The Michigan Wolverines under Brady Hoke will return to the national spotlight as they take on Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl. This season has been one of defeating the ghosts of Rich Rodriguez, as the Wolverines defeated Ohio State and only dropped two games en route to an at large BCS bid.
Falling just a game against Michigan State in the Big Ten standings meant that although the Wolverines missed out on a shot at the Rose Bowl, their regular season resume was still strong enough for the BCS committee.
Virginia Tech poses a formidable test for Hoke's Wolverines, but a weapon like Denard Robinson in the Michigan arsenal levels out all odds if "Shoelace" gets his motor running.
Once the game is over, the focus then moves to next year for the Wolverines as they try to avoid a BCS letdown. But win or lose, will Michigan be Big Ten Favorites moving into the 2012 season?
The answer is no, but just by a hair.
Looking at Michigan first, the offensive stars are all sophomores and are poised for huge leaps in production. Denard Robinson may be the name that gets all of the media love, but Fitzgerald Toussaint has been a huge reason why the Wolverine rushing attack is as potent as it is. Furthermore, one of Robinson's favorite targets, Jeremy Gallon, should improve and become a legitimate every down target for the senior quarterback.
But while the offense is improving, what about the defense? Michigan's defense has been one of the best in points allowed this season, but will the Wolverines be able to replicate this success when they lose David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen, leaders as well as excellent players?
This question is what is worrisome when you look at Michigan's schedule going into next season: Alabama opener, then Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State on the road.
With Notre Dame poised to improve next year, Nebraska going into year three of the Taylor Martinez era and Ohio State being led by Urban Meyer, Michigan may need a special team just to survive their schedule.
Their benefit lies in the weakness of the Big Ten teams. Nebraska will be losing Jared Crick, and their secondary is not as good as people have come to expect, as South Carolina demonstrated. Ohio State will need time to adjust to an Urban Meyer system even with the talent stocked in Columbus.
Penn State is not in shambles, but their TicketCity Bowl performance showed they need to rebuild before they can contend. Iowa and Michigan State are not mysteries per se, but neither looks to be a major threat. That does not mean they will be pushovers, but Michigan should have enough talent to handle these teams at home.
The only team definitively standing in the way of the Wolverines is Wisconsin. Even with their Rose Bowl game loss to Oregon, the Badgers are becoming one of the nation's elite teams. If the Badgers cannot find a way to replace Russell Wilson at quarterback or Montee Ball leaves for the NFL, then Michigan is the favorite in the Big Ten.
However, if Wisconsin can keep Ball, the Wolverines may make the Big Ten Championship game, but the Badgers will still have the edge in a potential championship game.