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Oh So Sweet: Michigan to Face Virginia Tech in Sugar Bowl

December 5th, 2011 by Justin Potts


Imagine how you felt at this time three years ago, watching the bowl selection show and knowing Michigan was staying home for the first time in nearly four decades. Then move forward a year and think about watching bowl season without your beloved Maize and Blue for the second straight year. Now advance to this time a year ago, finally being bowl eligible, but limping into the Gator Bowl on the heels of two blowout losses with a lame duck and beleaguered coach.

Now, imagine Bourbon Street and Cafe DuMonde, creole food and ragtag jazz musicians on every corner. But best of all, imagine Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, Kevin Koger and David Molk, and the rest of Michigan’s seniors who chose to stay through three head coaches, multiple coordinators, and more scrutiny than any Michigan class in decades now going to a BCS bowl.

On Sunday night, Michigan was selected by the Sugar Bowl to face the Virginia Tech Hokies on January 3. It will be Michigan’s first BCS appearance since a Rose Bowl loss to USC at the end of the 2006 season and Michigan’s first ever matchup with Virginia Tech.

Michigan hasn’t won a BCS bowl since a 35-34 overtime win over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl. Since then, Michigan has made a BCS bowl three times, all losses in the Rose Bowl, two to USC and one to Texas. Michigan has played in one Sugar Bowl previously (before the BCS existed), losing 9-7 to Auburn in 1984, and is 18-3 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. Virginia Tech is 1-0 against Big Ten opponents and  1-2 in Sugar Bowls.

It creates an intriguing matchup two of the nation’s top ten defenses. The Hokies allow 17.2 points per game – identical to Michigan – and rank 12th nationally in total defense, giving up 313 yards per game. Offensively, the Hokies average 28.5 points per game and rank 31st in rush offense and 66th in pass offense. They do boast the nation’s seventh-best rusher, David Wilson, who averages 125 rushing yards per game, but Michigan has seen its share of talented running backs this season.

Neither team is very familiar with the other, having never played before. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, in his 25th season at the school, said he hasn’t seen much of Michigan but knows Denard Robinson can move.

Michigan coaches and players say likewise about the Hokies, but also talk about what this means for the program.

“It puts us back on the map, so to speak, as a national powerhouse,” said senior Ryan Van Bergen. “It will be great for recruiting, it will be great for the alumni and the fans, but the biggest thing for us: team 132 wants to play again. We’ve really grown close. We have great team chemistry, and the opportunity to play one more game on a stage as big as the Sugar Bowl is huge for us.”

More to follow on the matchup in the coming weeks.

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In other BCS news, Alabama edged out Oklahoma State to get a spot in the BCS National Championship game against LSU, thus proving what we all already knew: the BCS system is terrible. The same system that denied Michigan a shot at a rematch against Ohio State in 2006 allowed Alabama a rematch against an LSU team that came into its own house and beat it a few weeks ago. If you don’t think there’s an SEC bias, you’re crazy.

Alabama beat Penn State and Auburn on the road and Arkansas at home. Aside from those three, the Crimson Tide didn’t beat a another FBS team that finished with a record above .500. So much for the “vaunted” SEC.

What about the team they held off? Oklahoma State recorded wins over four teams that finished in the BCS Top 25, including a 44-10 stomping of rival Oklahoma on Saturday, and averaged 49.3(!) points per game. Its only loss was in double-overtime at Iowa State. Seven of the Cowboys’ 11 wins were against teams that finished the season with winning records.

Alabama was given the spot in the BCS National Championship game, not because of the season-long results on the field (the overall body of work), but because of the perception that the SEC is be-all end-all in college football. Critics of some type of playoff or plus-one system should be locked away.

The worst part of it is that the system designed to choose the top two teams completely failed the number one team in the nation. LSU is far and away the best team in the nation this season. They’re the only undefeated team in the country, having beaten Pac-12 champion Oregon on a neutral field, Big East champion West Virginia on the road, Alabama on the road, and 10-3 Georgia on a neutral field.

LSU proved it can beat Alabama at Alabama. Why does it have to prove it again? If Alabama wins, who can anyone rightfully call them the better team? If we’re going to throw any other conference out of contention for this season’s national champion, one of two things should happen: LSU should be crowned national champion right now and Oklahoma State should face Alabama for #2, or Alabama should have to beat LSU twice to claim the crown since the Tide already lost to the Tigers once – in Tuscaloosa no less.

Yet it’s not a perfect system and the BCS relishes controversy and the TV ratings and dollars that come with it. And while the same system that got Alabama into the title game this year screwed Michigan out of it five years ago, Michigan was one of the beneficiaries of it this year. So we’ll enjoy our Sugar in New Orleans while our little siblings to the north are relegated to the Outback Bowl.