College Football Playoff championship picks, predictions: Why Michigan will beat Washington

No. 1 Michigan will take on No. 2 Washington in the 2024 College Football Playoff championship game. 

Game time is set for 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 8 at NRG Stadium in Houston. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Michigan (14-0) made the CFP championship game for the first time in school history. The Wolverines beat No. 4 Alabama 27-20 in an instant classic at the Rose Bowl game, and Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines on the cusp of their first national championship since 1997. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is 26-1 as a starter, Blake Corum leads a strong rushing attack and the Wolverines have the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense. 

MORE: Michigan one step from completing the Harbaugh dream

The Big Ten is looking for its first national champion since Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff in 2014-15. The Pac-12, meanwhile, is looking to go out a walk-off winner. 

Washington (14-0) will join the Big Ten in 2024. Heisman Trophy Michael Penix Jr. led the Huskies to a 37-31 victory against No. 3 Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a brilliant 430-yard performance. Rome Odunze is one of the best receivers in the FBS, and Sporting News Coach of the Year Kalen DeBoer has led Washington to a FBS-best 21 straight victories. 

Michigan vs. Washington odds 

  • Spread: Michigan -4
  • Over/under: TBD
  • Moneyline: TBD

CFP championship prediction

Which style wins out? That will be the leading question in Houston. 

Washington presents a formidable challenge for Michigan because DeBoer has crafted a complete offense. 

Penix has seen Michigan before, too. He hit 30 of 50 passes for 342 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions in a 38-21 victory against Michigan on Nov. 7, 2020, when he was Indiana’s quarterback. Granted the Wolverines have improved tenfold since that season with defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, but the point stands. That Big Ten experience helps. 

Washington’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, and the key will be withstanding Michigan’s blitz pressure — which totaled six sacks against Alabama. Michigan can develop pressure through a dominant interior that features Mason Graham, Kris Jenkins and Kenneth Grant. Then again, Texas had a tough interior defense, too. The Wolverines have to disrupt that tempo, and the matchup between the Huskies’ receiving trio of Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan against a Michigan secondary that features cornerback Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil will be the dilemma. How long does the coverage hold up?

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If Huskies offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb can establish a running game with Dillon Johnson on top of that, then the Wolverines will be in trouble. Johnson’s status will need monitored, however, after he left with a leg injury in the final minute against Texas. 

Michigan, meanwhile, cannot let Washington do what TCU did last season. That means McCarthy cannot make mistakes against Washington’s edge pressure, led by Bralen Trice. How does Washington’s run defense hold up against the Wolverines — which will stick with the tandem of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards to set up the passing game. Texas had success on the ground against Washington, and Michigan has a better offensive line.  

Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore mixed up formations well against Alabama. That should create opportunities in the middle of the field for tight end Colston Loveland and Roman Wilson, the Wolverines’ best down-field threat. USC rushed for 316 yards against Washington on Nov. 4, an anomaly for the season. 

Who wins third down? Washington converted 48.3% in the regular season, and Michigan was at 46.7%. The Wolverines also led the nation in turnover margin, and that is always a separator in games like this. Both teams had 16 interceptions, too. That is going to put the usual pressure on Penix and McCarthy, and that should lead to a fun quarterback duel that will attract the attention of NFL scouts. 

The line might fluctuate, but this is Harbaugh’s best chance at a national championship. This promises to be a great infomercial for the Big Ten for 2024, but in this case the Wolverines learn the lessons from last year’s loss to the Horned Frogs. The emotion from the victory against the Crimson Tide will carry over.

CFP championship final score 

Michigan 34, Washington 28 

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