Commentary

Helmet numbers sticking around

Mailbag: Discussing the BCS' decision to reward Michigan over Michigan State

Updated: December 7, 2011, 1:57 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Bowl season has arrived, and Michigan is headed to New Orleans for some good gumbo and the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

But did the Wolverines deserve to go over Michigan State?

That's one of the questions tackled in this week's Mailbag. The mailbag, though, is only as good as what you ask. Questions for next week's mailbag can be sent to jenningsespn@gmail.com.

Now, on to this week's questions.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe numerical helmet stickers added for the Notre Dame game and kept all season will remain through the bowl game.
Raphael from Atlanta: Do you know if the helmet numbers will be worn for the bowl game. I remember earlier in the year hearing it was for the conference play. I have gotten used to them and was wondering if they would stay.

A: Good news, Raphael. The numbers on the helmets will be around for the Sugar Bowl. That was confirmed Tuesday morning by a Michigan spokesman. Initially, the Wolverines wore the helmet numbers as part of the legacy jerseys for the Notre Dame night game. The numbered head protectors showed up again at the start of Big Ten play and Hoke -- as you correctly said -- informed people the digits would remain through Big Ten season. Now, the numbers will continue through the bowl.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the numbers become a permanent fixture on the Michigan winged helmet. I have always loved the numbers on the Alabama helmets and think it is a small, but neat, addition to the Michigan helmet. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but you'll see those numbers at least once more this season.

John from Parts Unknown: Michael, I was wondering your feelings on Michigan going to a BCS bowl over Michigan State. I can see both sides of the coin for this and am happy my team is going to the Sugar Bowl, but they did kind of back into it. I think Michigan and Michigan State are about equal this year (even though Michigan State won) but Michigan State did beat Michigan.

A: This has obviously been a hot-button argument the past few days and, like you, I can see both sides of it. But the facts are these: Michigan State had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl by defeating Wisconsin. It did not. It could have been eligible for an at-large berth had it stayed in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. It did not and therefore was not eligible. That, in theory, should be the end of the argument.

However, I understand the counterargument that Michigan State was essentially penalized for playing an extra game, and there is a level of unfairness to that. Frankly, my thoughts on bowls boil down to this: It is a nice reward but unless you are Alabama or LSU this season, what you're really playing for besides pride is a spot in the 2012 preseason rankings. Both Michigan and Michigan State are playing good opponents in bowl games this season, so it isn't like the Spartans were shoved aside. They didn't qualify. Of course, it is unlikely either team would have made a playoff if there was one -- so there's also that to consider.

But considering current BCS rules, Michigan did deserve to go to the BCS over Michigan State. Now Boise State ... that's another story.

jamescopeland7 from Twitter: Other than QB16 (Denard Robinson), what should Virginia Tech fans know about this Michigan team? How's the run defense, general strengths and weaknesses, etc.?

A: James, welcome aboard. Figure most Virginia Tech fans know all about Denard Robinson -- heck, Hokies coach Frank Beamer said he saw a lot of Michigan highlights during the year so he saw Robinson pre-matchup announcement -- and here is a quick primer for everything else.

This game will pit two of the best defensive coordinators in the country. For Michigan fans, Bud Foster is a legend at Virginia Tech and one of the most creative, aggressive coordinators around. For Virginia Tech fans, Greg Mattison turned an underachieving Michigan defense playing an ill-suited scheme last season into one of the nation's best this season with largely the same personnel. Virginia Tech will need to be most concerned with Michigan's defensive line, particularly Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, who have grown so comfortable with each other and the scheme they have freedom to call their own stunts. The Wolverines have struggled with defending on the perimeter this season, so if the Hokies can break runs outside or call screens to get guys in space, there is a chance to be successful there.

On offense, Michigan has been much stronger since the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint midway through the season. He turned in a 1,000-yard season in essentially little over a half season. The Wolverines' passing game has been suspect, and if Virginia Tech is able to pressure and contain Robinson, it could force him to make mistakes. It's going to be a competitive game -- actually would be shocked if it isn't.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

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