- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten bowl season wraps up Tuesday night as No. 13 Michigan takes on No. 11 Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Wolverines aim for their first bowl win since the 2008 Capital One Bowl and their first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange Bowl. A victory gives Michigan four straight wins to end the season and the program's fifth 11-win season in the modern era.
Let's take a look at the matchup.
WHO TO WATCH: Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson. Who else? The Wolverines' fortunes are typically tied to their dreadlocked signal-caller and how he performs. Robinson ended the regular season with his best two-game stretch in a Michigan uniform, accounting for 628 yards (347 pass, 281 rush) and nine touchdowns (4 rush, 5 pass) with only one interception. If he can maintain that level, he'll provide problems for a Virginia Tech defense that couldn't stop Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in the ACC championship game. Virginia Tech is tied for 21st nationally in interceptions with 15, and the Hokies play aggressive coverage, so Robinson will need to be smart with his decision-making after struggling with interceptions midway through Big Ten play.
WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan's defensive line versus Virginia Tech's offensive backfield. The line is the biggest reason for Michigan's renaissance on defense this season, as seniors Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin have led the way. But depth will be an issue as senior tackle Will Heininger likely is out with a sprained foot. Michigan will turn to Will Campbell and Quinton Washington to help fill the void. Virginia Tech boasts a backfield combination in quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson unlike any Michigan has faced this season. When the Wolverines get to Thomas, they must find ways to bring the linebacker-sized quarterback down. And they'll need to contain Wilson, who ranks sixth nationally in rushing average (125.2 ypg). Michigan's defense wasn't at its best in its last performance against Ohio State but has contained teams most of the season.
WHY TO WATCH: See if Michigan can complete its breakthrough season under first-year coach Brady Hoke with its first win in a BCS bowl since the 2000 Orange Bowl. And while the matchup has been panned nationally, it features two teams with similar profiles and some intriguing matchups. How will Robinson handle an athletic and aggressive Virginia Tech defense? Michigan appears to have the edge at the line of scrimmage on both sides, but a shorthanded defensive line will need to contain the Hokies' dangerous backfield combination. Leagues are always judged by BCS bowl games, and a favored Michigan team can boost the Big Ten with a victory and use it a springboard toward the 2012 season, when the Wolverines could be the preseason league favorites.
PREDICTION: Michigan 27, Virginia Tech 21. Don't expect the Hokies to be nearly as bad as they were in the ACC championship game, but Michigan has several matchup advantages in the game. The Wolverines are stronger along both lines and should limit the damage from Thomas and Wilson. Robinson ended the season playing his best football and will give Virginia Tech trouble if he doesn't turn over the football. Michigan goes ahead early and holds on late to win.
1hMax Olson and Jake Trotter