Michigan 34 Washington 13 – Game 15 CFP Final Recap



Final Score: 34-13, Michigan by 21 over Washington
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 12.3 (+8.7)
CD Projection: Michigan by 7 (+14)


GAME 15 CFP FINAL RECAP vs. Washington

With the National Championship on the line, the Michigan offense stayed true to their identity and mashed the Washington Huskies on the ground for 303 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.  The Wolverines rocketed out of the gate with two long touchdown runs from Donovan Edwards in the first quarter, one that covered 41 yards and the other from 46 yards out.  When James Turner added a field goal on Michigan’s third drive to go up 17-3 early in the second quarter, fans felt this could turn into a blowout.

But, that story did not come to be.  Over the next seven drives in the second and third quarters, the Wolverines managed just one additional field goal on a short field drive, set up by the defense.  JJ McCarthy never quite got into rhythm, and finished 10-18 for 140 yards passing and no touchdowns.  But, McCarthy was the spark that ignited the finishing flurry for Michigan.  His 22-yard scramble from near his own goal line allowed the Wolverines to flip the field position.  On their second possession of the fourth quarter, up by just seven points, JJ threw a strike to Coleston Loveland over the middle for a 41 yard backbreaker.  Two plays later, Blake Corum juked his way into the endzone for a 12-yard touchdown.  That 14-point lead felt insurmountable with just seven minutes remaining, and it was fitting for Corum to cap it off as the heartbeat of this offensive unit. 

The CFP Final game narrative fits perfectly atop the 2023 season, because the star of the show was the Michigan defense.  In the premier strength-on-strength matchup for all the marbles versus Kalen DeBoer,  Ryan Grubb, and an NFL-level offensive unit for the Huskies, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter reigned supreme.  Heisman runner-up Michael Penix was battered by the time the clock hit zero.  He finished 27-51 for 255 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.  This is on the heels of a 430-yard, two touchdown performance the week before in the semifinals.

The defensive line proved the depth development strategy employed by Michigan in 2023 was indeed brilliant.  All seven rotational defensive lineman created pressure on Penix.  Mason Graham finished as the statistical leader with three tackles, and Kenneth Grant added a sack.  That pressure, paired with a physical game plan from the Michigan defensive backs, yielded two interceptions at critical moments.  The first interception by Will Johnson came on the opening possession of the second half and created the short field I mentioned before.  The second interception was the coronation of the National Championship season: an 81-yard celebratory return by Mike Sainristil who, like Corum, embodied the perfect player to put an exclamation point on this perfect season.

The special teams unit eliminated the huge mistakes from the prior week in the Rose Bowl.  Jay Harbaugh made a brilliant adjustment to the Washington punter’s low, line-drive style by utilizing two returners: one shallow and one deep.  James Turner was very near the upright on a short field goal, and actually hit the upright on an extra point, but made all his kicks.  And, punter Tommy Doman bounced back the best.  His kicks carried an average of 47.6 yards, and a net of 43.6.

This team is the greatest team in the land, and cannot be disputed.  They are forever National Champions.  However, the word I will always associate with this team is unflappable.  No force exists within a football stadium that could shake the 2023 Michigan Wolverines.  That proved true again for the fifteenth time on Monday, January 8th, 2024.  In my eyes, by realizing their year-long mission to win the title by defeating all comers, this is the greatest Michigan Football team in the 144-year history of the program.  Don’t agree with such a lofty statement?  Somehow they’ll show up and prove it again.  Bet!


It felt shortsighted to just do a game recap after the season the Michigan Wolverines just completed.  So, I want to layout briefly how I experienced this 2023 season, through a series of eight phases:

  1. Expectations

When Blake Corum, Zak Zinter, and the other upperclassmen decided to return for another season back in January of 2023, the championship foundation was preserved.  However, the stakes were raised immediately when Blake Corum called his shot in front of a crowd at Crisler Arena, stating that this team would win a National Title and go down in history.  There was no turning back, the boats had been burned. 

