The TSX Files: Michigan Monday

If hunger is a factor in this bowl game, then the Wolverines should come in starved for respect and starved for the kind of national attention they have been used to receiving. Michigan is coming out of a three-year funk and can use this game to make a statement that it is back in the top echelon of college football.

INSIDE SLANT
Wolverines get a sweet bowl matchup


It took some eleventh hour moves that come along with being one of the nation's top college football programs to get Michigan into the Sugar Bowl, but the right moves were made and the Wolverines move on to New Orleans to face Virginia Tech on Jan. 3.

The first move that benefited Michigan was a jump in the coaches' poll that pushed the Wolverines ahead of both Michigan State and Houston and kept them above Baylor and TCU. The bowl brass then passed up Kansas State and Boise State to craft the matchup between what they considered two potent programs with huge followings.

Michigan got into the BCS party as No. 13 in the BCS standings, while Virginia Tech came in at No. 11. Michigan coach Brady Hoke was aware that there were plenty of complaints out there from the teams that got passed over for the highly-coveted bowl date in The Big Easy.

"We're not going to worry about the things we don't have any control of, and we have plenty to concern ourselves with just representing Michigan," Hoke said. Hoke said he was grateful to see his seniors rewarded for their commitment to the program and the leadership they provided during the past season.

Michigan senior DT Mike Martin said the Wolverines are coming off a 10-2 season pleased with where Hoke has taken them. "We are excited about where we are at as a team and that is all we can worry about right now," Martin said.

Michigan got into the BCS rotation as an at-large team and will face Virginia Tech (11-2) for the first time in school history. The Hokies lost their ACC Championship Game showdown with Clemson by a 38-10 score.

Hoke said that throughout the season his team made its case for playing in a BCS bowl. "This is a team that in this conference has won 10 games. It's a team by that body of work I think is recognizable," Hoke said. "I like how we've played at the end of the season and how our guys have gotten ready to play and how they've represented Michigan. A 10-win team out of the Big Ten Conference, I think that speaks for itself."

Michigan will be making its fifth appearance in a BCS bowl game. The Wolverines have put together a 1-3 record in BCS bowl games, winning the 2000 Orange Bowl against Alabama by a 35-34 score in overtime before losing to USC in the 2004 and 2005 Rose Bowl and to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

--QB Denard Robinson finished the season strong and pushed over 1,000 yards rushing in the season-ending win over Ohio State. Robinson will test Virginia Tech's defense with his ability to scramble and operate in open space. "I think he's grown and matured as a Michigan quarterback throughout the course of the year," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said about Robinson.

--C David Molk won the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award from the Big Ten for his work this past season protecting QB Denard Robinson and plowing the way for Michigan running backs. Molk has made 25 straight starts and started 41 games overall in his career.

--DT Mike Martin was a second-team All-Big Ten pick while setting career highs with 54 tackles and three sacks, while adding six tackles for loss. Martin is a force that demands double-teams, all while he has helped the Wolverines rank first in the Big Ten against the run.

--Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was the Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading the Wolverines to a 10-2 mark in his first season as the boss in Ann Arbor. Hoke is the second Michigan coach to win at least 10 games in his first season as head coach.

BOWL HISTORY: Michigan is making its 41st bowl appearance and owns a 19-21 overall bowl record. Michigan will be facing Virginia Tech for the first time, and playing in the Sugar Bowl for the second time. The Wolverines lost to Auburn 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl after the 1983 season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You want them to be like that every week. I think the kids, what's the term now -- swag, I don't even know what that means. But I think you've got to be confident in your ability as a team. There is a composure and poise that goes along with that. I think these guys, to this point, have done a nice job with it." -- Michigan head coach Brady Hoke on his team's level of confidence heading into bowl preparation

STRATEGY - BOWL BREAKDOWN:

Scouting the running game: The Wolverines flexed their might on the ground in their season-ending win over rival Ohio State. QB Denard Robinson and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint have developed into a very potent one-two punch that Virginia Tech will need to contend with in the Sugar Bowl. Robinson has been much smarter in his decision-making and how he utilizes the run. "I think the decisiveness that he has run the football with when he's made that decision that there's some open area or whatever has really been good the last couple weeks," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I think that's helped his confidence."

Scouting the passing game: Junior QB Denard Robinson was sharp in the season finale against Ohio State, and finished the 2011 season with 18 passing touchdowns. With WR Junior Hemingway leading the team with 32 catches for 636 yards, the Wolverines have been very balanced in their attack. TE Kevin Koger is a significant weapon, while WR Martavious Odoms offers another athletic option outside.

Scouting the run defense: The biggest improvements Michigan has made came on this side of the ball where a very porous defense from the past few seasons morphed in the best in the Big Ten against the run, allowing just 115.6 rushing yards per game in conference play. The play of DT Mike Martin inside has forced the opposition to tweak its game plans, and Virginia Tech will be faced with that same quandary. A strong linebacker corps does a good job of cleaning up behind Martin.

Scouting the pass defense: The Wolverines had some problems in the secondary in the season finale against Ohio State and will spend their month of preparation before the Sugar Bowl trying to shore up this unit before it faces Virginia Tech. Hoke is looking for more "disciplined play" from his defensive backfield. CB J.T Floyd will need to lead the effort since he leads the team with eight pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. The pressure up front will be led by DE Craig Roh who had four sacks this season.

Scouting the special teams: The Wolverines had P Will Hagerup fumble a snap under pressure in the season finale against Ohio State, which put the Buckeyes on a short field and led to a quick score. The Hokies will review that film and attempt to use the special teams game to gain an edge in the bowl. PK Brendan Gibbons is earning more and more trust from his head coach and has made several clutch kicks in the latter half of the season.

Intangibles: If hunger is a factor in this bowl game, then the Wolverines should come in starved for respect and starved for the kind of national attention they have been used to receiving. Michigan is coming out of a three-year funk and can use this game to make a statement that it is back in the top echelon of college football.

ROSTER REPORT

--LB Brennen Beyer, a freshman who had worked his way into the playing rotation, missed the Ohio State game with a leg injury and his status for the bowl game is listed as questionable to probable.


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