Saturday's Vanderbilt-Tennessee game is relatively meaningless in terms of the SEC and national races... but don't try to tell that to Dan Stricker, who will wind up a stellar collegiate career in Saturday's game.
The record-setting Commodore wide receiver told the Commodore Radio Network last Saturday that even in the locker room immediately after the loss to Kentucky, the players' thoughts had already turned towards the Volunteers.
"I know I drive to school every day from my apartment off West End, and I see more Tennessee paraphernalia than I do Vandy," said Stricker. "It's been my dream since I got here to beat them, and change those Tennessee flags and bumper stickers on those cars to Vandy.
"It would just be an incredible game for us if we could pull that out."
Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7) ends its 2002 season Saturday against Tennessee (6-4, 3-3) at the Nashville Coliseum. Kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m. (Jefferson-Pilot televsion, WSM-FM radio 95.5). Tickets, priced at $40 (Upper Level), $50 (Lower Level) and $75 (Club Level) are available at the Vanderbilt ticket office and through TicketMaster outlets around the state. Tickets will also be available on game day at the Coliseum box office.
Even if Vanderbilt defeats Tennessee, said Stricker, the season is going to feel incomplete-- the Commodores have fallen short of most goals they set for themselves before the season. "But it would be a heck of a lot less incomplete than it would be if we lost," he added quickly. "It would be an unbelievable feeling."
Stricker needs 134 receiving yards to break the all-time SEC mark for career receiving yards, and 97 yards to break the school record held by Boo Mitchell. With 2,868 yards entering the game, Stricker is already the sixth most productive receiver in SEC history.
At least one Commodore player is less than thrilled that Saturday's game is being played off-campus at the Coliseum rather than at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Senior offensive guard Jim May, one of the team's most outspoken players, disagreed with the Athletic Department's decision to move the game to the Coliseum.
"I'm mad about it, because we're not having our last game against Tennessee here," said May. "I don't believe the administration is respecting the will of the players. It's our last game, and it's going to be bittersweet."
May, a fifth-year senior, will tie a record for most career appearances in a Commodore uniform with 45. The Tennessee game will be his 41st consecutive start. The Commodore seniors were honored on Nov. 9 before their last game at Vanderbilt Stadium against Florida.
The Vanderbilt-Tennessee game, a home game for Vanderbilt, was moved to the Coliseum after the 2000 game, a 28-26 victory for Tennessee, resulted in a financial windfall for Vanderbilt's Athletic Department. Over 68,000 fans attended the 2000 game; Vanderbilt Stadium holds only 41,221. However, at last report, over 23,000 tickets remained unsold for Saturday's game.
So why was the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game moved to the Saturday before Thanksgiving instead of the traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving? The change in schedule, which becomes permanent starting this season, was requested by Vanderbilt Director of Athletics Todd Turner and former coach Woody Widenhofer.
Since Vanderbilt students are traditionally dismissed from school for the week of Thanksgiving, students were never on campus in years when the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game was in Nashville. The students' absence was particularly felt at the 1998 game, when the combination of a poor Vanderbilt team and an undefeated Tennessee team resulted in a virtual orange takeover of Vanderbilt Stadium.
At Vanderbilt's request, the SEC along with Tennessee and Kentucky officials agreed to flip-flop the Vanderbilt-Tennessee and Vanderbilt-Kentucky games. The change means that Vanderbilt will no longer be the season-ending opponent for Tennessee. The Volunteers end their season against the Wildcats on Nov. 30 in Neyland Stadium.
Vanderbilt has urged students to stay on campus this weekend to attend the game, and has arranged bus transportation to make it easy for students to attend.