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Vandy drops home opener, will start '06 at Michigan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt canceled its Sept. 2 home opener on Tuesday for a deal to start the 2006 season at Michigan in a game to be televised on ESPN.

It will be the lone regular-season game between teams from the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten, and it will be Vanderbilt's first season opener on ESPN since playing Alabama in 1997.

Vanderbilt dropped its scheduled home opener against Middle Tennessee, which has won three straight against the Commodores in Nashville. School officials said they hope to reschedule the game in an upcoming season.

Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro said the move was disappointing but credited Vanderbilt officials with keeping them informed throughout the negotiations.

"We are hopeful to schedule more games in the future with Vanderbilt," Massaro said. "As of right now, we do not have a replacement but are exploring different possibilities for 2006."

The Commodores will start the season with two road games. But they couldn't pass up the chance for national television exposure, especially in a deal that includes ESPN appearances in 2007 for the football and women's basketball teams.

"How many times do you get a chance to play in front of a national television audience?" said David Williams, the school's vice chancellor for student life and athletics. "Add the fact that your opponent is one of the elite programs in the history of college football and, indeed, one of the great universities in our nation and it becomes an awesome opportunity."

But it won't be an easy task for coach Bobby Johnson, who will be breaking in a new quarterback following the departure of SEC player of the year Jay Cutler. The Commodores went 5-6 in 2005, while Michigan was 7-5.

"It will indeed be a great challenge to our football team, but it's also a tremendous national platform for our players and program," Johnson said.

Michigan and Vanderbilt first played in 1905. The Wolverines lead the series 9-0-1, including a 42-14 victory in the most recent meeting in 1969.