak of four straight National Championships on Monday, the only thing left to be determined was who their opponent would be.

Washington enjoys the sweets of a Sugar Bowl victory

Thirteen yards. That’s how far away the Texas Longhorns were from earning a showdown with the Wolverines in Houston. On the final play of the game against Washington, the Longhorns and quarterback Quinn Ewers stood at the Huskies’ 13-yard line with an opportunity to enhance the narrative that they’re officially back.

Trailing 37-31 with one second showing on the clock, Ewers took the snap and lofted the ball to the corner of the end zone for receiver Adonai Mitchell. However, Huskies cornerback Elijah Jackson swatted the ball away, and Washington escaped blowing a 13-point fourth quarter lead in New Orleans. Jackson undoubtedly made one of the biggest plays of the game to secure the Huskies’ spot in the title game, but Washington’s quarterback was the star of the night.

Although he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy this season, Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has a strong argument that he has been the best quarterback in college football this season. Against Texas, he threw for 430 yards, the fourth-most in College Football Playoff history, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. This season, he also became the first player with multiple 4,500-yard passing seasons in Pac-12 history.

The underestimated and often underappreciated Huskies have set themselves up with their first national title opportunity since 1991. They’ve won 21 straight games, but were an underdog against Texas. They’ll be an underdog again against a Michigan team that has won the most games in a season in school history and is tied for the most wins in Big 10 history. Washington will attempt to stop Michigan from winning the program’s first title since the 1997 season.

SEC ushered out as new playoff era ushers in

The streak is over. An SEC team has played in eight straight national championship games, but Washington and Michigan had other plans in this year’s semifinals. For the first time since the inaugural College Football Playoff title game in the 2014 season (Ohio State over Oregon), neither of the final two teams standing will be from the conference that has dominated college football.

Speaking of college football, the sport will usher in a 12-team playoff format next season. One thing is certain, the Big Ten and SEC will likely be battling for conference supremacy again when the new format arrives.


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