Huskies’ Future Murky after National Championship Game Loss, DeBoer Exit

Photo Courtesy: Unsplash by Dave Adamson

On Monday night, the 14-0 Washington Huskies took on the 14-0 Michigan Wolverines in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and lost 13-34, marking a bitter end to an otherwise magical season.

The Huskies, who came into the game ranked #2 in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, struggled to get much going through the air against the Wolverines’ #2 ranked passing defense, and an 81-yard interception return by Michigan with 4:29 left in the game seemed to all but seal the loss.

The stark difference between the two offenses’ rushing attacks seemed to be a major factor in the outcome of the game, as the Wolverines rumbled to 303 yards on the ground and UW, by comparison, only managed 46 yards rushing total. The lack of a running game for the Huskies, which can be attributed to running back Dillon Johnson’s lingering injuries, forced star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to attempt 51 passes. Of those 51 passing attempts, Penix was sacked once and intercepted 2 times, only being able to complete 27 passes.

With this National Championship Game loss, UW exits the PAC-12 Conference with a whimper and enters the offseason with a lot of questions.

For one, will the team be able to handle the exodus of talented players and adequately replace their production? Heisman trophy runner-up and starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (ranked #30 in a list of eligible players for the NFL draft), leading receiver and Biletnikoff Award finalist Rome Odunze (ranked #10), second leading receiver Ja’Lynn Polk (ranked #60), starting offensive tackle Troy Fautanu (ranked #39), and starting defensive end Bralen Trice (ranked #17) headline a list of players that have declared or are expected to declare for the NFL draft.

For another, can the Huskies adapt their offense and defense to beat teams in a run-centric and defensive minded BIG10 conference? The 2023 Huskies ranked #104 in the country in terms of rushing yards per game and #96 in terms of total defense, lagging behind BIG10 counterparts Ohio State and Michigan in both categories. Given the nature of their championship game loss, it’s fair to wonder if competing in a different conference will affect UW’s ability to win many games again.

Up until Saturday, the answers to these questions seemed to lie in head coach Kalen DeBoer’s presumed return, his faith that UW would transition well to BIG10 play, and UW’s #28 ranked (at the time) transfer class. However, the announcement of legendary Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s retirement on Wednesday created an opportunity that was too good for DeBoer to pass up, and on Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide announced that they are hiring DeBoer as their new head coach. Since the announcement, several Huskies players have expressed their intent to enter the transfer portal, and the future of the football program has been placed in a state of flux. 

For a college football program located in a city that is known for its rainfall, the phrase “when it rains, it pours” seems apt in summarizing the events of the past week.