This season, the University of Michigan got back into the Top 25. They got back to being a contender in the Big Ten. They got back to a BCS bowl, and back to winning 10 games. But Michigan football isn’t “back.” At least not yet.
A win against 11-2 Virginia Tech (#11 in the BCS) will go a long way towards re-establishing Michigan as one of the top programs in the country. A victory over the Hokies would give the Wolverines 11 wins on the season, including nine against bowl teams. Depending on how the rest of the bowls play out, the Wolverines could even finish the season ranked in the top-10.
Michigan has not won a bowl game since January 2008, when they defeated a Tim Tebow led Florida team 41-35 in former head coach Lloyd Carr’s final game. For many Wolverine fans, it has felt even longer than that. Michigan did not qualify for bowl games after either the 2008 or 2009 seasons, ending a bowl streak of 33 years. Last season, the Wolverines qualified for a bowl, but were routed by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl in a game that few remember, because they tried so hard to forget.
A Sugar Bowl bid was unexpected but welcomed by Michigan fans who have struggled knowing that their team was no longer a top-ranked team or a championship threat. Beating another big-name program in a BCS Bowl will go a long way in reassuring the Michigan faithful that the Wolverines tradition of winning didn’t go way, but rather just took a short break.
The two teams find themselves in New Orleans after completely different results in their last game. Virginia Tech comes into the game off a 38-10 ACC Championship Game loss to Clemson, a team featuring an athletic quarterback in Taj Boyd. Virginia Tech’s inclusion in the BCS has been questioned by about every analyst out there, but here they are.
On the other hand, Michigan is on a three game winning streak and are led by their athletic quarterback, Denard Robinson. “Shoelace” is coming off perhaps his two best games of the season, where he lead the Wolverines to a rout of Nebraska and a huge rivalry win against Ohio State. In those two games, Robinson was 25-45 passing for 347 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. Robinson also carried the ball 49 times for 253 yards and four touchdowns.
Expect both teams to turn to their running game to move the ball. Michigan featured two 1,000 yard rushers in Robinson and running back Fitz Toussaint. Virginia Tech’s David Wilson finished the season fifth in the NCAA in rushing with 1,627 yards. Michigan should have the advantage at offensive line, with Rimington Trophy winner (nation’s best center) David Molk. If the Hokie offensive line can neutralize Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, Wilson should be able to gain decent yardage and give quarterback Logan Thomas a chance to show off his arm. In order to hold Thomas and Wilson in check, Michigan’s defense will have to play much better than it did against the Buckeyes in the season finale.
Another key to the game might be special teams. Usually Virginia Tech is known for great special teams play, particularly in blocking kicks. However, the Hokies have not made many big plays this season, and from the “here’s something you don’t hear everyday” department, sent their top two kickers home before the game. Their starting kicker Cody Journell spent some time in jail before being suspended, and backup kicker Tyler Weiss was sent home after missing curfew. If the game comes down to a big kick, Michigan should have the advantage with Brendan Gibbons, who has been surprisingly effective.
A win on the big stage of the Sugar Bowl will go a long way in proving that the Wolverines are nationally prominent again. If would also send Michigan into next season with a ton of momentum. An 11 win season, a top ranked recruiting class, and a probable pre-season Heisman contender in Denard Robinson will give the pollsters a lot of reasons to rank the Wolverines highly heading into next season.
Michigan will face Virginia Tech on January 3rd at 8:30 pm EST in New Orleans.