All the debating, bickering and speculation didn’t change much. The Michigan football team is going to the Sugar Bowl.
It will play No. 11 Virginia Tech in New Orleans on Jan. 3.
The game will be the Wolverines’ second Sugar Bowl appearance in program history — their first came in 1984, a 9-7 loss to Auburn — and their first BCS bowl since the 2007 Rose Bowl, also a loss, this time to USC.
“I just think it kind of reestablishes what this team has been able to do and how far we’ve come, especially with the expectations we had coming into this season,” fifth-year senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to put a final stamp on this year.”
The Wolverines spent the past week watching, needing to jump into the top 14 spots of the BCS standings to qualify for a BCS bowl. When the final rankings came out, Michigan rose from 16th to 13th, getting passed by Baylor, but passing four teams who lost on the final weekend of the season, including Michigan State. The Spartans beat Michigan earlier this season and took home the Big Ten’s Legends division crown.
The rankings’ reconfigurations brought controversy as to whether the Wolverines were deserving of the opportunity to play in the game.
“We don’t control any of that,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “The things that we can’t control we really don’t worry about because we have enough things as a program and how we want to represent Michigan on a daily basis that we have to worry about.”
While there were indications that Michigan was headed for the Sugar Bowl, due to more to its large fanbase than its 10-2 record, its rumored opponent changed throughout the weekend. Houston was the most likely, but its loss in the Conference USA Championship Game on Saturday left the door wide open.
“We really didn’t know,” said senior tight end Kevin Koger. “We kept hearing different stuff. …We were just going through every scenario possible, Googling all the scenarios as each game went on.”
The final announcement was a bit of a surprise. It was the Hokies, a team the Wolverines have never played. The two programs find themselves in similar situations. The Hokies were blown out of the ACC Championship Game, losing their chance at the Orange Bowl.
But Virginia Tech fell to just No. 11 in the BCS rankings, leaving them in contention. They weren’t a popular choice, as many fans and analysts thought teams like Boise State or Kansas State were more deserving.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons why Virginia Tech would be an attractive team to a BCS bowl,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in a teleconference last night. “The number of years we’ve won 10 straight games, I think that’s another thing, the only team to do that. Over the years I think the Virginia Tech name has gotten to be a very good name.”
Michigan has only reached two bowls since the 2007 loss to USC — a 41-35 win over Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl and a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in last season’s Gator Bowl.
As questions over whether each team deserves to make the trip to New Orleans begin to fade, Michigan will move forward. Hoke said the team will have the week off “a little” bit during finals week and a couple of days off near the holidays. But other than that, it’s back to work.
“That Ohio game is long gone,” Hoke said. “It’s been a while ago. So we’ve got to look forward and we’ve got to work forward toward the bowl game.”