Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Va. Tech

Published on Jan. 3 at 1:00 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

With the Big Ten in dire need of a bowl victory to improve its rapidly diminishing football image, Michigan (10-2 straight up, 8-4 against the spread) will take on Virginia Tech in tonight’s Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans.

As of early this morning, most books were listing the Wolverines as three-point favorites with a total of 51. Gamblers can take Va. Tech (11-2 SU, 4-9 ATS) to win outright for a plus-130 return (risk $100 to win $130).

Brady Hoke helped the Michigan faithful forget about the disastrous three-year tenure of Rich Rodriguez this season, leading the school back to a BCS game for the first time since 2006. The Wolverines started the season 6-0, only to lose two of their next three before finishing the regular season with three straight victories.

Michigan capped the year with a 40-34 win over arch-rival Ohio St., although it failed to cover the spread as an 8 ½-point home ‘chalk.’ Denard Robinson enjoyed a spectacular performance against the Buckeyes, completing 14-of-17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Robinson also rushed 20 times for 176 yards and a pair of scores.

Va. Tech saw its seven-game winning streak snapped when it got hammered 38-10 by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The Hokies lost outright as seven-point favorites, getting outscored 28-0 in the second half. They won all 10 of their games played against teams not named Clemson.

With the arrival of Hoke, R-Rod’s spread offense was tossed in favor of a pro-style attack directed by veteran offensive coordinator Al Borges, who had held the same post at previous stops with UCLA, Indiana, Auburn and San Diego St. There was plenty of doubt as to how Robinson’s talents would be incorporated in a different system.

The results worked just fine, although Robinson’s passing skills are still developing. For the season, he completed 56.1-percent of his throws for 2,056 yards with an 18/14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Robinson’s scrambling ability remains his strongest asset, as evidenced by 1,163 rushing yards and 16 TDs while averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Fitzgerald Toussaint emerged as Michigan’s second-leading rusher behind Robinson, finishing with 1,011 rushing yards, nine rushing TDs and a 5.8 YPC average. Robinson’s favorite target is senior WR Junior Hemingway, who has 32 catches for 636 yards and two TDs.

Va. Tech’s Logan Thomas steadily improved in his first year as the starting QB. The signal caller has the body of a tight end, but he nonetheless completed 59.2-percent of his throws for 2,799 yards with a 19/9 TD-INT ratio. Thomas also rushed for 402 yards and 10 TDs.

But the Hokies’ offense is mostly about junior RB David Wilson, who has rushed for 1,631 yards and nine TDs while averaging 6.1 YPC. Thomas has a pair of reliable senior WRs in Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. This duo combined to make 109 catches for 1,518 yards and eight TDs.

Michigan has been a single-digit favorite four times this year, going 2-2 ATS. As for the Hokies, they are underdogs for the first time since being thumped by Stanford in last year’s Orange Bowl.

The ‘under’ is 8-4-1 overall for the Hokies, cashing in each of their last three games. The ‘under’ is 7-5 overall for the Wolverines, but they saw the ‘over’ hit in their last two outings of the regular season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–This is Va. Tech’s fourth BSC game in the last five years.

–The Hokies will be without their top two place-kickers in the Sugar Bowl. Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss are both suspended. Journell made 43 extra points and 14 field goals during the regular season.

–With Ohio State’s win over Arkansas in last year’s Sugar Bowl stripped from the record books, coupled with Monday’s Gator Bowl loss to Florida, the Buckeyes are now 0-10 against SEC teams in bowl games.

–West Virginia will be without its leading rusher, true freshman Dustin Garrison, when it faces Clemson in Wednesday’s Orange Bowl. Garrison rushed for 742 yards and six TDs, including a 291-yard effort in a win over Bowling Green. The Mountaineers are three-point underdogs against the Tigers.

–Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks won 11 games for the first time in school history by thumping Nebraska 30-13 in Monday’s Capital One Bowl. They covered the spread as three-point favorites, ending a three-game losing streak in bowl games. Even with senior QB Stephen Garcia being dismissed from the team and star RB Marcus Lattimore going down with a torn ACL, South Carolina did what had never been done in the program’s 118-year history. As if there was ever a doubt, it’s clear The Head Ball Coach is still one of the best in the business.

–According to this report from Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer could be a candidate for the same position at Florida. Schottenheimer played at UF from 1993-1996 and was Danny Wuerffel’s back-up on the 1996 national championship squad.

–Even though Vanderbilt’s season ended on a downer in a 31-24 loss to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, there are more signs that head coach James Franklin is ‘the real deal.’ currently has the Commodores listed at No. 22 in the website’s 2012 recruiting rankings. Vandy already has verbal committments from four 4-star players. To provide some context on what an accomplishment this is, consider this: Since 2002, Vandy has signed just three 4-star players. Two of those guys never made it to campus, however, due to tragic circumstances. Marcus Dixon, who was in the 2003 class and currently plays for the Jets, was arrested in the infamous case that earned national headlines after a feature on HBO’s Real Sports. Rajaan Bennett, a 4-star RB in the ’09 class, was murdered in his own home. John Stokes (’07) is the only 4-star recruit that has put on a Vandy uniform in the last decade but, barring de-committments before Signing Day, the Commdores will have four 4-star players on the roster in 2012.

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