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Date at the big dance: Washington Huskies take on Michigan Wolverines in College Football Playoff National Championship

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More than 72,000 fans will gather at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, as the venue braces itself for a seismic clash between No. 1 Michigan Wolverines (14-0) and No. 2 Washington Huskies (14-0), competing for the crown in the College Football Playoff National Championship Jan. 8.

Penix Jr.’s purple reign

Michael Penix Jr. of the Washington Huskies NCAA football team
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looks to throw against Washington State during the second half of an NCAA college football game Nov. 25, 2023, in Seattle. The biggest Washington players allowed only 11 sacks this season, paving the way for Penix and No. 2 Huskies to reach the College Football Playoff and earning the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the country. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The Huskies are riding the intense wave of momentum fueled by quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s efficient and electric passing, honed in the crucible of the Pac-12, or what is soon to be left of the conference. Their win over the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 1 showcased their full-bodied blend of physicality and finesse. Penix Jr., a transfer from Indiana University, was the runner-up for the 2023 Heisman Award, falling short to LSU QB Jayden Daniels.

“We got one more to go,” Penix Jr. said following Washington’s win against the Longhorns. “Our goal is to win a National Championship, and now we have an opportunity; we got a shot to do it.”

Go big or go Rome

Rome Odunze for Washington Huskies NCAA football team
Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze looks into the stands after an NCAA college football game against Tulsa, Sept. 9, 2023, in Seattle. Odunze, who played the middle portion of the year with a broken rib and finished the year as a first-team All-American on seemingly every list, will face No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The pinpoint accuracy of Penix Jr. allows him to find targets like all-American wideout Rome Odunze, whose acrobatic catches leave defenders guessing. Odunze outperformed Reggie Williams’ record of 1,454 yards in a single season, a school record that stood for over two decades until Odunze’s second catch in the Sugar Bowl against the Longhorns. Receivers Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillian have also been stellar this season, amassing 65 receptions for 1,122 yards and 39 catches for 526 receiving yards, respectively.

This season also marks the end of Washington’s tenure in the PAC-12, as the Huskies will join the Big Ten Conference in August later this summer.

The big bad blue machine

College Football Playoff Championship; Rose Bowl
Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) following the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. Michigan defeated Alabama in overtime, 27-20. (AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg)

The Wolverines, unwavering like the Great Lakes they hail from, boast a juggernaut offense helmed by the dynamic duo of quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Blake Corum. McCarthy has put up 2,851 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Corum has rallied up 237 touches for a mystifying 1,111 rushing yards, turning those numbers into 25 touchdowns.

Related: Michigan tramples Iowa 26-0 in Big Ten Championship

College Football Playoff Championship
University of Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh takes the field against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 2, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, IN. (Photo/David Dixon)

Michigan defeated football powerhouse Alabama 27-20 in overtime at the Rose Bowl Jan. 1. McCarthy completed 17/27 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

Following the upset against Bama, McCarthy spoke about what the win meant. “It means everything, not just to us, but everything to the fanbase, the whole state of Michigan, the alumni,” McCarthy said. “We got one more to go.”

Corum also spoke about the coming National Championship. “It is a dream come true, even to play in this game [Rose Bowl]. We are happy to be here, but we have one more to go, baby, one more to go.”

Odunze’s matchup against Sainristil promises a battle of aerial acrobatics and lockdown coverage, potentially swaying the game’s outcome.

The College Football Playoff National Championship takes place Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Contact multimedia staff writer Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846 or via email at noralp@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more sports news from the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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