|Once again, the BCS is exposed as a system that caters to the marquee teams and conferences. (AP)|
NEW ORLEANS -- It wasn't the worst attempt to legitimize the BCS, but it was in the bottom 95 percent.
Go ahead, pile on: Another team or teams should have been here ... It was a Sugar Bowl matchup that would have made a heck of a Capital One Bowl ... The last time this game kicked off without a top-10 team, it was 1945 ... Twelve-thousand empty Superdome seats came out disguised as disinterest.
In a game that couldn't sell enough tickets, couldn't sell itself and -- just betting here -- couldn't generate enough ratings, Michigan beat Virginia Tech 23-20 in overtime.
Boise State and Kansas State thank you. Actually, they don't. They're bitter and deserve to be. Either school's fans would have filled the place. Their football teams were better, more entertaining. But when did that count for anything in college football's fractured postseason?
It was all ugly and unfair and boring until it was good again. At the end. Dramatic, even. In overtime. Suddenly, the Michigan band struck up Hail To The Victors and it meant something besides Groundhog Day background music for a mediocre program.
There were moist eyes to go along with 11 victories. A Michigan long snapper named Jareth Glanda, who inexplicably caught a pass on a fake field goal, said the words that teared up those eyes.
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"Michigan's back," he said. "Yes it is."
Not totally or even artistically, judging by Tuesday night. Michigan's 10-6 halftime advantage was a game only an SEC purist could love. All defense and more awkward on offense than a high school sophomore on his first date. A fake field goal "worked" only because holder Drew Dileo's savvy perceptive skills. He saw Michigan coach Brady Hoke screaming for it from the sidelines.
"I was yelling it to the line," Dileo said. "I knew that half the people heard me and half the people didn't."
Glanda became an eligible receiver when Dileo's pass was tipped by the Virginia Tech defense. He caught his first ball since sophomore year in high school. He thinks.
You didn't have to like the presentation, but in its 132nd year of football, Michigan made Year 1 of Hoke a success. The corny, beefy Hoke who believes in Bo, hulking linemen and shirt sleeves even during snowy practices.
"It says we're going to work hard, this is the Big Ten, this is Michigan," Glanda said.
The true impact of Michigan's victory won't be determined until months or years from now. It's hard to proclaim a program back that suffered a 38-point bowl beatdown by Mississippi State last Jan. 1. But finally whipping Ohio State and winning a BCS bowl -- even this one that barely qualifies -- in the same season is a start.
"As far as I'm concerned, Michigan never left," AD Dave Brandon said amongst the confetti on the floor of the Superdome. "We had a couple of bumpy years. We're past that, that's history. We love our coach. We love our coaching staff. Most importantly, Team 132 has gone out there and proven what Michigan is all about."
A year ago, Brandon was going through the obvious, but still uncomfortable process of getting rid of Rich Rodriguez. Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh would have been sexier replacements, but that wasn't happening. If nothing else, Hoke got the job because Brandon knew he would say yes.
It's awkward because whatever success Michigan has had this season, a lot of the credit has to go to Rodriguez. These are mostly his guys. But it was never like this under Rich Rod. For one night, it was OK to believe in that sappy, weepy stuff that makes college football great. Just don't tell Boise or Kansas State.
"I don't look for validation [of the hire]," Brandon said. "What I looked for this year was a major turnaround in Michigan football. I wanted to see defense, I wanted to see special teams, I wanted to see consistency. I wanted to see improvement as the year wore on. I didn't want to see us decelerate once we got into the Big Ten season. I wanted to see us play better. I think I can check the box on virtually every one of those areas."
The defense cut its points surrendered in half (from 35 per game to 17). Since Oct. 15, only one team has scored more than 20 points on Michigan and won.
That still doesn't make this a Sugar for the ages. The bowl's CEO, Paul Hoolahan, booted it when he picked Virginia Tech, fresh off a four-touchdown loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. Hokies coach Frank Beamer barely voted his team with BCS bowl eligibility. (Beamer voted them 13th. The eligibility threshold is top 14.)
Kansas State and Boise each deserved a chance, perhaps against each other. Boise's Kellen Moore especially deserved a chance to finish out an amazing career on the big stage. The Broncos quarterback finished 50-3 in his career having played in exactly one BCS bowl.
Faulty kicking kept the Broncos out of possible title-game shots the past two seasons. Meanwhile, faulty kickers got Virginia Tech its biggest headlines in the run up to Tuesday night. Starter Cody Journell spent a week in jail after his arrest for felony breaking and entering.
At least backup Tyler Weiss made it here. Then he was sent home after missing curfew. Third-stringer Justin Myer was due to become the game's MVP by kicking four field goals Tuesday. But he pushed his final attempt, a 37-yarder, wide right in overtime.
Kansas State fans had bought 12,500 tickets before they even knew what bowl the Wildcats would play in. Sad, because it was obvious before the game there was a buyer's market outside the Superdome. The announced crowd of 64,512 was far below the capacity of 76,500.
If you really want to get steamed, this strange pairing might have been a glimpse of the sport's postseason future. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany favors keeping the 1 vs. 2 game and letting the bowls fend for themselves. There would be no more of these BCS-arranged marriages that double as elaborate exhibitions more than half the time.
The downside: Remember the old smoke-filled back-room bowl deals? Not too much room for top-10 teams from Boise and Manhattan, Kan., it would seem, in Delany's proposal, either.
The victory doesn't necessarily catapult Michigan into anything next season. It was outgained 377-184. The Wolverines held the ball for only 23 minutes. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges didn't know from one snap to the next which version of quarterback Denard Robinson he was going to get.
"The Good Denard, Bad Denard?" Borges asked. "You've got to keep coaching him up. Keep advising him on what's smart and what's not smart ... I told him from the beginning, 'Make plays and let God do the miracle.' Sometimes he elbows God out of the way."
That's why a night after a compelling BCS debut in the Rose and Fiesta bowls, there was better football on CNN for long stretches on Tuesday night.
Listen, a lot of us wanted to see in person if quarterback Logan Thomas was the next big thing at quarterback for Virginia Tech. He might be after rallying the Hokies back from a 17-9 fourth-quarter deficit. A deftly thrown touchdown pass to Danny Coale in overtime was overruled by the replay booth.
We would have loved if the Hokies' back-flipping tailback David Wilson was just as good running forward. (He wasn't, mostly, rushing for 82 yards on 24 carries.) We were dying to write that this was the kickoff to Robinson's 2012 Heisman campaign.
Instead, early on, the game just seemed to die before our eyes. Robinson arched a 45-yard touchdown pass to Junior Hemingway in the first half. But three minutes into the second half, Michigan fans didn't know whether to laugh, cry or go watch a replay of the Ohio State game. At that point, Robinson had been sacked three times, intercepted once and fumbled twice.
Meanwhile, Thomas hasn't quite mastered the art of throwing over a linebacker -- positioned three yards in front of him. In the third quarter, Michigan's Frank Thomas picked off a Thomas pass so perfectly thrown to him that a purist couldn't help think what Moore would have done with the play.
Sure, the Sugar whiffed on this matchup. That's what the BCS does. Just don't cry about it to Michigan and the band and Brandon. At the moment, they can't spare a tissue.