  1. Happy Mission 

Spring and summer were traditional from a program and media standpoint.  There were a few questions about starting battles at offensive tackle and at the second cornerback spot, but Jim Harbaugh reiterated that his guys were embarking on a happy mission. 

  1. Harbaugh Suspension #1 

A negotiated settlement with the NCAA related to 2020 dead period violations fell through at the eleventh hour.  Still, the Michigan administration self-imposed a three-game suspension on Jim Harbaugh and four different assistants received an opportunity to add head coach responsibilities on game day.  Developing that depth would prove to be valuable.

  1. Big Ten Dominance

When Jim Harbaugh returned and the B1G Ten season started, the Wolverines showed they had at least another gear that they had not shown through the first four games.  Back-to-back road blowouts over Nebraska and Minnesota silenced a handful of doubters who thought Michigan looked unimpressive early in the season. 

  1. Connor Stalions & Media Chaos 

A media firestorm exploded when news leaked regarding support staffer Connor Stalions leading an in-person scouting operation that skirted various NCAA regulations.  The news was timed and targeted to maximize the amplitude of the chaos, and triggered a chorus of complaints from B1G Ten coaches and administrators to new conference commissioner Tony Petitti.

  1. Harbaugh Suspension #2 

Tony Petitti acquiesced to the complaints and determined he would suspend Jim Harbaugh midseason for three more games.  Petitti also maximized the potential damage for targeting the three toughest games on the schedule, including The Game versus Ohio State.  The final salt in the wound was the timing & delivery of the announcement.   The commissioner waited until the team was in flight en route to the Penn State road game, and the Michigan contingent found out via social media.

  1. #Bet (Savage Warrior), 

In response to a failed appeal for injunction in a Washtenaw County court, the administration, the team, and the fan base was incensed with the B1G Ten conference.  Many hot takes were created and fired into the media environment, but the Michigan community rallied around a viral tweet sent by the players and echoed by even university president Santa Ono: Bet.  The one-word rallying cry was a call to fight by saying less and doing more.  The Wolverines were determined to let their actions speak.  The happy mission had transformed into one taken on by savage warriors.

  1. Confirmation & Coronation

Through all the distraction, and under the guidance of Sherrone Moore as interim head coach, the Michigan Wolverines executed a variety of game plans to continue their victorious march.  Key injuries on both sides of the ball dictated how Michigan could attack the best defenses on their schedule.  But, they made the key plays against Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, Alabama, and Washington.  Over this stretch of games, the game narratives in my mind slowly shifted.  It started from a place of fear that this team’s opportunity could be squandered in an epic “What If…” season.  That narrative morphed to a confirmation that this team was good enough and tough enough that none of the outside forces mattered.  None of the on-field foes mattered.  The Rose Bowl semifinal and CFP final games were fitting coronations for the sport’s new kings. 


I’ll conclude with a thank you to Phil Callihan for the opportunity to contribute to the site, and for his support and flexibility that allowed me to experience this magical ride from the press box with him and his family, from home with my family, and through it all with our Michigan family.  Also, thank you for reading, listening, following, and talking to us about this team.  

It’s Great…to be…a Michigan Wolverine…because the ultimate team–the greatest Michigan team of all of all time!–finished their business and brought home the ultimate prize to Ann Arbor.

By the Numbers: Game 15 CFP Final vs. Washington


The Wolverines came back to force overtime on the Alabama Crimson Tide.  Then Blake Corum and the Michigan defense put the finishing touches on an epic 27-20 victory in the Rose Bowl to qualify for the CFP National Championship game.

NEXT UP: vs. Washington: SP+ 12th, 18.8

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 12.2, Michigan Win Probability 76%

The post-bowl SP+ rankings show why Bill Connelly is constantly tweaking the algorithm, especially as college football changes over time.  Michigan slid to #2 overall in the rankings because Georgia won by 60 over Florida State.  There is currently no way for the model to adjust for significant injuries or opt-outs, so the dozen or so missing players for the Noles were not accounted for. 

