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Michigan vs. Washington: National championship preview, picks and prediction


Date, time: Monday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Site: NRG Stadium, Houston.
Line: Michigan -4.5; total 56.5 (FanDuel).

The path for Michigan and Washington has been anything but easy. Iron sharpens iron and all that.

In the final season of the four-team playoff, there’s little doubt the committee nailed this group, right down to the seeding.

Oddsmakers have seized on the size and quality of Michigan’s offensive line, and perhaps again are mildly disrespecting the talent and schemes of the Huskies offense.

Ever try to predict the behavior of a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds? Not easy.

Michael Penix Jr., who would have won the Heisman Trophy if stone-cold victories mattered more, is oblivious to pressure. He did win the Maxwell Award as college football’s best player, so that’s not nothing.

His award-winning offensive line has a true test Monday night, but Penix showed he’s not averse to tucking and running in the Sugar Bowl victory over Texas.

Penix can move laterally in the pocket, too, and his NFL-bound receivers — most notably Rome Odunze — have consistently proved that no moment is too big for them.

Is Washington 4 1/2 points inferior to Michigan? It’s gotta feel like deja vu to Huskies fans, who have played the disrespect card all season.

Texas was a 3.5-point favorite in the Sugar Bowl, but according to Action Network figures, Washington had 66 percent of the bets and 64 percent of the money backing them to cover.

And the sportsbooks didn’t do well against the public, which placed 74 percent of moneyline bets on the Huskies to win outright.

We can’t get past the Penix factor. He threw for 4,648 yards and 35 touchdowns this season, including a dynamic performance against Texas, hitting 29 of 38 pass attempts for 430 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Washington’s offense should be good for 24-plus points.

Again this week, it’s Huskies running back Dillon Johnson in the spotlight. Although he left the Sugar Bowl after aggravating a right foot injury, Johnson and head coach Kalen DeBoer have indicated he’ll be ready to roll.

No doubt, it’s hard to find anyone who runs harder than Johnson, and he’ll exploit any opening the big boys on the O-line can create.

Generally, when TV networks are rounding up broadcast narratives they focus on the glamor position: quarterback.

So, calling this guy a wild card is a little sideways — but “wild card” also means unpredictable. And that’s Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy, who somehow engineered the late rally that took down Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

If he makes one or two hero splash plays, the Wolverines can use their big lines and ground game to level everything else.

Can he?

Michigan’s 27-20 overtime victory over Alabama as a 2.5-point favorite in the Rose Bowl was a fortunate cover for Wolverines backers. Not everyone was on board — in fact a majority (63 percent tickets and 52 percent money) supported Alabama.

This title game number still feels too big for a matchup so even.

DeBoer and his Huskies coaching staff likely spent a great deal of time last week in the laboratory scheming ways to deflate Michigan with the aerial attack.

With receivers Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk, there’s a strong case to be made that — unless the Wolverines succeed with a crazy amount of quarterback pressures — the Huskies will break more than a couple of long pass plays.

This Michigan secondary led by cornerback Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil can’t cover all day, so the Wolverines’ pass rush is the area that ultimately decides the national championship.

The sharp money and the public are in lockstep. The number opened at 4.5 and remained there all week.

We aren’t convinced this Michigan team can keep the Washington offense from its usual array of big plays. And even if the Wolverines have a late lead of 10-11 points, the Huskies are a natural for the feared backdoor cover.

Let’s leave this as a very tight call, adjust the line in favor of the Huskies and push more confidence in both teams’ ability to score.

Two-leg parlay: Washington +7.5 parlayed to the over 42.5 for a -113 national championship wager (FanDuel).

–Field Level Media

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