After suffering an embarrassing loss at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game, few outside of Blacksburg gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to get to a BCS bowl. Yet, the Allstate Sugar Bowl organizers found the Hokies more appealing than the rest of the at-large field, despite owning zero wins against top-25 competition. They’ll face a resurgent Michigan team in what is arguably their toughest test to date.
Bowl Game: (Allstate) Sugar Bowl
Location: New Orleans, La.
First Year: 1935
2012 Participants: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-2)
Last Meeting: None
Virginia Tech ran roughshod over its competition for much of the regular season, with its only loss coming to Clemson back in October. Though the Tigers would get the better of them once again in the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies defense remains one of the premiere units in the country — finishing eighth overall (FBS) in points allowed per game. While always a strong point, this year’s edition of the Tech D was first in the conference in sacks, second in interceptions, first in opponents third down conversion rate and second in turnover margin. On the other hand (as mentioned earlier), Virginia Tech lost their only two games to teams ranked in the final top 25 (both to Clemson) and was tested very little in the non-conference schedule. Also of note, they’ve been shown to struggle against mobile quarterbacks (Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and for three quarters, Georgia Tech‘s Tevin Washington, in particular).
First-year coach Brady Hoke has brought the Wolverines back to the national spotlight, with a new, exciting brand of Michigan football that was regularly a must-watch game of the week. Quarterback Denard Robinson, their mobile and exciting captain, has delivered clutch play and an increased sense of maturity in 2011 — with come-from-behind victories and over 3,200 total yards. As frightening as Robinson is, however, he’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Michigan sports their own impressive defensive attack, ranking one spot ahead of Virginia Tech at seventh overall in points allowed. With so many ways to beat you, the Wolverines have scored at least 30 points in nine of their 12 games, and held opponents to 14 points or less in six games. Given time to gameplan for Robinson however, defenses have been prone to containing him (Iowa and Michigan State both did the job this season).
In a game that could potentially be about two great defenses, this matchup may actually come down to who executes best on offense. With weapons like Robinson and the Hokies’ Logan Thomas on either side, points may actually hit the 30s for both teams, nullifying both defenses. Ultimately, the teams’ similar rushing attacks also equal off, leaving it up to their respective passing capabilities. In spite of Thomas’s superior numbers, Robinson is truly the better creator when passing the ball. And, since he’s been involved in more lopsided victories, his opportunities for late throws have been fewer. It may seem to be an inexact science, but the nod goes to Michigan and their high-powered attack. Prediction: Michigan 33, Virginia Tech 28