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The Michigan Wolverines and Washington Huskies are set to duel in the National Championship. Can Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil lead the Michigan defense to a dominating shut down and a title? Joey Ruiz breaks down the matchup and gives us his prediction in Washington vs. Michigan.
ANALYSIS

CFP National Championship Prediction: Can Will Johnson, Wolverines Defense Emerge Victorious?

The Final game of the 2023 season is finally here. We have an undefeated heavyweight matchup between two 14-0 teams in Michigan and Washington. Who has the edge? Let's break it down.

Washington vs. Michigan Date, Start Time, and Where to Watch

  • Date: January 8, 2024
  • Game Time: 7:30 pm ET
  • Where to Watch: ESPN

Washington vs. Michigan Prediction

Neither CFP game disappointed this season, as we got two instant classics as Michigan took down Alabama in overtime, and Washington survived a last second thriller against Texas with a final stand in the red zone. Now that we are left with the final two teams, let's break down the matchups on both sides of the ball.

Michigan enters this National Championship game with one of the best defenses in the country. Michigan is ranked 1st in opponent point allowed per game (10.2), 1st in yards allowed per game (243), 1st in points allowed per play (0.172), 4th in yards allowed per play (4.1), and 7th in yards allowed per carry (3.0). Michigan has yet to face a downfield passing attack like Washington though so many people are predicting the Wolverines secondary to struggle to contain Penix and his All-American wide receivers, but I do not think that will be the case.

The Michigan passing defense is ranked 5th in yards allowed per attempt (5.8), 2nd in passing yards allowed per game (150), 4th in opponent interception percentage (4.41%), and 6th in sack percentage (9.48%). These stats are even more impressive when you consider that Michigan has been leading in most of their games which typically forces their opponents to throw to get back into the game. Michigan also has two All-Americans on the outside in Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil, who are two of the top corners in the nation, but the backbone of this Michigan defense is the big boys up front.

Michigan's interior lineman absolutely bullied Alabama nearly the entire game and were the catalysts to notching six total sacks and making the final stand at the end of the game to seal the Rose Bowl victory and a spot in the national championship. Mason Graham,, Kris jenkins, Jaylen Harrell, and Braiden McGregor probably are not household names but I believe they will be after tonight.

Michael Penix Jr. is an exceptional talent, but I think he is going to be pressured all night, and foresee him making multiple mistakes tonight as well. Another aspect to the Washington offense that could be affected tonight is their running game. Dillon Johnson has had an exceptional season for the Huskies, but went down late last week against Texas with an injury and even though he is likely to play, I do not think he is even close to 100%. He should be hobbled tonight, which could affect his explosiveness and ability to break tackles.

On the other side of the ball is where I believe the biggest mismatch of this game lies. The Michigan offense against the Washington defense. Washington was consistently undervalued by the books in big games this season because they severely underperformed against lesser opponents like Stanford, Arizona State, Washington State, and Oregon State while showing up big in their two games against Oregon and in the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Texas.

The Washington defense allowed the most passing yards in the Pac-12 this season and were actually outgained by WSU, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Oregon in their first matchup by over 100+ yards. This Washington defense has not faced a team this season with the same level of physicality and style that Michigan has on offense, and I think there will be a huge adjustment period for this Washington defense in the 1H of this game.

If Michigan can right their special teams' woes that almost cost them the game against Alabama, I believe they can control the time of possession in this game and sustain drives which also limits the amount of opportunities that Penix and their high-powered offense can get. Michigan's come from behind victory against Alabama to fore overtime and subsequently win also showed me that last years poor performance against TCU is a thing of the past, and specifically a thing of the past for JJ McCarthy. McCarthy threw two pick-sixes against TCU last season, which were ultimately the plays of the game that led to Michigan's demise, but he had the drive of the season to tie the game late in the fourth against Alabama where he made some big time throws and finished the game with an elite passing stat line against a top-10 defense.

If Michigan can play a clean game on special teams (which I think they will after a terrible performance last week), and if they avoid turnovers on offense, I believe the Wolverines will be able to sustain drives and slowly suck the life out of this Huskies defense. With that being said, I am rolling with Michigan ML at -190 odds for two units as my most confident college football play of the day, as I believe Michigan will get the win and become the 2023 CFB National Champions.

Washington Huskies vs. Michigan Wolverines Pick

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Article Author

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Joey has spent the last 6+ years betting on sports with a focus on basketball and baseball. Basketball is his main focus, and not many people know more about mid-major basketball than him. Whether you need advice on a Saturday night primetime game or a Tuesday night back-alley SWAC/MEAC game, Joey is your man.

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