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The Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Present Iteration: The Sugar Bowl
Toasting Town: New Orleans, Louisiana
Vintage: 1935
Combatants: Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)

The BCS breeds corruption. We know this. The Sugar Bowl’s problem was being blatant, dispensing with any pretense of merit and choosing the two most lucrative teams. Michigan, by many statistical metrics a top ten performer, has a plausible case for inclusion. Virginia Tech, ranked 20 or below by SRS, FEI and Sagarin and without a Top 40 win, does not.

Big Ten Bellwether: The Big Ten is not having a great bowl season. The Big Ten seldom seems to have a great bowl season. Michigan will continue this trend, or be politely ignored until the next Big Ten team continues the trend. Why does the Big Ten suck in bowl games? The football can be staid and conservative. The recruiting demographics are in decline. The conference is a victim of its commercial success (two teams in BCS every year, a number of SEC bowls). The Big Ten does the most traveling. Schools from the south and the west, will generally do better playing games in the south and the west.

Michigan Wolverines [SRS 9]
Best Wins: Notre Dame (17), Nebraska (23), Ohio State (34)
Losses: Michigan State (15), Iowa (36)
Famous Alum: James Earl Jones

Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez, hired Brady Hoke and won as man Big Ten games as it had the previous three years combined. Hoke was a bonafide “Michigan Man” though much of his success should be attributed to his coordinators. Al Borges adjusted, intermingled concepts and fashioned a Top 20 offense. Greg Mattison improved Michigan’s defensive FEI from 109th to 17th, which is insane. What should have been a transition year ended up being one of Michigan’s best since the 1997 National Title.

The Wolverine alpha and omega is Denard Robinson. He’s the freakiest of freakish athletes. He can take it to the house on any play. He’s a good enough passer within Michigan’s system to keep defenses honest. They have a solid running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint, a lot of depth (though not top-end speed) at wide receiver and a veteran offensive line. Defensively, their defensive line is strong. Their secondary is weak. They rely heavily on Greg Mattison’s scheming and aggressive play-calling. If they can’t get to Logan Thomas, expect him to exploit coverage breakdowns.

Virginia Tech Hokies [SRS 26]
Best Wins: Miami (41), North Carolina (44), Georgia Tech (46)
Losses: Clemson (27), Clemson (27)
Famous Alum: Hoda Kotb

Virginia Tech won 11 games. The feat is nothing to scoff at, but given their schedule that’s about the least that could be expected. The ACC was soft. Their non-conference scheduled was even more flaccid. They did not play one Top 40 ACC team, Florida State, and they lost to the other, Clemson, twice by three scores at home and at a neutral venue.

The Hokies have an NFL-caliber tailback in David Wilson, depth at wide receiver and a sophomore quarterback with a Howitzer, Logan Thomas. Their offensive line is a concern though. Their protection numbers were good on aggregate, though the unit was largely ineffectual against Clemson. Where they have really struggled is establishing the running game and getting push between the tackles.

Michigan will like that matchup. They’ll also like the interior matchup on the other side with their offensive line facing a soft Hokie front. Besides finding some way to hold the line, the key for VaTech will be confusing Robinson with zone blitzes and varied coverages and making tackles in space.

Key: Neither of these teams are especially great on Special Teams, but Virginia Tech is down to its third-string kicker and has a wideout punting.

For Recreational Purposes: Michigan (-3)

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