For fans of losing teams, it is already NFL draft season.
The College Football National Championship between the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines and the No. 2 Washington Huskies will be on Jan. 8 at NRG Stadium in Houston. College sports tend to focus more on the coaches instead of the players.
Although Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Washington coach Kalen DeBoer are two of the best around, there will be a ton of talent on the field during Monday’s game.
Here are five of the players fans should keep an eye on during the championship game.
Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.
Penix put on a show during Washington’s 37-31 victory against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. He completed 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
College football fans knew how talented Penix was after he was a finalist for the 2023 Heisman. He threw for 4,648 yards, 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.
What was more impressive than Penix’s stats was his pinpoint accuracy against a Texas defense that was 15th in the nation in scoring defense. Penix’s football intelligence and ability to throw in tight windows should continue to move him up the draft board come April.
However, questions still remain about Penix at the NFL level. How effective can he be without a clean pocket is something Michigan will be looking to find out Monday night.
Penix’s injury history has also been a subject of conversation. He has suffered four season-ending injuries (ACL in 2018 and 2020 and shoulder injuries in 2019 and 2021). Penix is also an older prospect who will turn 24 in early May.
Although there are many questions, there will be several quarterback-needy teams in the upcoming draft. Penix could potentially be on the Giants’ radar.
Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy
McCarthy had an efficient game in the 27-20 overtime win against Alabama in the Rose Bowl. He finished 17 for 27 with 221 yards and three touchdowns. In 14 games, McCarthy has thrown for 2,851 yards, 22 touchdowns, and four interceptions.
What has made McCarthy a possibly early-round draft prospect is his consistent accuracy. Some have described McCarthy as a game manager, but he has a good enough NFL arm to be successful at the next level. He has the ability to throw the ball on the run and make off-schedule plays inside and out of the pocket.
McCarthy’s biggest con is he holds on to the ball longer than he should. Also, his decision-making is a concern and he is listed at 6-3, 203 pounds.
He could decide to return to Michigan, depending on if Harbaugh sticks around in Ann Arbor. There’s wide speculation that Harbaugh could leave Michigan to coach in the NFL once again.
Washington WR Rome Odunze
Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. is the No. 1 receiving prospect this draft season. But Odunze could easily be the next-best wide receiver after another excellent year in Seattle.
Odunze caught 87 passes for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Huskies. He was a consensus 2023 second-team All-American and an All-Pac-12 first-team selection.
Odunze has everything a team wants in a receiver. He’s 6-3, 215 pounds. He’s an excellent route runner and has tremendous hands. Odunze is also a vertical threat down the field, which should excite some teams.
The Jets could use another weapon opposite Garrett Wilson, who is the focal point in their offense. Odunze would easily become one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets if the Jets decide to draft him.
Michigan RB Blake Corum
Corum is in the mold of former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He is a bowling ball that is difficult for defenders to tackle.
Corum also has the quickness to escape defenders consistently. Corum rushed for 1,111 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Wolverines while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Although he is not likely to be a first-round pick, Corum could be a solid draft pick on Day 2 of April’s draft.
Michigan DT Kris Jenkins
Jenkins is the best player on Michigan’s defensive line. However, his role has diminished this season because he is a better run stuffer and hasn’t taken that next step in the pass-rushing department.
In 14 games, Jenkins has 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He was a significant part of Michigan’s game plan to slow down Jalen Milroe and Alabama’s rushing attack. Pro Football Focus gave Jenkins a run-stopping grade of 76.1.
With another solid performance, Jenkins could continue improving his stock while potentially helping Michigan win a national championship.