Previewing Washington vs Michigan

The rich history between Washington & Michigan will continue with a new chapter on September 5th in Seattle

Photo: Andy Bao / The Seattle Times

The Michigan Wolverines will travel to Seattle on September 5th to take on the Washington Huskies in a highly anticipated non-conference game. The matchup will renew a rivalry between the two programs that has often featured close games and high stakes. Since 1978, the teams have faced off 8 times with 4 of those games coming in the Rose Bowl. UW has gone 5-3 in those matchups including a 34-14 win in the 1992 Rose Bowl that secured a National Title for the Huskies.

Jim Harbaugh took over a Michigan program in 2015 that had just completed a 5-7 season and led an instant rebuild. The Wolverines went 10-3 in Harbaugh's 1st season and followed that up with a 2nd consecutive 10 win season in 2016. Strangely, that has become the peak for the Michigan program under Harbaugh. Many thought it was just a matter of time before Michigan would make the College Football Playoff but after starting 20-6, Harbaugh has gone 27-12 the past 3 seasons. Michigan has been burdened by an inability to beat Ohio State and they've often followed that loss with a disappointing bowl performance as well, losing their past 4 bowl appearances.

The Wolverines will look to have a breakout year in Harbaugh's 6th season and a win against the Huskies will be the 1st test of the 2020 season. Michigan will come to Seattle after losing 10 players to the NFL Draft in April and will need to break in some new pieces quickly. Losses to the NFL Draft consisted of 4 offensive lineman, a wide receiver and 5 defensive players. PFF projects Michigan as the 17th best team in 2020 and ESPN's FPI has the Wolverines at 19th. Despite the personnel losses, Michigan will feature plenty of talent in 2020. Harbaugh has signed 58 4/5 star recruits over the past 4 years.

The Wolverine defense has been consistently dominant in the Harbaugh era. The Michigan defense has finished in the Top 16 in points allowed per game 4 times. That unit should be strong again under the leadership of Don Brown. Defensive Linemen Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchison return to form a dominant pass rush after registering a combined 22.5 TFL and 10 sacks.

On offense, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton will battle for the starting quarterback job in fall camp to replace Shea Patterson who threw 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for the Wolverines in 2019. Harbaugh favors a run heavy offense but moved to the spread in 2019 when he hired Josh Gattis as his new Offensive Coordinator. The Wolverines ran on 54% of their plays last season and you would expect them to lean on their run game against Washington while breaking in a new quarterback in a hostile environment. The Wolverine rushing attack features two 220lb runners who combined for 1348 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2019.

The Huskies will be breaking in a new coach against Michigan and the main focus for 1st year Head Coach Jimmy Lake will be figuring out how to replace his quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver from last season. Former 4 star Jacob Sirmon will be the likely starter at Quarterback and Washington will need a strong season from the talented passer to compete for the Pac-12 Title. Sirmon will have plenty of talented young playmakers to throw to and the rushing attack features an extremely physical runner in Richard Newton who scored 11 touchdowns as a Freshman. The unknowns on offense have led to a wide range of predictions for the 2020 Huskies. PFF placed Washington 8th in their way-too-early rankings while ESPN's FPI currently has UW 28th.

On defense, Washington returns nearly every starter from a young defense that ranked 15th nationally in points allowed per game. UW has one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in Pete Kwiatkowski and the Husky defense should be outstanding in 2020. ESPN's SP+ projects the UW defense to rank 10th nationally but don't be surprised if this defense ends up finishing in the Top 5 as they did in 2017 and 2018.

Past 8 Games Between Washington & Michigan:

2002: Michigan 31 vs Washington 29

2001: Washington 23 vs Michigan 18

1993: Michigan 38 vs Washington 31 (Rose Bowl)

1992: Washington 34 vs Michigan 14 (Rose Bowl)

1984: Washington 20 vs Michigan 11

1983: Washington 25 vs Michigan 24

1981: Michigan 23 vs Washington 6 (Rose Bowl)

1978: Washington 27 vs Michigan 20 (Rose Bowl)

Prediction: In a defensive battle, a deep and talented Husky D line dominates the trenches against a Michigan offensive line that lost 4 starters to the NFL. Washington's elite defense and a deafening crowd gives the Huskies a 17-14 win over Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines.