The conversation leading to the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Day largely focused on who wouldn’t be playing.
Undefeated ACC champion Florida State was left out of the CFP due to star quarterback Jordan Travis missing the rest of the season after a serious leg injury late in the season.
The rage coming from Tallahassee was palpable, as was the anger of many within the college football world.
“Win and you’re in” is the usual thinking in sports, so an undefeated Power 5 conference champion missing out on a chance for a national championship was unthinkable.
And yet, two things can be true at once.
Florida State sitting at home without a loss was a bad look, and the College Football Playoff committee gave fans two thrilling matchups.
Michigan rallied late in the fourth quarter before stopping Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe on fourth-and-goal in overtime to continue on their “us against the world” march, and the Washington Huskies barely avoided an all-time collapse to keep the existence of the Pac-12 alive for one more week.
Let’s look at what was learned on Monday as the final edition of the four-team CFP reaches its end.
Michael Penix Jr. looks like the one who was snubbed
The 2023 Heisman Trophy went to LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels after the senior had a spectacular statistical season.
Daniels single-handedly carried the Tigers, throwing for 40 touchdowns and adding 1,134 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Despite his heroics, LSU lost three games by early November, and was out of the SEC West and CFP race.
If Florida State was snubbed by the CFP committee due to going undefeated, wouldn’t it make sense that Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was also snubbed by the Heisman Trophy voters when he was selected as the runner-up?
Penix led Washington to an undefeated season and the Pac-12 title, going over 4,000 passing yards for the second consecutive year.
While the wins weren’t always pretty – Washington’s last 10 games have been decided by 10 points or fewer – the Huskies found a way to stay out of the loss column.
On Monday night, Penix and the Huskies continued on their winning path, needing a last-second play by cornerback Elijah Jackson to defeat Texas 37-31. Penix was spectacular for Washington, picking apart the Texas defense through the air and using his legs when needed.
The sixth-year senior attacked the Texas defense down the field, 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 looked every part of the Heisman and now will play for the national championship as his NFL stock continues to rise.
Penix also has a story that’s made for the most prestigious individual award in sports.
In his first four seasons at Indiana, Penix suffered three season-ending injuries, including major injuries to both knees. He transferred to Washington in 2022 and decided to return for his sixth season of college football, where he now has the opportunity to leave Seattle as a legend.
“It was the tough times. I feel like everything I’ve been through built me for this,” Penix said after beating Texas.
Penix has a legitimate gripe with the Heisman committee, but a national championship will quickly make him forget the snub.
Offensive line issues doomed Alabama
Michigan may have defeated Alabama to advance to the CFP national championship, but the Crimson Tide know they let one get away.
The offensive line issues that plagued Alabama during the early part of the 2023 season reared its ugly head on New Year’s Day.
Quarterback Jalen Milroe was sacked 44 times this season, the most by the program in the last 35 years, according to ESPN.
The Michigan defense overwhelmed Alabama’s offensive line in the first half, sacking Milroe five times. The Wolverines finished the day with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
“It was a combination of several things,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of the offensive line’s woes, including missed opportunities redirecting protection because the clock was running down, according to ESPN. “I thought we did a better job in the second half, but we didn’t give Jalen an opportunity to make some plays, nor our receivers to make some plays down the field, which was a big part of this game.”
In the second half, Alabama made adjustments, allowing Milroe more time in the pocket, but miscues by the offensive line persisted.
On the first drive of the half, Alabama got down to the Michigan 47-yard line before two bad snaps backed the Crimson Tide up before having to punt. In overtime, a low snap on fourth-and-goal appeared to throw off Alabama’s final play when Milroe was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Saban said.
Alabama has now gone three straight years without a national championship, a first under Saban.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.