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College Football Playoff final set after 2 thrilling matchups

Michigan and Washington will play in their first true national championship games. Both programs' last national titles were considered "split."
College Football Playoff final set after 2 thrilling matchups
Posted at 6:31 AM, Jan 02, 2024

The final for this season's College Football Playoff is molded after two thrilling semifinal matchups on Monday, featuring a battle between two future conference foes. 

Monday started with Michigan rallying with a late fourth-quarter touchdown to force overtime, eventually beating Alabama 27-20 in the Rose Bowl. The nightcap involved Washington building a 10-point lead in the third quarter and hanging on for a 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. 

Neither Michigan nor Washington have ever appeared in a College Football Playoff final, nor did they play for a championship during the Bowl Championship Series era from 1999-2014. 

The matchup will also mark the final time Washington will play under the Pac-12 flag. Next year, Washington, along with Oregon, UCLA and USC, will join the Big Ten. The four-team leap to the Big Ten is among many being made to college football in the coming year. 

This year's College Football Playoff will be the final one contested with four teams. Next year's College Football Playoff will involve 12 teams and include home sites in the first round. 

National semifinalist Texas is moving from the Big 12 to the SEC, along with Oklahoma. Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State are headed for the Big 12, while California and Stanford go to the ACC.

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The Pac-12's future is uncertain as only Oregon State and Washington State did not escape the conference after the rest of the league bailed. 

But conference realignment and next year's playoff are of little concern for Michigan and Washington, who will be seeking national championships. Michigan last claimed a national title in 1997 but split the title with Nebraska. That year, Nebraska had the most first-place votes in the coaches poll, while Michigan was No. 1 in the media poll. 

Like Michigan, Washington's last national title was also considered split. The Huskies finished No. 1 in the 1990 coaches poll but No. 2 in the media poll. 

Even with a head-to-head matchup brewing, that doesn't mean the Jan. 8 CPF final won't be without controversy. Michigan remains the subject of multiple NCAA investigations, including one concerning team staffer Connor Stalions and his alleged scheme to advance scout opponents to study signs. 

Michigan is also being investigated for recruiting violations. The probes meant that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh faced a pair of three-game suspensions, causing him to miss half of Michigan's regular season. 

"Glorious," Harbaugh said about winning at the Rose Bowl. "It was right where we wanted to be. It's everything that we worked for, everything that we prepared for, everything we hoped for, everything we trained and strained for."

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