ANN ARBOR - If, like a certain ruby-slipper wearing young damsel once contended, there is indeed no place like home, then the Michigan Wolverines should be a content bunch in 2007.
The Wolverines will play eight times at Michigan Stadium this season, the most since the 1931 season. The first month of the season - four games - Michigan spends at home, and six of the first seven games are here.
The Wolverines also get the comfort of playing three of what likely could be their most difficult games - Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State - at home. A road date with Wisconsin, the preseason pick to finish second in the Big Ten, right behind favorite Michigan, looms as the most challenging contest.
Senior quarterback Chad Henne, who has started all 37 games in his career at Michigan, likes the prospect of having an edge going into those first four games.
"We get to have eight games that are home this year and that's a big advantage," Henne said. "Playing in our stadium is not easy for the away team. It will make the younger guys feel comfortable being around the stadium and our fans."
Offensive lineman Adam Kraus said the home-field edge at Michigan Stadium, where the Wolverines again led the nation in average attendance last season with 110,026, can be overwhelming. Kraus is excited about enjoying it so much in his senior season.
"The more home games the better, as far as I am concerned," Kraus said. "We have eight this year in Michigan Stadium, and I'm looking forward to that. I think it's a great way to go out."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said his team's home non-league games with Notre Dame, Oregon, I-AA power Appalachian State and Eastern Michigan will prove plenty challenging, and he expects every Big Ten opponent to take its best shot at the team most have picked to win the conference - his.
"We have to play eight of them, and I know one thing, there's not one of them that's going to be easy," Carr said about Michigan's Big Ten opposition, which this season does not include Iowa or Indiana.
"Everybody has got different issues, but nobody has the same team they did a year ago. There will be some guys that didn't play much a year ago that will emerge as outstanding players, so I think it's pretty difficult to be accurate with any kind of predictions."
Michigan senior linebacker Shawn Crable likes the fact the Wolverines will see Oregon from the Pac-10 Conference and perennial independent power Notre Dame before getting into the Big Ten portion of the 2007 schedule.
"We've got a nice start with Oregon and Notre Dame, and then we open the Big Ten season with Penn State," Crable said. "Then we've got a rocket finish with Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin and then Ohio State. It's a nice schedule, with a lot of people who want to beat us."
Michigan, which has not beaten rival Ohio State since the 2003 game in Ann Arbor, plays host to the Buckeyes on Nov. 17 to close the regular season.
SECRET RECIPE: The consensus is that with fourth-year starters Henne and Mike Hart in the backfield, a squad of fleet receivers, and Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award leading candidate Jake Long anchoring a skilled line, the Michigan offense should hum.
Carr revealed his ideal mix on that side of the ball.
"What we're trying to do is have an offense that can do two things: score fast and yet, when necessary, line up and possess the football, protect the defense or run the clock out," Carr said. "If you're playing a great offensive team, you got to be able to do the latter. You have to be able to protect the lead. It's not about statistics in my mind."
FRESH FACES: Carr has a number of freshmen on his depth chart entering Saturday's opener, including 6-7, 252 pound quarterback Ryan Mallett from Texas, who is listed as the backup for senior Chad Henne. Carr indicated he plans to play many of them, including wide receiver Junior Hemmingway from South Carolina.
"I think there are a number of freshmen who will compete. If they don't compete in this game, it certainly does not mean that they won't compete as the season goes forward," Carr said. "I think particularly at the wide receiver position, and I think to start with Junior Hemmingway. He has had an outstanding fall, and he is a wonderful athlete, and a guy that I think will play."
BAND WAGON: Carr said this week one of his favorite traditions at Michigan happens tomorrow, when the marching band comes over to practice and performs for the team.
"That's really about the only time during the course of the season that our players get an opportunity to see and hear the band in a relaxed atmosphere," Carr said.
"That's one of the highlights of the preseason. That's something I think all of our players look forward to."
MITCHELL OUT: Senior right guard Alex Mitchell, who started all 13 games last season, will miss Saturday's game due to injury.
Carr did not disclose the nature of the injury, but said Mitchell is out of the lineup for the Appalachian State game, and possibly for the Oregon game. Freshman David Molk or junior Jeremy Ciulla are expected to replace Mitchell.40.8272 -115.2083