ANN ARBOR - As he prepares his team for an upcoming game, a seasoned and wily football coach can make even St. Nobody Tech appear as ominous as Notre Dame.
But as Michigan readies for its season opener here Saturday against Vanderbilt, coach Lloyd Carr has yet to close that sale, and kickoff is four days away.
"Has Michigan ever played Vanderbilt," fifth-year senior center Mark Bihl asked yesterday when questioned about the planning under way for the Wolverines' 2006 debut.
When informed that the last meeting between Michigan and Vanderbilt from the Southeastern Conference was in September of 1969, in Bo Schembechler's first game as Michigan's coach, Bihl said: "It's been that long a time?"
Yes, it has - about 14 years before Bihl, the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder from Washington Court House, Ohio, was born. Prior to that, Michigan played the Commodores nine times between 1905 and 1923, and has yet to lose to Vanderbilt.
So even though Carr is talking Vanderbilt - the Commodores have 15 starters back from a 5-6 team that took Florida down to the wire before losing in double overtime, and then beat Tennessee, both on the road - the Wolverines are still talking Michigan. The painful residue of last year's 7-5 record trumps any other motivational arrows Carr might have in his quiver.
"That 7-5 season, that's how those seniors from last year are going to be remembered," Bihl said about Michigan's worst record in more than 20 years. "We'd like to forget it, but you can't. So I think every player on this team is very focused and motivated because of that. We all strive to persevere through everything, and we all hope to be better."
Defensive back Leon Hall said he knew little at this point about Vanderbilt's super sophomore wide receiver Earl Bennett, who caught 49 passes for 545 yards in the Commodores' last four games of 2005, but he would soon be studying film of Bennett.
Bennett had five touchdown catches against Kentucky, and finished the season with an SEC freshman record 79 receptions for 876 yards and nine touchdowns.
"As a senior, this is my last home opener, and my last season at Michigan, so my attention is on doing everything right and getting this program back to the top," Hall said. "There's plenty of excitement and anticipation about the season starting, and plenty of motivation, especially since we were disappointed in how we finished last year. There's always that chip on your shoulder."
Senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley said he fully expects Vanderbilt to enter the Big House jacked up and ready to play, but that his biggest concerns now center around the unknowns on Michigan's side of the field.
"When a team comes to play Michigan, we know they're going to give it their best," Woodley said. "But coming into this first game, we're going to see what we've got. But I'm confident. The guys are anxious. They can't wait."
Outside of the usual unknowns surrounding the first game, Carr said Vandy deserves his respect, and that of his team.
"As a team and as a program, they've done a great job of going onto the road and playing very well," Carr said. "I don't think they're going to be intimidated by anything that they see, and I'm sure in reading the reports, they're excited about this opener and the opportunities that they have."
Carr gave his team high marks for its work in August in preparation for the 2006 season.
"I think we have had an excellent fall," Carr said. "I think we've worked this team extremely hard, and I think they're in great condition, and I think mentally they're extremely excited to get going. It's a long training camp - three weeks - so I think there's more a sense of anticipation and excitement."
KOLODZIEJ DONE: Fifth-year senior Mike Kolodziej, listed as a potential starter on the offensive line, is likely done with football. The 6-7, 310-pounder from Joliet, Ill., who has played in 25 games at Michigan, a year ago suffered a scary bout of numbness in his hand and slurred speech that at first was thought to be a stroke. Kolodziej recovered and played in six games last year, and despite a lot of optimistic talk prior to preseason camp, Carr said yesterday that things have not gone well.
"Early in the camp we had a problem, and so I think in his best interest Mike is not going to play this fall," Carr said, without elaborating as to the specifics of Kolodziej's condition. "I would hesitate to say it, but I think I can say it's been ongoing. That's where we are."
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