2012 Sugar Bowl Preview
Michigan Wolverines vs Virginia Tech Hokies
Yes, this is the BCS bowl matchup tainted by controversy. Every season involves at least one unsatisfying bowl matchup – unsatisfying not in terms of the Xs and Os or the Jimmies and Joes, but in terms of the political process that created the particular pigskin pairing in the first place. The Virginia Tech Hokies and Michigan Wolverines should not have to apologize for traveling to the Louisiana Superdome for a prime-time showdown on Jan. 3, but the system that brought them together has certainly come under renewed scrutiny. That’s the first point of discussion whenever the 2012 Sugar Bowl is the topic of the day.
The selection of Michigan for this contest was not controversial in an immediate sense; everyone knew that the Wolverines, out of the BCS mix for several years and ready to bring a massive group of fans to the Big Easy, would be TV and tourist manna from heaven for Sugar Bowl CEO Pete Hoolahan and his host committee. Yet, Michigan was – and is – a team with a very weak profile: The Maize and Blue, under the leadership of their first-year coach, rising star Brady Hoke, owned just one win over a team that finished in the top 20 of the final BCS standings (No. 20 Nebraska). Michigan lost to Michigan State and Iowa, leading many observers to conclude that if the Big Ten deserved to put a second team in the BCS, it was Michigan State, the hard-luck loser of the Big Ten Championship Game to Wisconsin. Michigan’s presence in this game is a testament to this school’s brand name and the weight of its presence as a traditional power in college football.
Virginia Tech’s selection is more controversial not because of the Hokies’ resume when compared to Michigan – Tech won tough road games against Georgia Tech and Virginia, while Michigan’s toughest road win came at 6-6 Illinois. Clemson was the one team Virginia Tech couldn’t solve; the Hokies and coach Frank Beamer took care of business against everyone else on their schedule, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division for the fifth time in the past seven years. No, the reason why Tech’s presence in New Orleans is such a sore spot in the college football world is that the Hokies were blasted by Clemson in this past weekend’s ACC title game. A 28-point loss is supposed to carry harsh consequences for a team that lost two games this past season, especially since 11-1 Boise State and Mountain West Conference champion TCU were available alternatives for this contest. A 10-2 Kansas State team that played in America’s most challenging top-to-bottom conference, the Big 12, also had a better profile than Virginia Tech. Yes, the Hokies’ resume doesn’t look that bad when compared to Michigan’s dossier, but since Tech seemed guaranteed to land a Chick-Fil-A Bowl berth on Sunday morning, the abrupt late-stage reversal caught everyone off guard.
Now, to the matchup at hand: This should actually be a very entertaining game to watch. Virginia Tech just isn’t that imposing on defense, which means that its opponent will be able to light up the scoreboard in the Superdome. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson gets punished by physical defenses, but after seeing Clemson’s fleet-footed athletes run past the Hokies’ banged-up and youthful defense in the ACC title game, Robinson and the rest of the skill players on Michigan’s offense should be licking their chops. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has a first-class coaching staff featuring offensive coordinator Al Borges. Borges guided Auburn to a perfect 13-0 season in 2004, good for a No. 2 national ranking. Borges should be able to exploit the weaknesses in Virginia Tech’s overall makeup, enabling the Wolverines to ring up big numbers and force Virginia Tech’s offense to keep pace.
On the other side of the coin, however, consider the notion that one very powerful dynamic is at work in Virginia Tech’s favor: This is the kind of game in which a team smarting from not only a blowout loss, but a perceived lack of respect, rallies around the flag to prove a point. Virginia Tech is naturally and rightly being dismissed heading into this game because it got crushed by Clemson, 38-10, in this past Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. Virginia Tech was supposed to have had the answers for Clemson after losing the first matchup by a lopsided 23-3 score, but after losing a second time to the Tigers in even more emphatic fashion, it’s clear that this bunch of Hokies is just not as good as previous versions. Injuries to the defense have limited the ability of coordinator Bud Foster to put his best 11 players on the field, but the larger point remains that Virginia Tech just hasn’t been as physically imposing in the trenches. This might all seem like a reason to pick Michigan in this game, but the extent to which Virginia Tech has been written off is something to watch for. This is like the NCAA Tournament team who makes it into the Big Dance as a No. 12 seed and gets criticized. When the tournament arrives, this kind of team plays its best game and knocks off the No. 5 seed in the first round. Virginia Tech wants to show that it belongs in the Sugar Bowl, despite what the critics say. This is powerful emotional fuel, and it’s precisely the kind of motivation that often makes a difference in bowl games. The team with more incentive to win – or with more pressure on its back – is more likely to handle the extended one-month layoff with attention on the task at hand. This might be a pleasure trip for Michigan in New Orleans, but it’s definitely going to be all business for the Hokies, and that will matter a lot.
66th in passing offense – 227.1 yards per game
31st in rushing offense – 188.7 yards per game
55th in points scored – 28.5 points per game
8th in points allowed – 17.2 points per game
90th in passing offense – 187.4 yards per game
12th in rushing offense – 235.7 yards per game
23rd in points scored – 34.2 points per game
7th in points allowed – 17.2 points per game
By: Matt Zemek
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