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Michigan defeats Washington to reign as college football champions

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fans of the Michigan Wolverines, you already know your team took home their first national title in decades. Here's what you heard on ESPN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hail, hail Michigan. They are the champions of college football 2023.

MARTIN: It was a battle of two undefeateds in the College Football Playoff National Championship game last night, with No. 1 Michigan taking on the No. 2-ranked Washington Huskies. But the Wolverines dominated throughout and ended their perfect season with a 34-13 win over the Huskies. For more on this, I'm joined by ESPN's Jesse Washington. Jesse, thanks so much for staying up late for those of us who cannot.

JESSE WASHINGTON: Glad to be up early.

MARTIN: Any big takeaways from last night's win?

WASHINGTON: Oh, yeah. Michigan's defense is crazy. You know, Washington had a great quarterback with Michael Penix Jr. - loved his lefty play behind center, loved his purple durag. But they really threw him off all night with great pressure. He wasn't able to get in a rhythm. He overthrew a couple of plays. He wasn't able to hit the big plays that Washington was known for all season. So Michigan's defense really carried the day. Their offense did what they had to do. And they won the national championship.

MARTIN: I do think, though, football fans were expecting a bit more of a competitive game after the season that Washington had. What do you make of it?

WASHINGTON: It wasn't uncompetitive. You know, Washington's defense settled down. They got gashed in the first half. And Michigan ran for 200 and a little bit yards, which was the most in any half they had that season. But Washington settled down. And in the third quarter they just traded field goals. And it was a one-score game. And - but as the fourth quarter started, you got the feeling that whatever team was able to make a big play first would win. And then, bing, Michigan hits the tight end for 41 yards. They get in the scoring range. They punch it in for a touchdown. And that seemed like the game was over then. So it was pretty competitive.

MARTIN: OK, fair. Because, you know, some of us have to go to bed - I'm just saying - at the half. So it's been a long drought for Michigan. They last won in a national championship in 1997. But this also comes after an NCAA investigation into allegations of in-person scouting and stealing signs. The Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh, was actually suspended for three games. Now, you could look at this as kind of a triumph over adversity, but you could look at that as a tarnish on the title. How do you think about it?

WASHINGTON: First, I got to correct you. Harbaugh was suspended for six games...

MARTIN: Six - right, I'm sorry.

WASHINGTON: ...This season, three by his own school. And the - you know, the allegations - we won't go down that rabbit hole. I will say that the NCAA issued a statement that included the word cheeseburger in it. And we also are talking about people in disguise on other sidelines. So there's that. You know, I think that this is not a triumph over adversity. I think that this is just big-time sports doing what big-time sports does. And I hate to say it, Michel, but nobody cares about all these allegations. The NCAA doesn't care.

MARTIN: Really?

WASHINGTON: The NCAA wants Michigan in this game because it's a huge brand. They get ratings. They get fans. And that's what the NCAA is all about. This is just big-time college sports at the highest level. It's how it goes. If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.

MARTIN: Wow.

WASHINGTON: And so it's more just - what it is, is the NCAA triumphing over all of the cloudy smoke that always surrounds sports at the highest level.

MARTIN: Wow. No cynicism here?

WASHINGTON: Just a little.

MARTIN: Just - OK.

WASHINGTON: But you know what? I wasn't thinking about stealing signs during the game. I was thinking about, man, is Penix going to connect downfield? Are they going to pick him off again? That's what I was thinking about. And the game delivered.

MARTIN: Coach Harbaugh has a national championship previously coaching in the NFL. You think he'll stay at Michigan, or do you think he's going back to the NFL?

WASHINGTON: He has not closed the door.

MARTIN: All right. That's ESPN's Jesse Washington. Jesse, thank you.

WASHINGTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.