The Washington Huskies have an opportunity to end their time in the Pac-12 with one heck of a story.
As the Huskies prepare to depart the conference for the Big Ten in 2024, all that is standing in their way of a national championship is the No. 1 team in the country: undefeated Michigan.
The Wolverines will be favored on Monday night at NRG Stadium in Houston, a position to which Washington has grown accustomed over the past several weeks.
For one Washington great, it’s a full-circle moment after playing his last collegiate game against Michigan in the 1978 Rose Bowl.
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“There’s no question I’m going with the Purple and Gold. I’m a former Husky,” Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon told Fox News Digital. “My last game in college was against the Michigan Wolverines, and if we have a chance to be the last Pac-12 champion, and now we have the chance to maybe be the last Pac-12 champion that will be NCAA champion, that would be great.”
“I think this team all year long has found a way to win football games late in them. And I think they’ll find a way to win in this one.”
While Moon is taking Washington to beat Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship, knowing that his Huskies will no longer be competing in the “Conference of Champions” is upsetting.
“I’m really sad. When it first came down before this season even started, I was even more sad about it,” Moon said. “I’m starting to get a little bit more used to the idea now because it’s been a while, but you’re talking about one of the preeminent conferences in the country in all sports, not just in football. This conference has probably won more national titles than any other conference in the country. So, it’s excelled in sports over the years.”
“So, for that to go away and now we’re going to have to join another conference, yeah, it is kind of sad because this was a top-flight conference. We also understand that money has a lot to do with everything and that’s the thing that was going to keep things afloat for all the universities that are leaving, [it] is the money that they’re going to be paid by these TV contracts to go to these other conferences.
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“So, as sad as I am to see the Pac-12 go away, I understand the other sports would not be able to function if they didn’t get these monies from these TV contracts to keep all the other sports going. You understand the business side of it, but from the sentimental side of it, I’m really sad about the conference going away.”
In order for Washington to come out on top, Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr. will have to be elite against one of the top defenses in the country.
The sixth-year senior was spectacular against the Longhorns, attacking the Texas defense down the field by completing six passes of at least 20 yards. He finished the night 29 of 38 for 430 yards and two touchdowns, adding 31 yards on the ground.
“He does a tremendous job at the line of scrimmage as far as recognizing what the other team is doing and getting his team into the right plays. You’ll see him moving guys around, making a lot of calls. He knows this offense inside and out. He’s been running it since he was at Indiana when he was with Coach [Kalen] DeBoer there,” Moon said of Penix.
“So, he’s really good at the line of scrimmage, very smart, doesn’t take a lot of sacks. He knows how to throw the ball away. And I think what people saw the other night that a lot of us haven’t seen a lot of is he’s really athletic with his legs. He made some big runs in that Texas game. I think he’s been very cautious because of all the injuries he had early in his career when he was at Indiana. So, he hasn’t ran the ball as much as he has the ability to. I think we saw some of that the other night. And I told him the other day that we need to see more of that in this championship game.”
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Penix and the Washington offense face a Michigan defense that allowed the fewest points per game (9.5) in the country and the second-fewest yards (239.7), but Washington will be the most explosive offense that Michigan has faced this year with a receiving corps considered one of the best in the nation.
“That’s where I think we’re going to have a little bit of an advantage,” Moon said of Washington’s receivers. “I think we had that same advantage against Texas, [which] is that they haven’t seen an offense like this. They don’t see many offenses like this in the Big Ten, except for maybe Ohio State with Marvin Harrison Jr. (five catches for 118 yards against Michigan) and some of the receivers that they’ve had there. And we know the trouble they’ve had with those guys. Even though they won those games, they were really close games.”
Moon pointed to Washington’s ability to protect Penix as Michigan comes off a game in which they sacked Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe six times and had 10 tackles for loss.
“The key is going to be our protection because Michigan can really get after the quarterback,” Moon said. “But we have what was voted as the best offensive line in the country, so I think that’s in our favor, too.”
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“If we can block them up front and handle the pressure that they will bring, I think we’ll do very well in the secondary as far as throwing the football because we have three really talented receivers. Two of them [are] over 1,000 yards. They’re all good after the catch, and they drop very, very few balls. And we have a very underrated tight end in Jack Westover.”
While Washington is known for its passing attack – first in the country with 350 yards per game – the health of running back Dillon Johnson is a concern after the junior aggravated a right foot injury against Texas.
“I think the key for us is going to be whether Dillon Johnson can play or not,” Moon said. “Dillon had over 1,100 yards this year. He got hurt the other night, late in that game.”
DeBoer said Wednesday that he expects Johnson to play Monday night for the national championship.
Michigan and Washington kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
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