No. 13 Michigan Wolverines (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2 SU, 4-9 ATS), 8:30 p.m. EST, Allstate Sugar Bowl, Tuesday, January 3, 2012, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: ESPN
by Badger, Sports Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Mich. -2.5/VTech +2.5
Over/Under Total: 51
Even though they are taking a lot of heat for passing over higher-ranked teams in order to pick teams with more national appeal, the folks at the Sugar Bowl should have a good game on their hands when the 13th-ranked Michigan Wolverines meet the 17th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies in the Superdome on January 3rd.
With teams like Boise State, South Carolina and Kansas State crying foul over the system, the representatives of the Sugar Bowl instead chose Virginia Tech and Michigan in order to sell more tickets and make more money. The only problem is that Tech fans havent come close to selling out their allotment of 17,500 tickets and are now being forced to give them away to charities in order to try and wipe the egg of their faces.
Regardless, the game itself should be a good one featuring the continuing revival of the Wolverines program back to national prominence against the steady-eddy Hokies program that has been on the cusp of the national title chase for several years.
One year after going 7-6 and firing then-coach Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines have come back onto the scene under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. Using essentially the same players that Rodriguez couldnt get to play defense, the Wolverines won 10-games behind a renewed defensive effort that ranked 7th in the nation in scoring defense (17.2 ppg).
The Wolverines were also playing some of their best football of the year at the end of the regular season, trouncing Illinois (31-14) and Nebraska (45-17) by big scores before scoring a huge 40-34 victory over border rival Ohio State the last week of November. Now the Maize-n-Blue will try and keep the momentum rolling and reverse a trend that has seen them drop five of their last six bowls games.
But Virginia Tech also had an excellent season under longtime head coach Frank Beamer, culminating in their fourth BCS bowl game in the past five seasons. The Hokies won 11 games, including a seven-game win streak during the heart of the regular season, before reaching another ACC Championship game and dropping a second game to Clemson for the title, 38-10.
With only two losses all season long the folks around the Virginia Tech program are feeling a little slighted by their low ranking, so look for Beamer to play the disrespect card in order to pump up the Hokies as they attempt to defend the honor of the ACC in the Sugar Bowl and prove they belong.
The oddsmakers out in Las Vegas are helping to fuel some of those disrespected feeling in Blacksburg, since they set the opening point spread with Michigan as 1.5-point favorites. With most of the money coming in on the Wolverines so far, the number is up to Michigan minus -2.5 at most of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web, with a few minus -3s here and there.
The over/under total is trending in the opposite direction, opening at 51.5 back in early December with it dropping ever since down to 51 (in Vegas) or 50.5 (offshore) depending on where you place your wagers.
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When you breakdown the offenses in this game, it becomes clear that both teams rely heavily on one player.
For Michigan that player is quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is the true definition of duel-threat quarterback, running for over a 1,000 yards (1,163, 16 TD) and passing for over 2,000 (2,056, 18 TD) to lead a Wolverine offense that finished 36th in the NCAA in total yards per game.
Robinson combined with running back Fitzgerald Troussaint (1,011 yards, 9 TD) fuel a Wolverine running game that is one of the best in the country (236 ypg 12th). With a trio of solid receivers (Junior Hemingway, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree), Robinson has plenty of weapons to use in play action once the defense starts creeping an eighth defender into the box to stop the run.
For Virginia Tech their stud player on offense is running back David Wilson, who ran for 1,600 yards with a silly 6.1 yards per carry average and nine touchdowns. When Wilson is stopped or held in check (32 yards in ACC title game vs. Clemson), the Hokies struggle because they just dont score enough points (28.5 ppg 54th) to hang around in shootouts.
Fortunately the Hokies dont have to rely on sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas to win games throwing the ball because the Hokies field one of the best defenses in the land. Ranked 15th overall in yards allowed (314 ypg), 10th against the run (108 ypg) and 8th in points allowed (17.2 ppg), Virginia Tech has only given up more than four scores in a game twice.
The Wolverine defense has been the backbone of the teams success this season, but if there is a chink in the armor it is the run defense. Michigan gave up 129 yards a game on the ground, so they surely will be tested by Wilson and the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl this Tuesday night.
The wild card in this game will be special teams, a trademark of Virginia Tech teams of the past. However, it is the Hokies that might struggle since they cant seem to keep a kicker on the roster out of trouble.
Starting kicker Cody Journell was suspended early in December for his involvement in a home invasion, and backup kicker Tyler Weiss was sent home a few days before kickoff for breaking curfew. That means that either kickoff specialist Justin Myer, punter Michael Branthover or redshirt Connor Goulding will handle the kicking duties and none of them have ever made a field goal in their careers, yet alone a clutch kick in a late-game situation. And anyone who watched the first LSU-Alabama game can attest to how important a kicker can be in late-game situations (right Coach Saban?).
With no playing history between these schools, the betting trends for this game are sketchy.
Michigan has played well outside of the Big Ten (9-2 ATS in L11 non-conference), but those games were mostly against the early-season mid-major programs and not against the likes of a team like Tech. Perhaps the most interesting trend is the fact that the Wolverines are not a team built for a dome, going 0-4 ATS in their last four games on turf.
Virginia Tech has struggled out of the ACC (0-4 ATS in L4 non-conference), and they havent exactly been a great wager to begin with (3-9 ATS in L12 overall), so wager with caution on the Hokies.
The over under trends are opposites depending on the team. With Michigan its all about the over, with the over going 10-1 in their last 11 bowl games and 5-0 in their last five neutral site games. With Virginia Tech its the under, with the under going 4-0 in non-conference games and 6-1 in the month of January (i.e. in bowl games).
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Two of the top defenses in the NCAA and the total is set at over 50? It sort of smells like a trap, but Im a sucker for good defense. Im taking the under of 51.
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