Michigan Offense (12th) vs. Washington Defense (44th) 

A huge advantage for Michigan exists when they have possession against the Huskies’ defense.  It is not a bad defense, especially in high leverage moments.  However, the Wolverines played eight opponents with defensive units ranked higher than Washington’s.  I expect Sherrone Moore to do what he’s done best all season.  Michigan will look for run-pass balance early on, but will rely on Blake Corum and the running game to wear down the Huskies and keep Michael Penix Jr. on the Washington sideline.

Michigan Defense (1st) vs. Washington Offense (4th)

Both fan bases point to this strength-on-strength match up and warn the other side that they haven’t seen a unit like this in 2023.  While it’s true given the context of this season, I feel most comfortable with Michigan’s defense preparing for a Heisman contender at quarterback with All American wide receivers.  That’s because the entire defensive philosophy and scheme was designed to contain CJ Stroud, and the Ohio State wide receiver room.  Penix could very likely throw for over 300 yards again on Monday night.  In 2021, Stroud threw for 394 yards and two touchdowns himself.  The key will be whether Michigan can make key plays inside their own 40 yard line to force field goal attempts, or come up with 4th down stops.  

PREDICTION: The culmination of this amazing 2023 season has finally arrived.  The story started to build 12 full months ago when upperclassmen like Blake Corum, Michael Barrett, and Zak Zinter were considering their returns to Ann Arbor.  Immediately, the bar was set as high as possible when Corum declared to Crisler Arena in February that this team would win a National Championship.  Then, during the early season the Wolverines started rolling comfortably in each game.  The star players rarely played much in the second half of games, allowing depth players to get a significant number of snaps on both sides of the ball.  But then the tougher part of the schedule arrived, and something unexpected happened: the depth guys were still getting snaps at big moments of the big games!  

After reading, listening, talking (check out the preview podcast), and processing a lot of data about how this game could go, I think Michigan’s greatest edge might be their depth.  Wide receiver Tyler Morris just scored his first career touchdown to take the lead over Alabama in the Rose Bowl.  Safeties Quentin Johnson & Keon Sabb were both forced into duty by an untimely injury during the fourth quarter, and they both made huge plays late.  The Wolverines harassed Jalen Milroe all night while still rotating at least seven defensive linemen consistently (prayers up for Rayshaun Benny).  Michigan created game plans and managed their roster for an entire season to ensure they could be as close to full strength as possible in the College Football Playoff.  Now it’s time to go play the game, and earn not only the National Title, but the title of Greatest Michigan Team of All Time. 
Michigan 31 Washington 24


  • SP+ Overall: 2nd (↓1), 31.0
    • SP+ Offense: 12th (↓2), 36.5
    • SP+ Defense: 1st (same), 7.3
    • SP+ Special Teams: 7th (↓3), 1.8
  • AP Poll: 1st (same)
  • Coaches’ Poll: 1st (same)
  • CFP Rank: 1st (same)

Michigan 27 Alabama 20 OT – Game 14 CFP SF Recap @ Rose Bowl


Final Score: 27-20 OT, Michigan by 7 over Alabama
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 8.4 (-1.4)
CD Projection: Michigan by 3 (+4)



The Michigan offense was night and day different from first half to second half. The Wolverines held a 13-10 halftime lead after gifting the Tide an extra possession, but only ran nine plays in the third quarter. Of those nine Q3 plays, only one was successful, yielding an 11% success rate for the quarter. Just when negativity started to emerge throughout Wolverine nation, JJ McCarthy and Blake Corum rose to the occasion.

Down by seven with 4:41 to go, Michigan delivered a drive for the ages. The Wolverines marched eight plays, 75 yards, highlighted by a 4th & 2 pass from McCarthy to Corum to move into Alabama territory. McCarthy finished 17-27 for 221 yards and 3 TDs, while Corum scored twice. His rushing touchdown in overtime made him the program’s all-time rushing touchdown record holder, a well deserved honor for an iconic Michigan Man.

