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Michigan vs. Washington college football championship preview

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

College football's national championship will be decided tomorrow night, when the University of Michigan and the University of Washington, the two highest-ranked teams in the nation, face each other. From Seattle, KUOW's Vaughan Jones has more.

VAUGHAN JONES, BYLINE: Both teams come into the game undefeated and the champion of their respective conferences. Michigan and Washington both claim multiple college football championships, but it's been a while since either team reached the pinnacle. Michigan's last title came in 1997, and Washington's last title came in 1991. These two teams have played each other 13 times across 71 years - most recently a lopsided Michigan victory in 2021. Neither team has made it past the semifinals of the College Football Playoff until this season. Michigan's success this season comes by way of an elite defense, allowing the least points per game in college football. Detroit Free Press reporter Rainer Sabin says the pressure is on for Michigan to win this year's championship because the team will likely look completely different next season.

RAINER SABIN: Jim Harbaugh said before the season that he expected 20 players potentially to get drafted off his roster, which would be an NFL record as it relates to the draft. So I think for Michigan, it all comes down to this game.

JONES: This includes starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who played well enough to be considered for the Manning Award, given to the best quarterback in college football. Despite McCarthy's high-level play, Sabin says he expects Michigan's offense to lean on superstar running back Blake Corum.

SABIN: He's a senior player and has been in the Heisman conversation before. That was particularly last year. This year, he has come back from an injury and has been a - kind of the heart and soul of Michigan football.

JONES: Washington has had trouble stopping running backs this season, so Sabin says to expect a lot from Corum. In contrast to Michigan's elite defense, No. 2 Washington leans on a high-powered offense to win games. The Huskies are led by Michael Penix Jr., the runner-up for this year's Heisman Trophy, given to the most outstanding player in college football. Penix had a signature performance in the Sugar Bowl against Texas on New Year's Day, where he completed 12 straight passes and threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Christian Caple writes On Montlake, a newsletter covering Washington football. He says Penix is the team's leader, but Washington's offense is full of high-level players.

CHRISTIAN CAPLE: He throws to some really talented receivers like Rome Odunze. He was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the best receiver in the country. Washington's offensive line won the Joe Moore Award this year, which is given annually to the best offensive line in the country.

JONES: Caple says the game will likely come down to Washington's defense, which struggled against Texas despite recovering two fumbles. The teams will meet at a neutral site - NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. That's a long trip for Washington Husky fans, but some were able to cheer on the team before they left for Texas. Hundreds of fans gathered in the rain on campus Friday to celebrate as the team loaded onto their buses and headed for the airport. Fan Brent Enarson sent the team off decked head to toe in gold. He says he's been waiting for this for a long time.

BRENT ENARSON: It means the world. You know, dogs haven't been here in a while. They try their best every year. And here we are at the top with our chance to be national champs. This is the place to be right now.

JONES: The Wolverines and Huskies will kick off in Houston at 7:30 Eastern time on Monday. After Monday's game wraps up, Washington is leaving the Pac-12 Conference to join Michigan in the Big Ten. The Wolverines and Huskies already have a rematch scheduled for October.

For NPR News, Vaughan Jones in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUA LIPA SONG, "LOVE AGAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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