No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 2 Washington for it all. Ah, Big Ten tradition. Pause to absorb the sarcasm.

Turns out the matchup in the final four-team College Football Playoff National Championship is also a window on our times. Following Monday's clash in Houston, the Wolverines and Huskies will play in the same conference beginning next season.

More than that, nine months from now, Washington will host Michigan as Big Ten "rivals" on Oct. 5 in Husky Stadium. Just months after deciding to join the Big Ten, all the Huskies did is win the final Pac-12 championship and advance all the way to the national title game for the first time. Washington officially joins its new conference on July 1.

Got all that? Realignment is the gift that keeps on giving.

The matchup should also please the football gods. It features the CFP's top two seeds and the only undefeated teams remaining. The game is heavy with storylines: The nation's best defense (Michigan) against the nation's best passing offense (Washington). The game's quirkiest coach (Jim Harbaugh) against the game's third-winningest active coach (Kalen DeBoer, who won 82% of his FBS games).

Both quarterbacks -- Michigan's J.J. McCarthy and Washington's Michael Penix Jr. (at Indiana) -- have plenty of Big Ten experience. The Wolverines' best wide receiver (Roman Wilson) is from Hawaii (Roman Wilson), while the Huskies' best pass catcher (Rome Odunze) is from another planet leading the country in receiving.

If Michigan gives up less than a touchdown in the game, it will become the first team since 2011 to average less than 10 points per game. Good luck with that against a Washington offense that averages more than 40 points per game. If it wins, Washington would be far and away the "worst" defense to win a championship in the BCS era (since 1998). The Huskies are 97th nationally giving up more than 400 yards per game.

Six times this season, UW has allowed at least 30 points. The last time Michigan gave up 30+ points in a regular-season game was 2021. Michigan is playing for its first outright national championship since 1948 and first share since 1997. Washington's only title was shared with Miami in 1991.

Michigan has won 14 games for the first time in program history. Washington has the nation's longest winning streak, 21 games. Harbaugh is fulfilling his Michigan destiny. DeBoer is building a legacy at Washington; he has yet to lose either a one-score game or to a ranked team.

It is a clash of cultures and -- for one more game -- conferences.

Michigan is a charter member of the Big Ten going back to 1896. Washington is playing its last game as a Pac-12 member because, after Monday, there will be no more Pac-12 football. More sad irony: The Pac-12 is in its first CFP since 2016 (also Washington) in its final season of competition.

If you want to squint and see into the future, the Big Ten can already celebrate its first national championship since 2014. Well, sort of. 

How Michigan can win

Keep doing the same thing. Pound the rock, and defensively, pound the opponent. But it was one thing to smother punchless Big Ten offenses and another to slow an Alabama that was on a heater. Michigan will attempt to slow an elite offense, maybe the elite offense in the nation.

The top two offenses Michigan has faced this season are UNLV (43rd nationally) and Alabama (58th). Washington is the best of the best with its passing game. If you want a juicy prop bet in this game, try this one: Odds of Michigan's defense holding Washington under 30 points. We told you above how that number is sort of the key to both sides of the ball.

Just look what happened to Jalen Milroe and Bama. Jesse Minter's defense contributed 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. That was Alabama getting tackled behind the line once every 11 offensive snaps. It took a half for Milroe and Alabama's offensive line to figure out Michigan's twists and blitzes. Until late, Bama had staged a stirring comeback. Then that defense stood up once again.

The Michigan defensive line vs. Washington's offensive line might be the matchup in the game. Michigan has 16 sacks in the last four games, 10 in the last two. Kris Jenkins is the latest in a line of great Michigan defensive tackles. Defensive back Mike Sainristil can play anywhere in the secondary. That group will be challenged. More than 80% of Odunze's catches have gone for first downs or touchdowns.

You know exactly what you're going to get with the offense. As mentioned, offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore will pound it with running back Blake Corum. McCarthy has proven he is all the way back from injuries throwing three touchdowns against Alabama after throwing exactly one in the previous six weeks.

Special teams coach Jay Harbaugh must clean up his group. Punt returner Jake Thaw almost blew the Bama game with a late muff near Michigan's goal line. James Turner missed a 49-yard field goal and a bad snap foiled an extra-point attempt. 

How Washington can win

The Huskies were supposed to be taken down by now. Their lopsided offensive attack features the nation's best passer and what now have to be considered the best pass catchers.

You have to have some balance, right?  Well, no. Washington gives up a load of yards but not that many points (24 per game). It has recovered only four fumbles all season but ranks among the top 10 in interceptions.

Still, UW has needed to outscore pretty much everyone all season. They are top 10 in touchdowns and points. They are the best imitation of LSU in 2019 since LSU in 2019. Penix's combination of arm strength and left-handedness have been enough to keep defenses off balance. Really, think of the last great left-handed quarterbacks. Tim Tebow and Tua Tagovailoa (actually right-handed but throws left-handed)? They won national championships, so there's something to that.

You don't hear much about defense at Washington, but the unit can make big plays at big times. You don't beat Oregon twice by sitting back. Those fourth-down stops alone against the Ducks in the first meeting on Oct. 14 are as big as anything Michigan has accomplished defensively.

Now, try to name Washington's defensive coordinator (William Inge). Edge rusher Bralen Trice must have a big game against Michigan. He sacked Quinn Ewers twice in the semifinal.

DeBoer is as low-key as Harbaugh is a headliner. The 49-year-old went 67-3 at the University of Sioux Falls winning as many NAIA national championships as he had losses in five seasons. DeBoer then worked his way up as an offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Indiana.

CBS Sports named DeBoer our Coach of the Year.

It was at Indiana where DeBoer developed a relationship with Penix, who was injured and broken (in spirit) with the Hoosiers. Before transferring, Penix got tape of the Washington offensive line to see what he was getting into. Things worked out. Washington won the Joe Moore Award this season, given to the nation's best offensive line.

That unit seems to be the key to Washington's success. It gave up on 11 sacks all season. (By comparison, Michigan had six sacks alone against Alabama.) Texas had zero quarterback hurries and zero sacks. Washington threw it 39 times.

Michigan will have a challenge. Alabama was never comfortable against the Wolverines line in the Rose Bowl semifinal.

Washington features a rarity these days, a relentless downfield passing game. Only fellow Heisman Trophy finalists Bo Nix and Jayden Daniels threw more touchdown passes than Penix's 35.

Alabama's receivers struggled to get open against Michigan's elite secondary. Michigan will face a next-level It almost certainly will be the biggest challenge. Odunze leads the country with 1,553 yards receiving; Ja'Lynn Polk has 1,122 yards.

Who will win?

Both squads seem like teams of destiny. Penix's resurgence at UW is inspiring. So is Michigan's run under Harbaugh, who when he isn't stealing the spotlight with his shenanigans is one hell of a ball coach.

It took nine years for Harbaugh to get this close to fulfilling his destiny. Monday night is why he was brought back to his alma mater almost a decade ago. Considering who he replaced -- Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke -- the wait was worth it for the maize & blue.

The feeling here is that Michigan, because of its defense, is better suited for the moment. It doesn't seem like that D is going to collapse against Washington. With McCarthy fully healthy and Corum still the heart of the running game, the Wolverines will be able to nail down national championship No. 4.

Sometime in the near future, the Big House will host a big party.