The Sugar Bowl passed on the chance to take the higher-rated teams Sunday night, reviving long-standing complaints that the system is more about dollar signs than performance on the field.
No. 13 Michigan will face 17th ranked Virginia Tech in the Jan. 3 game at New Orleans, a showdown of storied programs that was patched together after the Sugar Bowl couldn’t invite one of its traditional partners from the Southeastern Conference.
Top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama will both be coming to the Big Easy, but they’ll be playing six days later in the BCS championship game.
Going strictly on the rankings, the Sugar Bowl’s next-best options were Boise State and Kansas State. The selection committee snubbed them both, going with schools that are likely bring more fans to the Superdome and drum up interest in a game that will surely be overshadowed in its own city.
Even Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer conceded the choice of his team involved more than results. The Hokies are 11th in the BCS and didn’t beat any other team that made the top 25.
“Our fans are probably as excited as we are,” he said. “They certainly are one reason we’re coming there. We do have great fan support. They’re serious about Virginia Tech football.I know there are going to be a lot of those people down in New Orleans.” Virginia Tech (11-2) claimed a BCS bid despite losing 38-10 to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. The Orange Bowl-bound Tigers handed the Hokies their only two losses. “Over the years, Virginia Tech has built a name for itself,” Beamer said.
“We have a chance to win 12 games this year, which has never been done at Virginia Tech. The reality is we lost to one team this year. We just lost to them twice.”
Led by quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan (10-2) had a resurgent season under first-year coach Brady Hoke, capped by a 40-34 victory over Ohio State that ended a seven-year losing streak to the Wolverines’ biggest rival. Hoke is ready to move on. “That Ohio game is long gone,” he said.
“It’s been a while ago. We’ve got to look forward and work toward the bowl game.”
Boise State (11-1) finished seventh in the BCS standings, was ranked No. 8 by The Associated Press and has a well-known history of success when invited to a major bowl. Kansas State (10-2) was one spot lower in the BCS and ranked 11th by the AP. Michigan wound up 13th in the BCS.
“Obviously, it was a difficult decision,” said Paul Hoolahan, chief executive officer of the Sugar Bowl. “We thought every team we had an opportunity to select presented us with certain unique credentials. In the final analysis, we just felt the two teams we have chosen really give us in the long run the best opportunity to put together a matchup that will provide a very exciting football game.”
Hoolahan said Virginia Tech’s proven history of bringing fans to New Orleans was “extremely important,” trumping their dismal showing Saturday night and not-so-stellar fan support while playing in the Orange Bowl three of the last four years. “I think Virginia Tech has proven over the years the caliber of football team they are,” Hoolahan said. “I think they will perform extremely well.”
The Sugar had targeted Michigan all along, though the spot wasn’t assured until the Wolverines climbed past 14th the final BCS standings — the cutoff line to be eligible as a team that didn’t win its conference title. They may be the lowest-ranked atlarge team to receive a bid, but this is a program with a long, deep tradition that is clearly on the upswing after the rocky tenure of former coach Rich Rodriguez.
“I don’t know that we went in with any other expectations except the normal expectations you have at the University of Michigan,” Hoke said. “That’s to win the Big Ten championship. We didn’t do that, so obviously we’ve got to go back to work after this bowl game.”
The Wolverines endured three miserable seasons under Rodriguez, whose tenure ended with his only bowl appearance — a blowout loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Now, Michigan is back on one of the biggest stages for the first time since a loss to Southern Cal in the 2007 Rose Bowl.
“We felt we deserved this spot,” defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “It’s huge. It establishes national relevance for Michigan as a program. It puts us back on the map, so to speak, as a national powerhouse.” The holdovers from a year ago are eager to make up for that 52-14 loss in the Gator Bowl.
“We went down to Jacksonville and didn’t put on our best performance,” tight end Kevin Koger said. “It was embarrassing to say the least, but we can learn from our mistakes. We can have a little bit of fun, but the main thing is to go down there and win the football game.” Virginia Tech will be making its third trip to the Sugar Bowl, its previous appearances including a 46-29 loss to Florida State in 2000 that determined the national championship.