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06 Dezember, 2011

B1G Title Game, and Why the Sugar Bowl is the Best Place to Go Bowling

The Big Ten Football Championship Trophy

UM's reward for the 2011 campaign 

(ed. note: Sorry this is coming out a few days late. I had to modify the content due to its lateness, so it has less to do with the B1G championship game, as it was intended, and more to do with the Sugar Bowl. Enjoy!)
UM football has the weekend off this week, as it is Championship Week, and well, they did not qualify for the game. An overall good season has one black mark on it. The loss to Iowa. This was about the only game that I watched where I just didn't think they came to play. They were pushed around up front on offense and defense, and just generally failed to compete. I can't sit here and say that they lost because of a blown call on the last play of the game in the end zone. They were down by eight, not six or seven. Completing the two point conversion would not have been easy given how they struggled to move the ball that game. So no, that game was lost well before the final drive. If the team had played like they were capable, they would have won. Simple as that. With the win, they would then be playing for the B1G championship this weekend, but instead they are at home watching.  As it stands, UM is waiting for the bowl selection process to play out and grant them a BCS bowl (more on that in a bit).

Just because UM is not playing doesn't mean they don't care who wins (well I care who wins anyway)

From what I have read, read, and read again, UM is being slotted in the Sugar Bowl. At first, when the projections started flowing in, I had reservations. UM benefited from a generous schedule. 8 Home games. An away game at Northwestern, where the UM fan base out numbers the NW fan base. Missing Penn State, and Wisconsin. Not to say that they have not impressed with their wins. In fact,  I firmly believe that on a neutral field UM defeats either one of those teams. But playing them would wear on the team, and that is no small thing. So while I am super excited to watch the team play, I am not super excited about losing another bowl game. Enter the Sugar Bowl. The projection has UM playing against a ridiculously overrated Houston team. Follow that link and tell me where a team is going to be challenged. And I thought UM's schedule was easy. The only team from a big six major conferance that they played was UCLA. And before you say that they have to be good since they are playing this week for the PAC 12 championship, I must remind you that USC is currently serving their penance for Reggie Bush's sins. Otherwise, USC is in that game and UCLA is playing in the "Yikes, How Bad do we Suck" Bowl in Albuquerque, NM. Ok, so they aren't that bad, but still, Houston squeaked out that win. I think that this game benefits UM in so many different ways. One, they get put back on the national stage. A feat that the fan base of UM has been waiting a long time for. Two, its winnable. Yes, lose and get ridiculed. But win, and UM is back in the conversation for best teams in the B1G. Not to mention they should get a favorable ranking next year, which is ultra important for making a National Championship run.

So that just happened. While UM was always a bit of a shoe-in for this bowl, I think I can safely say the college football world was appalled at the pick of Virginia Tech (yes that VT)  to be their opponent. As I was drafting this post, real world/work/vacation kicked in and I had to delay the posting. I am glad I did. WOW. Ok, so now it is reality. Reality bites. I think all college football fans are disgusted with the way this all plays out. As much as I love UM, there were at least 2-3 other teams more deserving of a spot here. Bowls are about money first, storylines second, and good matchups of the best teams available a DISTANT third. Let's examine the pick here:

 Michigan (BCS #13)averages 34 points per contest and the Hokies  (BCS #11)average 28. Many fans complained/will complain about the LSU-Alabama game because of lack of points. That should not be a problem in this game. Of course both teams sport above average defense, tied for 7th nationally at 17.2 points/game. But no one thinks this will be a defensive struggle. These teams score, and while UM has improved their defense dramatically this year, VT will get theirs one way or another.The fact remains though, that these are two teams who have faced little in the way of real talent this year. UM is 1-1 against teams currently ranked in the top 25. VT is 0-2 with BOTH losses coming against THE SAME TEAM!!

That provides the third picking standard. Now, lets examine the first two, and most important, criteria.

Money: UM fans travels well. With alumni scattered around the country (and world for that matter) there has never been a problem getting fans to buy tickets, and by proxy hotel rooms, food, gas and all the other money making endeavors that come with going to a different city to watch a football game. No doubt, UM fans will be spending money over the new years holiday in New Orleans. Considering that the Sugar Bowl forks out $18,000,000 (!) for this game, it is still a business and needs to regain something out of it. (BTW don't ask me how they make this money back. I have no idea. I am sure advertising and TV contracts help, but I just don't understand how they make this money year in and year out) VT, meanwhile, has a history with the SB, and likely will travel well, as they have in the past for this game.

Storylines: I can't speak to the VT angle on this as well as the UM angle, but I will try. VT has only two losses, as mentioned above. Although they were to the same team, they have good balance on offense and defense, plenty of history with the bowl, and like it or not, made it into the ACC championship game (ask MSU how it feels to finish second in the conference and not even get an invite to the BCS). VT fields a "Beamer-like" team, with speed and athleticism at all positions, and a strong defense. Their running back ranks 7th nationally in yards gained, and their special teams are.... ok that is the only un"Beamer-like" thing about this team. They are actually pretty horrible in that area for the first time in forever.

As for UM, well besides the massive defensive turnaround mentioned above (108th in 2010, to 7th in 2011) this is a program steeped in college football lore. In recent seasons, however, it has fallen on some hard times. The RR era was a failure. The fans (not just me, but I am included) are begging to be recognized in the national spotlight again. We have the B1G coach of the year (and maybe nationally) and two of the best coordinators in the game to back him up. We have last season's Big11Ten player of the year in Denard Robinson, and although he threw waaaaay too many interceptions this year to receive any accolades, he remains the most explosive player in all of college football.

So of course I have my own interests at heart here, but UM has played one heck of a season. The team enjoys a great chemistry and WANT to play another game, just to be together. With their softer schedule they could use a win against another high ranked team to validate how well this team really has performed. One of the responsibilities of playing in a high visibility bowl game is to perform  well not just for your school, but for the conference. The B1G has been baaaaad in bowls lately and UM has a chance to change that.  Most of these points would still hold true for any of the other bowl games this year. The reason it isn't any other bowl game, though, is because "This is Michigan fergodssakes!".

Enjoy the bowl games everyone, endure the silly names and the mismatches. Enjoy the holiday season. Best of luck to your team (unless they play UM, or any other B1G team). As always,

Fortitudine Vincimus.

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