Sugar Bowl 2012: Michigan Win Is Precursor to Big Ten Championship Next Season

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines looks on from the sidelines while playing the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After a few years of incompetence under Rich Rodriguez, the Michigan Wolverines had lost much of their mystique. Thanks to a win in the Sugar Bowl, however, head coach Brady Hoke has brought the maize and blue back to prominence, and that will only continue next season.

The Wolverines finished the season with an impressive 11-2 record and were just a game away from playing for the Big Ten Championship. With quarterback Denard Robinson almost certainly returning and Hoke having yet another year to mold the team, you almost have to consider Michigan the favorite to win the Big Ten next season.

As important as Robinson and the offense were to the team's success, the true heart and soul of the team was the defense. Under Rodriguez defense was an afterthought and the main reason why the Wolverines were so mediocre, but the defense did a complete 180-degree turn under Hoke.

Michigan ranked an impressive sixth in the nation in total defense this season and that figures to be the norm under Hoke as he is clearly committed to that side of the ball. That much was apparent in the Sugar Bowl as they held Virginia Tech's David Wilson, one of the best running backs in the nation, to just 82 yards.

If that type of improvement continues, then there is no reason why Michigan can't go back to a BCS Bowl next season, particularly the Rose Bowl. All of the Wolverines' closest competitors look as if they're going to be weakened on top of that.

Michigan State is going to lose quarterback Kirk Cousins to graduation, Wisconsin's star running back Montee Ball seems likely to enter the draft and Ohio State has a postseason ban, so I don't think there is any question that the Wolverines will be one of the top teams in the nation once again.

Many may brush off Michigan's Sugar Bowl win since their matchup with Virginia Tech wasn't exactly highly anticipated, but it means a lot more than people might think. The Wolverines were little more than a footnote in college football for the past five years, but this win proves that they are relevant again.

The interesting part is that the roster was largely made up of Rodriguez recruits, yet Hoke was able to get the most out of them. With Hoke's second recruiting class coming aboard and meshing with the solid skeleton of players they already have, the Wolverines may very well be able to sustain themselves as a top team for the long haul just as they did prior to the mediocre Rodriguez reign.