Disastrous debut?

On paper at least, Vanderbilt's 2006 football season opener at Michigan on Sept. 2 shapes up as such an impending disaster that you wonder if the game site should be Pearl Harbor, rather than Ann Arbor.

It would've been a good game last year, when Vanderbilt had Jay Cutler, perhaps the NCAA's finest quarterback. But Cutler has moved on to the NFL, leaving the Commodores to navigate a ship that seemingly has no rudder.

Although Vandy appears to be in over its head, head coach Bobby Johnson says his team is optimistic. After all, the Commodores won at Arkansas and at Tennessee by identical 28-24 scores last fall, and nearly won at South Carolina (losing 35-28) and at Florida (losing 49-42 in overtime).

"The atmosphere is exciting," Johnson said at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. "We don't look at it as bad. We look at it as good. It's great that 108,000 people at Tennessee were extremely interested in the outcome of the game. We want to be in those situations. We're not dreading it at all."

Although Michigan rarely loses in its home stadium, Johnson isn't letting that dampen his enthusiasm.

"If you look at the records, all home teams aren't undefeated," he said. "So, you go in there with confidence that you can play. If you execute your offense and defense, then you've got a chance to do something special. That's what we're looking forward to at Michigan."

Featuring 107,501 seats, Michigan Stadium is the biggest in all of college football. Beaver Stadium (Penn State) seats 106,537 and UT's Neyland Stadium is third at 104,079. Asked how he will handle the decibel level in Ann Arbor, Johnson smiled.

"If it's any louder than South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee," he said, "I'm going to get an appointment with an ear doctor when I get back because those places are extremely loud."

Johnson admitted that Vandy is getting a "substantial" amount of money to visit Ann Arbor. He said ESPN approached school officials months ago about playing Michigan on football's opening weekend. Following much discussion of the positives and negatives, Vanderbilt officials accepted the offer.

Asked what the negatives were, Johnson replied: "We don't have an experienced quarterback. Playing the opener at Ann Arbor is a lot to ask of a young quarterback."

Interestingly enough, Michigan takes the spot on Vandy's schedule previously filled by Middle Tennessee State, which beat the Commodores each of the past two years in Nashville. If you can't beat MTSU in Music City, why agree to face Michigan in Ann Arbor? Johnson had a ready answer:

"If we go up there, play well and win, that would be a big, big step for our program."

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