This year’s Sugar Bowl pits two at-large teams, the Michigan Wolverines from the Big Ten Conference and the Virginia Tech Hokies from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The game will be played on Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.
Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 14
Record: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)
Biggest win: vs. No. 21 Nebraska, 45-17, Nov. 19
Worst loss: at Iowa, 16-24, Nov. 5
Under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, the Michigan Wolverines have had a drastic turnaround, winning 10 games for the first time since the 2006 season and defeating archrival Ohio State for the first time since 2003.
That said, the Wolverines are playing in a BCS bowl because of their prominence and popularity, not for their resume. The Wolverines only have two wins against currently-ranked teams, and suffered a loss to an unranked team, Iowa.
The Wolverines are among the better teams in college football, but it is questionable whether they are really worthy of playing in the Sugar Bowl.
Led by explosive dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, the Michigan Wolverines rank 11th in rushing offense, 22nd in scoring offense and 34th in total offense.
That said, the reason for the Wolverines turnaround was the drastic improvement of their defense. The Wolverines rank 16th nationally in total defense and sixth in scoring defense, one year after ranking 110th and 107th in those same categories.
Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 12
Record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)
Biggest win: at No. 24 Georgia Tech, 37-26, Nov. 10
Worst loss: vs. No. 16 Clemson, 23-3, Oct. 1
The Virginia Tech Hokies only lost to one opponent this year. Unfortunately, they lost to that same opponent—Clemson—twice, first in a regular-season home game, then in the ACC Championship.
Aside from their losses to Clemson, the Hokies made their way through the rest of their schedule with victories. However, only one of those victories came against a currently-ranked team, with seven of their wins coming against bowl-eligible teams.
Additionally, the Clemson team who beat them in the ACC Championship has lost three of their four previous games.
The Hokies are a good defensive team, ranking 14th nationally in total defense and tied for sixth nationally in scoring defense. They rank 36th nationally in total offense.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Junior
2013 NFL Draft Grade: Round 3 (RB)
There are few players in college football more dynamic than Denard Robinson. A dual-threat quarterback with tremendous athleticism, Robinson is always a threat to make a big play, and forces defenses to focus on containing him.
Robinson’s passing continues to be very inconsistent: He only completed 56 percent of his passes this year, with an 18-14 TD-to-INT ratio. That said, Denard Robinson has also run for 1,163 yards this season, second only to Northern Illinois’s Chandler Harnish among quarterbacks.
Robinson has a good arm, but has poor accuracy, often makes bad decisions and is less than six feet tall.
However, along with a strong arm, Robinson has game-breaking speed, and the ability to throw on the run and make big plays. Robinson is the key to the offense and gives opposing defenses headaches in game-planning to slow him down.
Robinson’s height and accuracy concerns make him no quarterback prospect for the National Football League, but he is a tough, physical runner with great speed, which should project well to running back at the next level.
Robinson has already said he will return for his senior season, but that should not stop him from having a big performance leading a motivated Michigan squad in the Sugar Bowl.
Virginia Tech RB David Wilson, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 2
With the departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the National Football League, David Wilson became Virginia Tech’s feature back this season and flourished with the increased workload. Wilson ranks fifth nationally with 1,627 rushing yards.
Wilson has tremendous speed and agility, but he is also a tough, physical runner who is as successful going between the tackles as he is running to the outside.
Wilson has been the key to Virginia Tech’s offense this season, and having proven himself as a feature back, he has emerged as a second-round NFL draft prospect if he opts to declare this year.
Michigan SS Jordan Kovacs, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7-Undrafted
From the strong safety position, Jordan Kovacs emerged this season as the big playmaker of the Michigan defense. Kovacs is a very good tackler who is especially good as a run-support safety. He ranks second on the team with 64 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
Kovacs is under six feet tall and not exceptionally athletic or great in coverage, so he is not much of a prospect for the next level. Nonetheless, his playmaking ability has been a key factor in Michigan’s defensive success this year.
Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 2-3
After leading the nation with nine interceptions last season, Jayron Hosley’s numbers have gone down significantly this year, with only three interceptions and 11 pass defenses.
His decreased numbers are in part due to teams throwing his way less than last season, as he had another terrific cornerback in Rashad Carmichael playing across him last year. However, Hosley has not been as dominant as he was last year.
Hosley is athletic and possesses terrific ball skills, but is sometimes overly aggressive in coverage, while he lacks size and physicality. Although his draft stock has dropped in his junior season, he is likely to declare for the 2012 NFL draft. If this is his final game as a Hokie, he will be looking to lead their defense with a big performance and make a statement to NFL scouts.
Wins vs currently-ranked teams: Michigan 2, Virginia Tech 1
Wins vs bowl-eligible teams: Michigan 8, Virginia Tech 7
Losses vs currently-unranked teams: Michigan 1, Virginia Tech 0
Michigan, Virginia Tech scoring defense: Tied sixth in nation, 17.2 points allowed per game
Michigan’s scoring offense: 22nd in nation, 34.2 points per game
Virginia Tech’s scoring offense: 52nd in nation, 28.5 points per game
Michigan’s rushing offense: 11th in nation, 235.7 yards per game
Virginia Tech’s rushing defense: 15th in nation, 107.8 yards allowed per game
Virginia Tech’s rushing offense: 29th in nation, 188.7 yards per game
Michigan’s rushing defense: 36th in nation, 129.1 yards allowed per game
On paper, the Michigan Wolverines and Virginia Tech Hokies are similar. The teams have given up exactly the same number of points per game, both teams have dangerous rushing offenses and dual-threat quarterbacks.
Neither team has many signature victories, but have been consistent winners this season.
It is debatable whether either team deserves a spot in a BCS bowl game, but nonetheless, they will be facing off in the Sugar Bowl. That said, the team that has been more impressive among the two this season is Michigan. In a challenging Big Ten schedule, the Wolverines beat some solid opponents and have looked like a drastically different team on the field in Brady Hoke’s first year as head coach.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson are a terrific offensive duo, and the Hokies have a very solid defense. That said, the X-factor in this game that can make the Hokie defense look bad is Denard Robinson, and I expect Robinson to have a big day.
I expect the same from a much-improved Michigan defense.
After last night’s Fiesta Bowl, it would be remiss not to mention the potential impact of special teams in this game. Virginia Tech’s top two placekickers, Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss, are both suspended. With third-string placekicker Justin Myer set to handle kicking duties, missed field goals could end up playing a major role in this game.
That, coupled with the belief that Michigan is a slightly better team, should mean a Wolverines victory.
Final Score Prediction: Michigan 24, Virginia Tech 21