HOUSTON - The Michigan Wolverines and their rebel with a cause coach, Jim Harbaugh, are the national champions of college football.
No. 1 Michigan dominated No. 2 Washington for a 34-13 win at NRG Stadium to complete a perfect, 15-0 season Monday night amid two NCAA investigations for the Wolverines' first national title in football since 1997.
Harbaugh, though, was only at nine of those 15 games. Michigan self-suspended Harbaugh for the first three games of the season with hopes that would decrease the school's ultimate sanctions by the NCAA for breaking recruiting dead period rules during COVID in 2020. The violations were minor, but the NCAA was particularly incensed because Harbaugh lied to its investigators about the recruiting.
Michigan And Jim Harbaugh Win CFP National Title
Then Harbaugh missed the final three games of the regular season on suspension from the Big Ten, which found evidence of a systemic, organized illegal scouting and sign stealing scandal going on since 2021.
But the Wolverines and Harbaugh never wavered in winning the Big Ten title over Iowa and knocked off No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl to reach the championship game. Then on Monday, the Wolverines held a potent offense and Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to just 13 points. That was Washington's lowest point output since a 31-10 loss to Michigan on Sept. 11, 2021.
"Glorious," Harbaugh said. "Glorious win. I could not be prouder or happier for our team. Just couldn't have had a better game. Took on all comers. Last one standing. It's a great feeling."
When a reporter asked Michigan's players about overcoming the off-the-field issues, Harbaugh interrupted.
Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh Claims 'We Were Innocent'
"It couldn't have gone better," he said. "The off-the-field issues? We're innocent. And we stood strong and tall because we know we're innocent. And I'd like that point that out."
Harbaugh's legal team, though, did suddenly drop a lawsuit against the Big Ten last November concerning the league suspending Harbaugh just before the court date. So, are you really that innocent? Michigan also quickly fired analyst Connor Stalions and linebackers coach Chris Partridge for their roles in the sign stealing scandal.
"And these guys are innocent," Harbaugh continued, though the players apparently received illegally ascertained scouting information over from 2021 through midway in the 2023 season. "And overcome that? It wasn't that hard because we knew we were innocent. So, yeah, that's really what I wanted to say. It went exactly how we wanted it to go."
Now, the only question is how long will Harbaugh remain at Michigan. Because of the NCAA's justifiable pursuit of Harbaugh and his program, it is believed he will finally take an NFL head coaching job. Harbaugh has interviewed for multiple NFL head coaching jobs in recent years.
"I just want to enjoy this," Harbaugh said when asked what's next for him. "I hope you give me that. Can a guy have that? Does it always have to be what's next, what's the future?"
Well, yeah, when Michigan has thrown an extremely lucrative new contract at you, and you haven't answered that. But, OK.
"Like I said, I hope to have a future," he said. "I hope there's a tomorrow, a day after tomorrow, a next week, a next month, a next year."
At Sunday's final news conference before the title game, a reporter asked Harbaugh this:
"If you decide to take a head coaching position with Carolina, New England or the Los Angeles Chargers, whoever it may be, what would be your farewell message to this team?"
Harbaugh said, "My message to our guys is going to be, 'Play as hard as you can, as fast as you can, as long as you can, and don't worry. And just go have at it."
Then he changed the subject before returning to his future briefly.
"Hope there's a tomorrow," Jim Harbaugh said as he did on Saturday at Media Day as well. "Hope there's a day after tomorrow. I hope there's a next week, next month. I hope a next year. Hope to have a future."
Michigan appeared on the verge of running away with the game early in the second quarter after taking a 17-3 lead on a 31-yard field goal by James Turner. That followed 41- and 46-yard touchdown runs by running back Donovan Edwards for a 14-3 lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter.
Washington, though, would not go away. Penix Jr. completed a critical, fourth-and-goal, 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jalen McMillan to get the Huskies within 17-10 just before halftime.
Michigan took a 20-10 in the third quarter on a 38-yard Turner field goal. Washington immediately answered on a Grady Gross' 45-yard field goal to draw within 20-13 midway in the period.
Michigan Quarterback J.J. McCarthy Does Enough
The Wolverines put the game away midway in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard touchdown run by Blake Corum for a 27-13 lead. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy set up the score with a 41-yard completion to tight end Colston Loveland to the Washington 30-yard line. The Wolverines added a late touchdown for the 34-13 final.
Washington was bidding for its first national championship since the 1991 season and fell to 14-1 in the last game of the true Pac-12 Conference.
J.J. McCarthy finished just 10-of-18 passing for 140 yards as Michigan ran through the Huskies. Penix completed 27 of 51 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, but with two interceptions and uncharacteristically missed open receivers.
"Tonight, we couldn't get over the hump," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. "I'm sorry they couldn't realize a championship this year. We just couldn't make that one play here and there."
"I'm hurt," Penix said. "I mean, we came in here. We wanted to win. But, man, it sucks. I missed a couple of throws, a couple reads."
Washington had won several games this season as an underdog, but not this time as Michigan was favored by 4.5 points and won by three touchdowns.
"This is the only time that y'all were right," Penix said.
Michigan running backs Edwards and Corum became the first pair of running backs to each gain 100 yards in a CFP title game. Edwards had 104 on six carries, while Corum gained 133 on 20 rushes.
Should Harbaugh leave, he will exit Michigan as one of its most successful coaches after leaving the NFL for Ann Arbor before the 2015 season. Over the last three seasons, Harbaugh is 40-3 overall and 26-1 in the Big Ten with three conference titles, three CFP appearances and one big national title.
The national title completed a family goal of Harbaugh's. His older brother John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens beat Jim's San Francisco 49ers for the Super Bowl XLVII title in the 2012 season. And John made Monday night's game despite going through bad weather, surprising Jim.
And the Harbaughs' dad, Jack Harbaugh, won the 2002 Division I-AA national championship as Western Kentucky's coach.
"I can now sit at the big person's table in the family," Harbaugh said. "Dad won a national championship. My brother John won a Super Bowl. It's good to be at the big person's table."