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Michigan lands bid to Sugar Bowl

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The last time Michigan played in the Bowl Championship Series, the Wolverines were disappointed and felt they should have been in the national championship game.

This time, though, they are fortunate to be here.

For the first time since the 2006 season, Michigan will play in a BCS bowl game -- the Wolverines will head to New Orleans to play Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.

"It's so rewarding for our seniors," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said from New York City, where he will be attending Lloyd Carr's College Football Hall of Fame dinner. "Our seniors have done everything with our program and our leadership and how they've led this football team and how they've worked together."

It almost didn't happen, however. After finishing the regular season 10-2, the Wolverines needed help from other teams around the country Saturday and from the pollsters Sunday morning -- and they received it. LSU beat Georgia 42-10 in the SEC championship game. Southern Mississippi upset Houston 49-28 in the Conference USA title game.

Then, on Sunday morning, the coaches' poll pushed Michigan from No. 16 to No. 12 -- past Michigan State and Houston and still ahead of fellow BCS contenders Baylor and TCU -- to push the Wolverines into the top 14 of the BCS and into qualification for the Sugar Bowl.

Michigan made it to No. 13 in the BCS standings. Virginia Tech is at No. 11.

"We don't control any of that," Hoke said. "The things that we can't control we really don't worry about because we have enough things as a program and how we want to represent Michigan on a daily basis that we have to worry about."

Hoke, though, didn't know what to expect as far as destination or opponent, saying it would have given him a headache had he tried to understand all the possible permutations.

Similarly, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer defended his program's spot in the Sugar Bowl after bypassing higher-ranked teams such as Kansas State and Boise State in claiming an at-large berth.

Beamer said he first thought an at-large berth would be possible after Virginia Tech's 38-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game Saturday. Then, following a conversation with Tech athletic director Jim Weaver on Sunday morning, he felt even better about the Hokies becoming the first-ever BCS at-large team from the ACC.

He pointed to his team's past successes as well. Virginia Tech (11-2), in the midst of its eighth straight 10-win season, will be playing in its fourth BCS game in the past five seasons, and has the ACC Player of the Year in running back David Wilson.

"I think there's a lot of reasons why Virginia Tech would be an attractive team to a BCS bowl," Beamer said. "Over the years, I think the Virginia Tech name has gotten to be a very good name."

This is the first non-Rose Bowl BCS appearance for Michigan since the 2000 Orange Bowl, when the Wolverines beat Alabama 35-34 in overtime.

It will be Michigan's second appearance in the Sugar Bowl. Its other appearance came on Jan. 2, 1984, losing 9-7 to Pat Dye and Auburn. The most valuable player in that game was a running back named Bo Jackson, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1985. Jackson gained 130 yards against Michigan.

Michigan took an early 7-0 lead before three Al Del Greco field goals, including one in the final minute, gave Auburn the win.

Michigan has never faced Virginia Tech, but the Hokies' defensive staff, led by coordinator Bud Foster, will be familiar with defending quick, mobile quarterbacks. The Hokies have had dual-threat quarterbacks for years, from Michael Vick to Bryan Randall to Tyrod Taylor, and now Logan Thomas.

That experience, Beamer said, could help the Hokies.

"I think you better have good players on the other side that are fast, it looks like to me," Beamer said. "The highlights I've seen, that guy can go. So, yeah, us having that type of guy gives us some experience, but it all goes back to the players being able to tackle the guy when you get him there."

The two teams also feature stingy defenses. Michigan allows 17.17 points a game, Virginia Tech 17.23.

The Wolverines are 18-21 in bowl games, including a 32-18 loss to USC in their last BCS bowl appearance, the 2007 Rose Bowl. That was after a loss to then-No. 1 Ohio State, 42-39, in the undefeated No. 1 vs. No. 2 game to end the 2006 regular season.

Virginia Tech will be playing in its fourth Sugar Bowl. The Hokies beat Texas 28-10 in the 1995 game, lost to Florida State 46-29 in the 2000 game, and lost to Auburn 16-13 in the 2005 game.

Auburn's offensive coordinator in that Sugar Bowl? Al Borges, now Michigan's offensive coordinator.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.