Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Michigan Re-Match...

According to a report in today's Nashville's City Paper, Vanderbilt's football team as decided to decline ESPN's invitation to open the 2007 season at the Big House. Vice Chancellor David Williams told the City Paper that ESPN inquired about a rematch, but Vanderbilt chose to keep its 2007 schedule intact.

Was this a good decision or not? Vanderbilt's four out of conference opponents next season are Richmond, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, and Wake Forest, and all four games will all be played in Nashville. With the exception of Wake, the Commies should be considered heavy favorites in all three of their other games. The Richmond game, as discussed on this blog before, is a tricky one because a loss is catastrophic, and a win is unimpressive.

If I were David Williams (or whomever else is "in charge" of athletic affairs in Kirkland), I would call Navy, Northwestern, or UNC and see if they are interested in scrapping their September 1st, games at Temple, against Northeastern, and against James Madison respectively, and play Vanderbilt. I have argued for some time now that Vanderbilt should include in their out-of-conference schedule at least two games against like-minded, elite academic (D-1) institutions. While Michigan is such a school, its storied football past puts it a rung above the Commies for the time being. The same cannot be said, however, of the other schools mentioned above. A game against any of these three schools would, in my estimation, be very appealing to one of the ESPN channels, and would give Vanderbilt and whichever school took the game an opportunity to showcase themselves against a similar institution who also happens to play in a strong football conference (except for Navy. of course). Better still, all three of these opponents are beatable. Perhaps the problem is that the same could be said of the Commies aganist any of these three teams.

Without passing judgment one way or the other, I guess the question becomes is "buying" a win better than "earning" one to start their 2007 season? Given the players coming back, this is a team that should be bowl bound, does re-shuffling the schedule make that more difficult? Or, is it actually the thing to do to help CBJ and the boy's take their next step forward?


Seamus O'Toole said...

I'm open to persuasion otherwise, but my initial reaction is that this is the right move (declining the offer, that is). There's not much to be gained for the Commies in an opener at Michigan, while the Blue have been very shrewd in trying to reschedule the game.


1. The potential for injury offsets any "experience" gains you make in playing a team that big, fast, and talented. Injuries could put us behind the 8-ball before we even start the meat of the season.

2. At least for an SEC school like Vandy, it's not like basketball, where your out-of-conference schedule may determine whether or not you go to the Dance (or to a bowl, in this case). All we need to get to a bowl is WINS, and we probably ain't gonna get one in the Big House on Labor Day weekend.

3. In the same vein, the exposure gain you get that may help with reputation, recruiting, etc. could very easily be turned into a loss--or at least a push--if you get blown out (again).

4. It's a waste of time and energy to have to prepare all August for a team that is as dynamic and explosive offensively (Hart, Manningham, and Henne all return for Michigan) and as punishing defensively as this Michigan team.

5. David Williams knows (or ought to know) that with a conference schedule as hard as ours, one Top 25 out-of-conference team (Wake Forest) is about all you're going to want when the goal is to have a winning season and get to a bowl. We need wins whenever and wherever we can get them.

6. This looks more and more like a cheap ploy for Michigan to say they scheduled an SEC team out-of-conference. They know Vandy's going to be pretty good next year, but not good enough to beat them (especially at the Big House), and they want to use that to their advantage with the voters in getting them to a BCS bowl or the national title game, should it come down to a SOS debate between teams of equal records (like it did this year). The fact that Michigan and Ohio State hadn't seen teams like USC and Florida on their schedules all year was very obvious to anyone who watched their BCS games, but playing Vandy at least allows Michigan the pretense of having faced tough SEC competition (and won).

7. I agree that one of those other teams (Navy, Northwestern, UNC) makes more sense for a team like Vandy. Navy scares me, but I really like the Northwestern game. Why wouldn't they want to ditch a I-AA opponent and play an SEC school they think they'll have a good shot at? Two words: natural rivalry.

8. The notion of "earning" a win instead of "buying" it is interesting, but can we really apply that to Vandy, an SEC school with no fewer than FIVE preseason Top-25 teams on its schedule? If we have a winning season, make no mistake: it will have been earned. While a win at Michigan would be amazing and clearly hard-earned, it might be an emotional high that could be tough to sustain for the whole season. More importantly, it would put our boys under an enormous amount of pressure, and a loss the following week to Alabama would be demoralizing for players and fans alike.

On balance, these factors make me wary of scheduling Michigan. Am I off-base here? Or just chicken?

Stanimal said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Playing Michigan is a bad idea.

Shamas pointed out the best point I believe, it's GREAT for them to play us, but it's bad for US to play them. The reason being is that they get the best of both worlds, a team they know they can beat who's in a real difficult conference. We really don't have enough to stack up to the firepower that Michigan has. Last year Michigan's recruiting class, particularly Mike Hart broke loose and really demonstrated their talent to the entirety of the nation. We would be foolish to schedule this game after the season Michigan had last year.

Vanderbilt's primary focus should be on getting to a bowl game and to do this we're going to need to play teams we can match up with. I think Northwestern would be a great team to play. I'm not even opposed to Navy. The fact is that we need to get our momentum rolling before we head into SEC play. If we roll into the Auburn game with a 3-1 record (with the possiblity of 2-2 since we love to four-letter expletive the bed against Ole Miss), we'll be in much better position than if we start the season off losing. Look at our schedule: Alabama, at Auburn, Georgia, at South Carolina, at Florida, Kentucky (no longer a slouch), at Tennessee, then ACC Champ Wake Forest?

Picking up wins against Richmond, Eastern Michigan, and Kent State will be more important than ever. Why add more to our plate on our quest for a bowl game?

Bobby O'Shea said...

All good points, and I am glad we have a discussion of sorts going. I think the most compelling point is that for a team like Vanderbilt, strength of schedule does not matter, having an above .500 record does. Playing Michigan, particularly in the Big House, is not worth it.

I do think Vanderbilt would be well advised to get a deal done with Northwestern to play an eight-game series (4 at home, 4 away) to open up each season. Book ending Northwestern and Wake Forest, coupled with the rigors of an SEC schedule, would not only give Vanderbilt a reasonably difficult schedule, but also a schedule where they have the potential to win some games against teams for major conferences. It seems to me like a win-win for all involved.