The Michigan Wolverines have officially been welcomed back to national relevance with a bid to play in the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. This will be the first-ever game between the two teams.
Michigan has completed a remarkable turnaround under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, posting a record of 10-2 and a No. 13 ranking in the final BCS standings. They will now have the chance to prove that they belong once again on the national stage by trying to beat the Hokies, who lost their ACC Championship game to Clemson.
However, in order to win the game, there are five factors that must step up for the Wolverines in this game:
1. Denard Robinson
The junior quarterback has had another stellar season, throwing for 2056 yards and rushing for 1163. He is now the 4th player in NCAA history to pass for over 2000 yards and rush for over 1000 yards, two years in a row. He struggled at times during the season and completed only 56.1 percent of his passes.
If he wants to win, he'll have to play at the level he achieved against Nebraska and Ohio State.
2. Fitzgerald Toussaint
He emerged as the Wolverines' leading rusher late in the season after a very erratic first half, but he averaged 135.6 rushing yards-per-game over the final five games of the year. His 1011 rushing yards, combined with Robinson's, gave Michigan its first 1000-yard rushing tandem since 1975. He will have to keep up his production against the Hokies to give Michigan a chance.
The senior wide receiver has led the team in receiving yards with 636, but has accounted for only two touchdowns all season. He averages roughly three catches per game, possibly because of opponents attempting to limit his effectiveness.
4. Special Teams
The unit has shown marked improvement from previous seasons, particularly last year, where the team all but abandoned the field-goal unit except for point-after attempts. They have made strides, but there is still room for improvement.
Easily the most improved unit for the Wolverines under first year coordinator Greg Mattison, the formerly maligned unit has improved from 110th over all in 2010 to 18th overall this season. This was due in part to the assistance of sophomore cornerback Courtney Avery, who helped Michigan reach the Sugar Bowl by catching the game-winning interception against Ohio State on November 26th.
They have been most effective against the pass this season, ranking 16th overall, but they must improve against the rush. Virginia tech ranks 31st overall on the rush, but Michigan must step up and stop the Hokies on the ground first.
Michigan has a chance to show the college football world that it deserves serious consideration to be an eventual national championship contender once again. Defeating Virginia Tech in New Orleans will help their case, but until January 3rd, fans will simply have to wait and speculate.