Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Michigan take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup elicited some groans from around the country, but Michigan fans were all smiles. Michigan is back in a BCS bowl for the first time in five years as the program turns a page on one of its darkest periods.
A victory in New Orleans would give Michigan its first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange Bowl.
First-year coach Brady Hoke and his staff deserve much of the credit for Michigan’s turnaround, as the team not only improved its win total by three from 2010, but made significant strides on defense after historically poor results the previous three seasons. Michigan’s defense improved from 110th nationally last season to 18th this year, and it did so without any first-team All-Big Ten selections. Defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen lead the way for Michigan, which must contain Hokies junior running back David Wilson, the nation’s No. 7 rusher.
The defense carried the Wolverines for much of the season, but the offense came on strong late behind quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who both rank among the nation’s top 40 rushers. Michigan still used many spread elements with the speedy Robinson at the helm, although offensive coordinator Al Borges mixed things up quite a bit and showed plenty of creativity with his calls. Virginia Tech’s defense provides a good test for Michigan, which has scored 28 points or more in its 10 victories.
Hoke earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and has made a significant impact on Michigan’s recruiting for 2012. A Sugar Bowl win would cap what has been a remarkable first season for Hoke in Ann Arbor.
Virginia Tech take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: This was easily the most shocking selection in the ACC -- if not the country -- as Virginia Tech is coming off its poorest performance of the year in a 38-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game. It was the program’s worst margin of defeat since joining the ACC, but the Hokies still leapfrogged several other BCS bowl-worthy teams. This the first time the ACC has had two teams play in BCS bowls, but it’s going to be a difficult challenge for the Hokies, who struggled against Clemson’s offense and will have similar challenges against Michigan.
The Wolverines have an even more athletic quarterback than Clemson in Denard Robinson. Offensively, the Hokies will have to get quarterback Logan Thomas back on track after he threw two picks and lost a fumble in the title game. The Hokies scored a combined 13 points in two losses to Clemson, and have no marquee wins on their nonconference schedule. They are also notorious for coming up short against nonconference opponents on the big stage. In three trips to the Orange Bowl in the past four years, Virginia Tech has only a win against Cincinnati.
This will be another chance for coach Frank Beamer to change the perception of his program on the national level as one that can win outside of the ACC and Big East, too. Virginia Tech ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and was ranked No. 5 in the country heading into the ACC title game, but the Hokies allowed Clemson 450 total yards, and ACC Player of the Year David Wilson had only 32 yards on 11 carries. Still, Virginia Tech will bring the nation’s No. 8 scoring defense to New Orleans, and odds are it's going to need it.