Who: Michigan Wolverines vs Virginia Tech Hokies
Where: Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)
When: Tuesday, Jan 3rd at 8:30 PM EST
Michigan Wolverines (10-2 overall, 6-2 in Big 10 Conference)
Most impressive victory: 45-17 vs. Nebraska (Nov. 19)
Worst loss: 24-16 at Iowa (Nov. 5)
Notable alumni: Tom Brady, Gerald Ford, Jim Harbaugh, Desmond Howard, Michael Phelps, Tracy Wolfson
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Brady Hoke when the Wolverines hired him but year one was a resounding success. After going 15-22 under RichRod, a 10-2 record was a slam dunk. Not only did they win on the field but as a former Michigan assistant Brady Hoke was a much better fit for the University.
Michigan first made the college football world take notice when they came back from the dead and beat Notre Dame 35-31 early in the season. Michigan won their first 6 games but weren't quite ready for Michigan State as they only gained 250 yards in that game and Denard Robinson went just 9 of 24 in the loss to the Spartans. Michigan would finish the season winning four of five as they finally got the Ohio State monkey off their back and beat a good but not great Nebraska team but lost at Iowa.
Michigan did have some luck in the schedule department as they didn't have to play Wisconsin or Penn State. For the season, Michigan only played two teams ranked in the Top 25 (at the time of the game) and went 1-1 in those games. Despite posting double digit wins this Wolverine team still has a lot of questions surrounding them.
Michigan is going to live and die with the run as they ran the ball two thirds of the time. Of course, it's not a traditional running attack because they are led by their QB Denard Robinson (1163 rushing yards and 16 rushing TDs). Soph RB Fitzgerald Toussaint also made a big impact for the Wolverines as he gained 1000 yards to complement Denard.
The key to the Michigan turnaround this year was Greg Mattison's defense. Michigan finished 3rd in the Big Ten with 17.2 points allowed per game. Last year, Michigan allowed 35.2 ppg. That's a huge turnaround. On the ground, the Woverines allowed 59 less yards per game and through the air they allowed 73.3 less. They also took the ball away from their opposition 8 more times then they did last year. So yes, Michigan got a break in the schedule but they also created more breaks by playing solid defense and giving themselves a better chance to win each game.
Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2 overall, 7-1 in ACC)
Most impressive victory: 38-0 at Virginia (Nov. 26)
Worst loss: Clemson- you pick the game
Notable alumni: Frank Beamer, Antonio Freeman, Bruce Smith, Don Strock
Virginia Tech did what they normally do under Frank Beamer, they won football games. For the eighth straight year they won double digit games and if it wasn't for a pesky Clemson team that had their number who knows what bowl they would have ended up in. The Hokies didn't look particularly great in all of their games and like the Wolverines they only beat one Top 25 team all year (Georgia Tech) but they did beat everyone put in front of them (except Clemson).
Virginia Tech also skews to the run more than the pass (59% run) but not as much as Michigan. Like the Wolverines, the Hokies have a mobile QB. In his first year as starter, Logan Thomas got better as the year went on. He threw for almost 2800 yards and had 19 TD vs 9 INT and finished with 416 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs. When the Hokies have the ball they will feature RB David Wilson. Wilson ran for over 1600 yards and had a fantastic year despite being a bit under the radar. Look for the Hokies to get the ball to him early and often. The Hokies also have a pair of receivers with 50+ receptions in seniors Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin. The Hokies have more offensive weapons than the Wolverines but don't have anybody as dynamic as Denard.
Virginia Tech is known as a strong defensive team and got back to their roots a little this year as they improved in yards allowed by 47.6 yards and points allowed by 3.4 ppg. One area they saw a decrease in was takeaways as they fell from 32 in 2010 to 22 in 2011 (they had 23 INTs in 2010 vs 15 in 2011). Virginia Tech will have their hand full in this game trying to contain Denard Robinson.
Kevin: I think you will see a pretty even match-up in this game. Both teams will be able to move the football on each other but not at will. One really interesting note is that both of these teams are really good on defense in the red zone. They are both in the Top 5 Nationally and are both in the Top 3 Nationally against teams with winning records. On offense, Virginia Tech is one of the bottom 20 teams in the Nation in red zone conversions so that could be a key. Look for this game to come down to the 4th quarter and to the last possession or two. Denard Robinson will either win or lose this game for Michigan.
Michigan 27 Virginia Tech 21