NEW ORLEANS -- The victorious Michigan Wolverines wore T-shirts in the postgame that read, with all due respect to Def Leppard, "Pour some Sugar on me."
So just how far does a spoonful of Sugar go these days? It's all about perception, and Michigan's first BCS bowl win since a 35-34 overtime win over Alabama on Jan. 1, 2000, in the Orange Bowl goes a long way toward re-establishing the Wolverines' national reputation. It's a reputation that no doubt took some hits during the three-year tenure of Rich Rodriguez, whether or not the coach who replaced him believes it.
"Michigan never left," first-year coach Brady Hoke said after Michigan's 23-20 overtime victory over Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. "Some people may have thought that way, but Michigan never left. What it [winning a BCS bowl game] means is we have a group of seniors who won 11 games. It's only the fifth team in 132 years of Michigan football to win 11. That's a significant task. These guys have grown as a team, and we've grown as a staff. There's a lot of love and respect that we have for each other.
"I'm real proud of our seniors. They took this team last January and molded it. They did a tremendous job. That's a tremendous legacy for Team 132."
BCS bowl wins also give teams momentum for the following season. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Hoke both admitted as much in the leadup to the Sugar Bowl.
"It’s a lot better when you win it,” said Beamer, who fell to 1-5 in BCS bowl games. “The way you’re thought of in the end, the final poll, it’s a lot better if you win it for when you start out the next year. It’s going to be higher if you win it.
“I think there’s just a lot of implications that a BCS bowl win or any bowl win really has on your program.”
And in college football, for now, perception is almost everything when you are trying to win a national championship, which Michigan might have the team to do next season.
Hoke said he hasn’t thought much about next season’s opener against Alabama. but the Wolverines’ chances against the Crimson Tide -- at least in the world of perception -- look much better now.
“There’s a momentum that any team has when you win that last opportunity you have to play,” Hoke said. “I think there’s something to be said for that. You’re on a national stage. The only game in town.
“And so people who love and have a passion for college football, they’re going to take notice.”
Just how much will be revealed in the 2012 preseason polls.