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Battle for perfection: Michigan, Washington ready for College Football Playoff finale

Defensive end Jaylen Harrell (R) and the Michigan Wolverines will play the Washington Huskies in the College Football Playoff national title game Monday in Houston. File Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
1 of 5 | Defensive end Jaylen Harrell (R) and the Michigan Wolverines will play the Washington Huskies in the College Football Playoff national title game Monday in Houston. File Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 8 (UPI) -- An aggressive, smothering defense will smack into a thrilling offense, when Michigan and Washington meet to decide the 2023 College Football Playoff national champion Monday in Houston.

College football's finale, which will kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST at NRG Stadium, also will result in a first loss for one of the pristine teams. The top-ranked Michigan Wolverines (14-0) will battle the No. 2 Washington Huskies (14-0) on ESPN.

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"The job is not finished," Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. told reporters after the team's semifinal win. "I feel like it's definitely going to take more. I'm going to push myself to give this team more. "We are super excited for the opportunity."

For those who decide to go at the last minute, the least expensive ticket price Friday morning on the secondary market for the game was about $800, before taxes and fees.

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While both squads will make their first College Football Playoff title game appearances, the Wolverines football program is the winningest in the history of the sport.

They will go for their 10th national title and first since 1997.

"My ecstatic joy is for our players, coaches, fans and families, that they [possibly] get to experience the joy of being a champion," Harbaugh told reporters after the Wolverines' semifinal win.

The Huskies will try for their second title, after capturing an initial crown in 1991. That season also served as their only other undefeated season.

The Wolverines, led by the No. 1 defense in the country, are 4.5-point favorites. They advanced to the finale with a 27-20 victory over a perennial powerhouse, beating No. 4 Alabama in the semifinal. Their hungry pass rush devoured Crimson Tide lineman en route to six sacks.

"We don't care what people say or anything that comes up," Harbaugh said of the Wolverines. "We just know we are going to overcome it because it's unanimous support from every single guy on the team."

On offense, the Wolverines will turn to quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Blake Curom. McCarthy completed 73.2% of his throws so far, the third-highest rate in the nation. He totaled 2,851 yards, while throwing 22 touchdown passes with just four interceptions.

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Corum has a national-best 26 touchdowns this season. Defensive lineman Kris Jenkins and cornerback Mike Sainristil are among the Wolverines' other top players. As the least penalized team (2.8 per game) in the country, it will pair its offense with the No. 5 rush defense and No. 2 pass defense in attempting to limit the Huskies.

Penix, a Heisman Trophy finalist, will need to overcome the fierce pass rush and stingy defense to lift the Huskies to their second title.

The star quarterback exploded for 430 passing yards to lead the Huskies past No. 3 Texas in the semifinals. He showed off impressive accuracy in the 37-31 victory.

Penix leads the nation with 4,648 passing yards. His 35 passing scores are third-most among quarterbacks. He also completed 66.7% of his throws through 14 games.

Penix will eye targets Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan when he wants to pull off a big play against the Wolverines.

Huskies running back Dillon Johnson, who is tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns (16) and aggravated a leg injury in the semifinal, is expected to play. The Huskies have the No. 1 passing offense. They rank No. 10 in scoring and total offense.

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"The aggressiveness is just who we are," Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer said.

Like Penix, Odunze is projected as a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Bralen Trice, another projected early draftee, fellow edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, cornerback Jabbar Muhammad and offensive lineman Troy Fautanu are among the other top Huskies to watch.

Rose Bowl: Michigan defeats Alabama in overtime

Michigan Wolverines quarterback and offensive MVP J.J. McCarthy celebrates after the Wolverines defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 27-20 in the 2024 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on January 1, 2024. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

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