NCF Nation: 2012-Sugar-Bowl-Preview

Virginia Tech is looking for a school-record 12 wins, and a win over Michigan would make this senior class the winningest class in school history. Here’s a quick preview of tonight’s game:

WHO TO WATCH: Running back David Wilson. Will this be his last performance before he leaves early, or will the ACC’s Player of the Year stick around for his senior season? If this is the encore, you don’t want to miss it -- especially against Michigan’s stingy defense. Wilson ranks sixth nationally in rushing with 125.15 yards per game, and he has 1,627 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He is 29 rushing yards from a single-season school record. He averages 6.12 yards per carry and has had 10 100-yard performances in the past 13 games.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech’s defense against Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Despite injuries to three starters, the Hokies’ defense not only has shown measurable improvement from a year ago but also has evolved into one of the best in the country. It hasn’t faced a quarterback like Robinson, though. The Hokies are No. 13 in the country in total defense, No. 17 in rushing defense and, most importantly, No. 8 in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 17.23 points per game. Robinson is 13th on the NCAA’s career rushing list for QBs (3,216) and is in Michigan’s top 10 in rushing and passing yardage. He and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint are the first pair of Wolverines with 1,000 or more rushing yards in the same season since 1975.

WHY WATCH: To see whether the Hokies AND Wolverines are worthy of their at-large BCS bids. Both programs faced a lot of criticism when they were chosen over Kansas State, Boise State and Michigan State. Virginia Tech was a surprise pick, especially after being dominated for a second time this year by Clemson and because of its weak nonconference schedule. The Hokies have made no apologies, though, and are out to prove they belong in the Sugar Bowl. Then again, so is Michigan.

PREDICTION: Michigan 28, Virginia Tech 27: The Hokies will put forth an impressive, respectable effort, but Michigan’s will be more complete with key stops on defense and a quarterback who is the difference-maker.
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.