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The 'Natty' is set — Michigan vs. Washington. So, did the CFB Committee get it right?

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Houston, we have a championship bout.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CHRIS FOWLER: It's Williams in motion. Low snap - Milroe stopped. Michigan makes a stand.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ewers lobs it up, and it is incomplete. Washington hangs on and wins.

SUMMERS: The calls from ESPN yesterday as the Michigan Wolverines defeated Alabama and the Washington Huskies beat Texas in their College Football Playoff semifinal games. Washington and Michigan square off for the national championship Monday in Houston. Nicole Auerbach was in Pasadena last night at the Rose Bowl, which required overtime, and she joins us now from Chicago. Hi, Nicole.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So, Nicole, what are your biggest takeaways from yesterday's big games? And I want to start with the Rose Bowl, where you were.

AUERBACH: Well, both of them came down to the final play, which was unbelievable. We haven't had a national semifinal day like this during the College Football Playoff era, but the Rose Bowl came down to a team in Michigan beating Alabama the way that we usually see SEC teams beat their opponents. They were really physical at the line of scrimmage. They were tough, and J.J. McCarthy made some incredible throws with the game on the line to tie it in the final minutes to set up that overtime period, where, of course, as we heard, they got that final stop and secured the win. And this is the first time that Michigan will be playing for a national championship since they started determining national championship games of the BCS era.

SUMMERS: And what about the Sugar Bowl, then?

AUERBACH: Well, the Sugar Bowl was incredible. We had two incredible quarterbacks in this game, but that one really came down to Michael Penix Jr., who is a super senior. He's had two season-ending injuries. He transfers from Indiana, and he just put on an absolute show. Him and those receivers that they have are doing some special stuff in college football this year, and they were able to do just enough in that defense to get one stop when they needed it at the end to get there. And so you have a team that a lot of people kept picking to lose along the way in the course of the season continuing to win, and the Huskies get a chance to play for a national title, too.

SUMMERS: I mean, there was a whole lot of criticism of the college football committee's picks this year. Undefeated Florida State got left out. But judging from what we've seen, did the committee get it right?

AUERBACH: Well, I was one of those people who believed that Florida State deserved a spot in the playoff, but the committee decided that they thought Alabama would give us a better game. And after seeing the two games that we just saw, it's hard to argue with that because they did pick the four best teams to play and give us two of the best games possible. And I feel for Florida State. I feel for the Seminoles. I think at full strength, they would have been right there with them, with the four teams, but we just haven't seen a field this deep with this many true contenders. And I do think the committee members are probably sleeping a little better seeing the way that those two games played out.

SUMMERS: I can imagine. I mean, look, both Washington and Michigan are undefeated, posting 14-and-0 records, but they took two wildly different paths to get to this point. Can you tell us about one or two key factors behind these schools' playoff pushes this year?

AUERBACH: Well, like I said, with Washington, the quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., has been such an integral piece to this, and he transferred to reunite with his former offensive coordinator at Indiana, now the head coach at Washington. And Kalen DeBoer has won every single level that he has coached at. So they have done this really quickly in just a couple of years. It's the first Pac-12 team to play for a national championship since 2016, 2017, and here they are actually playing for it all in the final year of that conference's existence...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

AUERBACH: ...The way that we know it. So that one has just been an incredible program rebuild and build with the right coach and the right key players. And then for Michigan, this has been a multiyear process. They got to the national semifinals the last two years but could not get over the hump...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

AUERBACH: ...And started out real shaky in this game. There were a lot of special teams mistakes. But they were able to grind it out and be physical and be tough and run the ball, too, when they wanted to. And they play kind of...

SUMMERS: All right.

AUERBACH: ...An old style - old-school style of football, and that is partially why people didn't think they could get here. But they finally proved that they could do it...

SUMMERS: But they did, indeed. Nicole Auerbach is senior writer with The Athletic and NBC Sports. Thanks for joining us.

AUERBACH: Thanks for having me. 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.

Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.