Defensively, coordinator Jesse Minter called a masterful game. The Wolverines piled up five sacks in the first half and finished with six total for the game. As the offense sputtered in the middle of the contest, the defense repeatedly had to come up with huge stops in high leverage moments. Linebacker Junior Colson battled through multiple injuries to lead the defense with ten tackles.

No play could be any bigger than the final stop of Jalen Milroe on 4th down in overtime. Defensive end Derrick Moore made a tremendous individual play to cross the face of the offensive tackle and make contact with Milroe behind the line of scrimmage. The rest of the Wolverines finished the tackle, and the celebration was allowed to commence around the country.

The special teams unit turned in their worst performance in memory, keeping the game closer than it should have been while Michigan dominated the other phases. Semaj Morgan muffed a punt in Q1 to set up Alabama’s first half touchdown. Two poor snaps led to a missed PAT, and a missed FG. And in the most heart-stopping moment of the day, the Tide’s final punt of regulation was muffed by Jake Thaw inside the 5-yard line. No doubt Jay Harbaugh will dedicate extra practice time to cleaning these issues up this week.

This game lived up to the heavyweight slugfest that it was hyped to be. While Michigan played sloppily, they also rose to the occasion in the largest moments. In that way, this Rose Bowl championship is a fitting microcosm for the whole 2023 season. But, the work’s not finished. Onward to Houston!

By the Numbers: Game 14 CFP SF vs. Alabama @ Rose Bowl


Michigan shut out the Iowa Hawkeyes 26-0 in Indianapolis to secure their third straight B1G Ten Championship.  The offense didn’t put up flashy statistics, but the defense only allowed Iowa one scoring opportunity that ended with a fumble recovery for the Wolverines.

NEXT UP: vs. Alabama: SP+ 7th, 23.7

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 8.4, Michigan Win Probability 69%

Michigan maintained the #1 SP+ ranking, and added the top ranking in the CFP poll, AP poll, and Coaches’ poll.  According to SP+, the Wolverines would be favored over any of the other three playoff teams: Texas (6th, 24.6); Alabama (7th, 23.7); Washington (11th, 18.6)

Michigan Offense (10th) vs. Alabama Defense (9th) 

The Michigan offense and Crimson Tide defense square up pretty equally on paper.  However, the SP+ model cannot factor in the season ending injury to All-American guard Zak Zinter.  Since the injury in the second half of the Ohio State game, senior Karsen Barhart slid inside to guard to backfill Zinter, and Trente Jones entered at right tackle.  This configuration allowed four sacks to Iowa in the B1G Championship game, and only mustered 106 rushing yards.  The Wolverines need a huge bounce back performance from the offensive line group to keep Alabama edge rushers Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell off JJ McCarthy.

The strength of the Alabama defensive unit resides in the secondary.  Both corners Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold will play in the NFL soon.  In order to attack the Crimson Tide, Michigan will have to look for match up advantages in the middle of the field.  Center Drake Nugent and guard Trevor Keegan will need decisive wins on the interior to pave the way for Blake Corum between the tackles.  Then JJ McCarthy should be able to find Colston Loveland and Donovan Edwards covered by linebackers and safeties who first have to respect the interior run threat.  Running QB Alex Orji could also play a key role in creating a run game advantage by running option plays.

Michigan Defense (1st) vs. Alabama Offense (11th)

The Wolverines defense should have an advantage over the Alabama offense.  The strength of Michigan’s defensive line will create problems for Alabama’s blocking scheme.  I expect Bama to utilize double teams on the interior against DTs Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant.  The resulting single blocking on the edge must be exploited by Jaylen Harrell, Josiah Stewart, Derrick Moore, and Braden McGregor.  In my eyes, the edge rushers are the largest key for this game.  Alabama QB Jalen Milroe can make plays with his legs, and throws the deep ball very well.  However, he will also make a handful of big mistakes in each half, very similar to Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa.  The pass rush must be disciplined by staying in their rush lanes without providing an escape alley for Milroe.  The Wolverines can create big plays by making him read the downfield coverage from a collapsing pocket as often as possible.

