Michigan defeats Washington for their first National Championship win since 1997.
In a league largely dominated by the Southeast Conference (SEC) powerhouses, the Michigan Wolverines shocked the world by winning the 2024 NCAAF College Football Championship. On January 8th, the Wolverines took down the previously undefeated Washington Huskies, winning the game with a final score of 34-13. The Wolverines, led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, had regularly been a strong Big 10 conference contender, but never had a good chance in the finals until the 2024 season.
Harbaugh returned as an alum after a legendary career during his college days where he set the all time Michigan passing yard record of 5,449 yards. He first began coaching for Michigan in 2015, initially inheriting a broken down program. However, he firmly believed in his ability to lead his team to a successful future, and build a powerhouse school just like many in the SEC, a major college football league.
Based mainly in the south, the SEC collects almost all of the top 100 high school recruiting class players each year, creating impressive rosters for its schools such as Georgia and Alabama, who consistently boast dominant teams. This disparity of recruitment is clear, as only 16 teams ultimately have a chance to get close to winning the National Championship, due to the small number of powerhouse schools that dominate the league. Every single time, almost seven of those teams are from the SEC. Upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, Harbaurgh wasted no time building a powerhouse of a team in maize and blue, and the Wolverines gradually began to compete and crush their competition in the south. Star running back Blake Corum insisted that, “we’re just a bunch of blue-collar boys,” with Harbaugh adding, “it was just good old fashioned teamwork…good old fashioned hard work with these players.” Harbaugh – as well as Michigan’s 56 man roster – believed that with hard work and dedication, anything was possible.
With the win on January 8th, Michigan earned their first championship win since 1997 and became the fourth team since 2000 to win a national title without any assistance from five-star recruiting class players. The 2023 champions, the Georgia Bulldogs, had fifteen five star recruitment players when they won; Michigan had only two. As a coach, Harbaugh was never fooled by any recruiting class rankings, instead conditioning the 14th most talented team from the recruiting class into National Champions. Even without high-ranked recruit class players, Michigan utilized their versatile offense, strong defense, and immense experience as a team in order to take down Washington. The Wolverine’s 22 starting players allotted a total of 602 starts across their careers, evening out to nearly 30 per player. Each season has a maximum of 15 games and a minimum of 12 or 13 most years, depending on how many playoff matches are played. Michigan used their amazing coaching staff and experienced players to revamp their program and motivate themselves to win the championship. Harbaugh reportedly said to himself, “it couldn’t have gone better. It went exactly how we wanted it to go to win every game. The off-the-field issues? We’re innocent and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent, and I’d like to point that out.”
Harbaugh was confident that, although the team didn’t have a full arsenal of weapons, they would still find a way to have an incredible, undefeated season. Michigan may not have had all the tools like Alabama and Georgia, but they found a way through sheer hard work. With a developed and cohesive team, the Wolverines advanced to the finals where they outscored Washington by three touchdowns while simultaneously holding them to only 13 points. Michigan came into the game looking like the National Championship winning team that they once were in the ‘90s. Guided by excellent offensive talent and a shut-down defense, they were able to stymie the Heisman trophy runner-up: quarterback Micheal Penix Jr. The Wolverines procured impressive numbers in their game against Washington, becoming the team with the top turnover margin (+17) and, at one point, running the ball on over 30 consecutive plays. Harbaugh’s elite coaching style allowed for Michigan to take advantage of the Washington team, running for over 300 yards and holding Penix to just one touchdown. Penix had had a remarkable six year college football run, but displayed arguably his worst performance against Michigan. Though he was usually unfazed by any pressure, Penix ended up struggling against Michigan’s stifling defense, putting up just 255 yards with one touchdown, and going only 27 for 51 on completions. On the other side of the ball, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy had a relatively modest game, gaining only 171 yards, but also improving his starting record to 27-1 in the process.
Michigan played an amazing season with minimal flaws, continuing their undefeated season through many hardships. The team even managed to remain undefeated when Harbaugh was suspended for three games during the regular season. Even though Michigan faced setbacks, the team remained highly versatile and confident, ultimately achieving success by the end of the season. On the biggest stage, the boys in blue gave Washington a taste of what Big 10 football is like, forever cementing their name in history.