No SEC or ACC? Six (and a Half) Reasons a Southerner Should Still Watch the National Championship

OK, so a team from the South didn’t make it. Here’s why we’re watching anyway

A triptych of three images: a husky; diners in a restaurant window; a plate of saucy wings


On Monday, the Washington Huskies will face off against the Michigan Wolverines in the College Football Playoff National Championship. We’re a tad bit salty there’s no home team to cheer for—in fact, it’s the first time a Southern school hasn’t made a showing since the 2015 game, the first year of the current playoff system. (A quick Southern statistics recap: Alabama has the most wins at three, with Clemson and Georgia tied for two). However, as loyal football fans, we’ll still be watching the big game—and here are six reasons, plus a bonus, you should too. 

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Because This Good Dog Will Melt Your Heart

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Michigan may call themselves the Wolverines, but they don’t actually have a mascot—no pampered tame wolverine on a leash, no human bobbling inside a too-big foam-and-faux-fur wolverine head. And good thing. Because there’s only room for one fuzzy star in our hearts at this championship game, and it’s Dubs, the University of Washington’s live Alaskan Malamute. I’ve been sending my husband photos of da sweet widdle black-and-white baby on social media these past few weeks, as the husky has struggled to make it up past midnight on New Year’s Eve after a busy December, and soaked up the bright lights of the Sugar Bowl in his trademark aviators. —Amanda Heckert, executive editor, dog lover 

For the Love of Houston

Any time media staffs travel to the South from their New York or California or Connecticut cubicle-lands, I wonder how they decide where to eat. Do they talk to locals? Text their old college buddies? Between setting up for shots throughout NRG Stadium, will the ESPN posse walk around downtown Houston, grabbing that B-roll footage and maybe, if they’re in-the-know, a barbecue pork bánh mi at Cali Sandwich & Pho? Okay, here’s a lifeline: The Houston writers Bao Ong and Kayla Stewart shared a generous list of where to eat, drink, and explore, perfect for newbies and for those of us watching from afar, scheming about a visit to the country’s fourth largest city with arguably its most deliciously diverse food scene. —CJ Lotz Diego, senior editor, travel aficionado 

Here for the Food 

Just because my Virginia Tech Hokies won’t be competing doesn’t mean we aren’t rustling up a big ole spread at our house. Even though we’ve all gained a few extra pounds over the holidays, I’m still planning to whip up some game-day classics like chili, wings, sausage balls, and other crowd-pleasers. Scroll through this roundup for some inspiration! —Emily Daily, newsletter editor, foodie 

Sizing Up the Competition

For all of you SEC fans, this game is a chance to preview the new Big Ten super conference, which Washington is poised to join next season (and where Michigan has held court since 1896). For a Big Ten alum like myself, it’s a refreshing plot twist: I’ve become so used to seeing the SEC humiliate our conference heavyweights—and Alabama eke out heartbreakers in general—that I thought I was hallucinating when I saw the final score of the Rose Bowl. —Elizabeth Florio, digital editor, still-not-a-Wolverines-fan 

It’s Still a Southern Game 

photo: Nick Tre. Smith, Icon Sportswire/Kevin Reece
Michael Penix Jr.; Blake Corum.

Both teams’ lineups are peppered with guys from the South, and two are especially fun to watch: One, of course, is all-everything quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington. Penix grew up in Dade City, Florida, where the 6-foot-3, 213-pounder is implausibly still known as “Little Mike.” The lefty can sling it all over the field. Meanwhile, Michigan running back Blake Corum (the Wolverines’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns) hails from the one-stoplight town of Marshall, Virginia, and has dreams of going back and buying the farm where he spent many days as a kid (check the tattoo of “the red house” on his left arm). Great story. I just wish both had gone to Florida instead of those up-north schools. —Chris Kraft, digital chief, suffering Gator

Because Your SEC Rival Isn’t There

As a diehard Georgia fan, I admittedly have a little (a lot) of bitterness this playoff season, but although we don’t get the chance to play for the title, there is one reason to feel relief come Monday night: No SEC rival gets to take home the prize either. I know it’s not the most neighborly attitude to have—and I do cheer for the SEC most of the time—but I’ll rest easier knowing that the 2023 national championship banner won’t be flying over Bryant-Denny, DKR Texas Memorial, or any other stadium the Dawgs visit next year. (And I know, every other SEC team likely feels the same way about UGA.) Sure, a rising tide lifts all boats—I just don’t believe that extends to the Crimson Tide. —Caroline Sanders Clements, associate editor, rabid Dawg fan

In Case None of That Worked

It’s a 7:30 start…even I can stay awake for that! —Dave DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief, grandpa at heart