The Crimson Tide are not as explosive in 2023 as they have been in years past.  After a string of Heisman winners on the offensive side of the ball, this year’s Alabama squad doesn’t have the same dominant superstar playmaker.  Wide receiver Jermaine Burton is the most dangerous threat in my opinion, averaging 22.2 yards per reception and pulling in 8 touchdowns on the season.  In the backfield, Bama had three players carry the ball over 100 times.  Running back Jase McClellan should be the secondary focus for stopping the running attack, after the QB Milroe.  We saw Alabama’s late-season opponents dedicate one, or sometimes two (!), players as spies to follow Milroe on the ground.  We can expect Jesse Minter to utilize a similar plan by keeping safeties over the top of Burton, and using linebackers Michael Barret and/or Junior Colson to chase the quarterback on scramble plays.

PREDICTION: These two blue-blood programs will meet in the Granddaddy of them All, the Rose Bowl, for the first time.  With the B1G Ten, SEC, and College Football Playoff all expanding in 2024, this may be one of the last hurrahs for nostalgia and tradition to bolster the high-stakes CFP atmosphere.  I expect this game to be dictated by both defensive units, and potentially a few special teams plays.  The scoreboard could stay tight for the entire duration, but in the 4th quarter I think the experience and poise of JJ McCarthy and the Wolverines will lead to a decisive play to clinch Michigan’s first CFP victory.
Michigan 27 Alabama 24


  • SP+ Overall: 1st (same), 32.1
    • SP+ Offense: 10th (↓1), 37.6
    • SP+ Defense: 1st (↑1), 7.4
    • SP+ Special Teams: 4th (↑1), 2.0
  • AP Poll: 1st (↑1), 1539
  • Coaches’ Poll: 1st (↑1), 1535
  • CFP Rank: 1st (↑1)

Michigan 26 Iowa 0 – Game 13 B1G Ten Championship Recap


Final Score: 26-0, Michigan by 26 over Iowa
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 22.7 (+3.3)
CD Projection: Michigan by 24 (+2)



Michigan needed just 213 total yards on offensive to put the Iowa Hawkeyes away in he B1G Ten Championship game. JJ McCarthy completed 22 of his 30 passes for 147 yards, but no touchdowns. Cornelius Johnson takes the crown as king of the passing attack. CJ hauled in a career high 9 receptions, showing tremendous athleticism and soft hands throughout the game. Blake Corum handled the scoring load, finding pay dirt twice. Corum’s two touchdowns tie him for the career rushing touchdown record (55) with legend Anthony Thomas.

The Michigan defense handled their business against an overwhelmed Iowa offense. Mike Sainristil received the championship game MVP after he forced two fumbles in key moments of the game. The linebacker room also showed out. Michigan’s three leading tacklers all come from the LB room. Ernest Hausmann and Junior Colson collected 8 stops each, and senior Michael Barrett added 7 more tackles.

Nine minutes into the game, James Turner sealed the final result by kicking the first Michigan field goal from 35 yards out. Turner would finish with 14 total points by going 4-for-4 on field goals, and 2-for-2 on PATs. Tommy Doman also managed to out-perform Iowa’s Tory Taylor with a net punting edge 39.8 to 35.1. The field position advantage set the Wolverines up with an estimated 1.42 point advantage each time the field flipped.

No doubt, the Wolverines have spoiled Michigan fans with three consecutive titles to go with a three game win streak over the Buckeyes. However, team 144 is a little different than the past two. They immediately shift focus to the next objective. Blake Corum likes to quote Kobe Bryant by saying, “…job’s not finished.” OK, Blake. Bet!