4-Down Territory: For the Two Best Teams Destiny Is Calling.....Who Will Answer Immortality's Call?
The National Title game is finally upon us. On Monday night one of two teams will hold up a trophy that signals a moment of immortality for one team of destiny....More on that when we reach 4th down.
First Down: Bowl Recap Big Ten: Up until the Rose Bowl the Big Ten was having a pretty rough bowl season. If this was a national election, the Big Ten won some meaningful down-ballot races while the top of the ticket races were big losses. Rutgers pounded Miami, Maryland stomped Auburn, Minnesota edged Bowling Green and Northwestern beat Utah. But atop the ticket Ohio State lost their starting QB to the transfer portal, and then his replacement Devin Brown to injury. Their defense did a great job to hold up a 3-0 lead for three quarters before Missouri wore them down and broke through to win 14-3. Penn State could not keep up with an Ole Miss offense that shredded the nation’s previously #1 ranked defense for 540 yards. By the time the Rose Bowl started the Big Ten was 1-4 against the SEC after Iowa got throttled 35-0 and Wisconsin lost a late lead to lose to LSU. The good news for the Big Ten were the results for the four incoming 2024 west coast teams. UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington went 4-0 in bowl games. That included 2 New Year’s Six Bowl wins and wins over three ranked teams. And Washington will be playing Michigan for the National Championship. Both new SEC teams Texas and Oklahoma lost their bowls. As for the new Big 12 teams: Arizona beat Oklahoma, Utah lost to Northwestern while Arizona State and Colorado did not make bowl games.
Second Down: Quick Re-Cap of The Semi-Finals: The Rose Bowl #1 Michigan 27 #4 Alabama 20 (OT): This will go down as one of the great Rose Bowl slugfests in the long history of the game. It was a glorious old-school physical game as two offenses fought like hell to overcome two punishing defenses. Michigan’s offense played well, their defense exceptional and the kicking game nearly blew the game FOUR times. None was scarier for the U of M faithful than an ill-advised attempt to field a punt with under two minutes to go inside their own five. That resulted in a fumble, a scramble to get the ball and nearly a game-killing safety. Alabama was half a yard away from the win. Truthfully, Alabama was a team that was probably a year away given the youth at some key positions. But Saban and his staff may have done their best work in finding ways to adjust and get the wins needed to get there. It created a team of guys who played really well together. Michigan’s team culture was similar. These guys love playing for Harbaugh, they have a deep connection to their teammates and it showed in how they played all year. In the end they were more experienced than Alabama at some key positions and that made a difference…….The Sugar Bowl #2 Washington 37 #3 Texas 31: The last year of the four-team playoff gave us the best semifinal day of football in the ten-year history of the current format. Texas and Washington put on a show. Washington QB Michael Penix spread the ball around with four different receivers getting five or more catches. All season long Texas has had troubles in the red zone on offense. It cost them the Oklahoma game and at the end of the Washington game they found themselves unable to get the game-winning TD from the twelve-yard line. But Texas is back, and they don't look like they'll be fading anytime soon.
Third Down: The FCS National Title Game: #1 South Dakota State (14-0) vs #2 Montana (13-1) Sunday 2:00 ABC: Forget the mid-afternoon NFL games and watch some guys playing football for the love of the game. No one is talking about opt-outs or NIL deals or getting paid. This matchup is a battle of two teams with traditions of excellence. Key to both teams’ successes this year have been turnovers and defense. SDSU is +15 in turnover margin (6th nationally) and Montana is +10 (11th). The two defenses have been outstanding all year with the SDSU Jackrabbits leading the nation in total defense, scoring defense and ranking 6th in yards per play allowed. When the Grizzlies are on defense, they'll field a unit that was 17th in total defense and 5th in scoring defense. Where SDSU has a chance to separate from Montana is on offense. SDSU QB Mark Gronowski has been great all year and can make plays running and throwing. SDSU RB Isaiah Davis is scary quick and averages 6.8 yards per carry. That combination is enough to give opposing coaches nightmares. On the other sideline is the guy who may be the wildcard in this game—Montana QB Clifton McDowell. Since taking over as the starter Montana’s point production has jumped by seven points a game. He has thrown for 1800+ yards and the 751 yards and 9 TDs he adds on the ground could be a factor. If he can handle the pressure of the biggest stage and make plays Montana can pull the upset. And speaking of factors, it may only be 47 degrees at game time, but given the single-digit wind chills these teams have weathered to get here, it will feel balmy.
Fourth Down: The National Championship Game: #1 Michigan (14-0) vs #2 Washington (14-0) Monday 7:30 ESPN: That sound of gloating you’re hearing is coming from the offices of the Big Ten and Fox Sports. For all intents and purposes this represents and All-Big Ten National Championship game as UW moves to the Big Ten in 2024. As for the actual game….First things first, Washington QB Michael Penix can throw against anyone and has been sacked just 11 times all year. Michigan thrived by getting pass rush against Alabama. Can they get to Penix before he has time to find receivers downfield—because this will be the best QB, O-Line and receiver corps Michigan has faced all year—by far. The health of UW RB Dillon Johnson will also be a factor in this one not just to run the ball but in pass protection when Michigan blitzes. In matchups like this the question is how much, if any, help will Michigan’s 3rd best cover guy need against Washington’s best WR. Because UW has 3 big-time WRs they will move them around to get matchups. When Michigan has the ball they have better balance on offense than UW. But UW has seen that same type of balance and mobile QB when they played and beat Oregon twice. And while UW's defensive stats are pedestrian, they've racked up 16 INTs--the same number Michigan has grabbed. The turnover difference though is that Michigan is +17 in turnover margin and Washington is just +2. The guy who has been underappreciated down the stretch for UM is QB JJ McCarthy. As the regular season ended, his role was limited by a nagging injury but that is in the rearview mirror. He is clever and has made intelligent decisions when games were on the line all year. He always looks like the guy who is having the most fun on the field every game. And speaking of fun, we’re going to see two of the best offensive lines in the country. The wildcard here is the kicking game for both teams. Michigan had some long-snapping troubles, and punt return troubles that nearly cost them the Alabama game. Against a team that can score like Washington, they must capitalize on all scoring opportunities, and they cannot hand UW easy points. And if you love chess matches, this is your game. There are 2 head coaches and 4 coordinators on offense and defense that have shown an amazing ability to make in-game adjustments. Watch as the game ebbs and flows to see that unfold. These are clearly to best teams this year and clearly the staffs that have gotten the most from their guys. And as you look at the players, these are two teams that both have the look of teams of destiny. But only one can ascend to that destiny and THAT is why we can’t wait to see this one.