FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary looks to pass during NCAA college football practice in Nashville, Tenn. The Commodores are keeping their starting quarterback a secret until the first series of their opener Th
Mark Humphrey, File
September 01, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason knows whether Johnny McCrary or Wade Freebeck will start against Western Kentucky in the season opener.

The coach just refuses to say which quarterback won the job.

''You'll see it Thursday night, 7:01. Get ready,'' Mason said Tuesday.

Vanderbilt was the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to start four quarterbacks last season in Mason's debut season, and the Commodores went 3-9. Patton Robinette appeared set as the starter after spring practice before announcing he was heading to medical school this summer.

That left McCrary and Freebeck competing to start in August, and Mason said he and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig selected their starter a week and a half ago. Mason defended the decision not to name the starter before the opener, saying he knows he has a starter and a backup.

''My idea is take the pressure off these guys and let's go play the game,'' Mason said. ''It's not about who the fans may want to see or what they need to know, it's what puts these guys in the best possible situation to play well. Right now I've sort of been able to provide a shield around these guys, so we focus on the task at hand.''

Mason said the quarterbacks haven't had to answer any questions and been able to focus on preparing for Western Kentucky.

McCrary, who enrolled in the spring of 2013, started the final five games last season and led the Commodores in total offense. He was 78 of 152 for 985 yards passing and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore threw five of his TD passes in a win over Old Dominion to tie a school record.

Freebeck was one of only three true freshmen quarterbacks to play in the Southeastern Conference last season. He started four games and wound up playing 84 plays. Big at 6-5 and 226 pounds, Freebeck was 34 of 72 for 376 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions, and his best game came against South Carolina when he threw for 168 yards.

But Freebeck was hurt against Charleston Southern and didn't play again.

Offensively, Vanderbilt ranked among the worst FBS teams last season. The Commodores averaged 288.3 yards total offense putting them last in the SEC and 122 nationally. They ranked 105th in passing offense (179.1 yards per game). Vanderbilt lost left tackle Andrew Jelks and wide receiver C.J. Duncan to season-ending injuries this August.

Mason hired Ludwig this offseason to take over the offense and is leaving that unit in the coordinator's control. Mason said he's seen a different air from the offense with Ludwig and feels they've addressed their offensive issues. He expects the quarterback and the offense to stay on the field and score more points this season.

''Those things are how we're going to be judged,'' Mason said.

Wide receiver Trent Sherfield said chemistry with whoever starts at quarterback won't be an issue because they worked with McCrary, Freebeck and freshman Kyle Shurmur all summer. Now the Commodores can't wait to hit the field Thursday night and start erasing memories of a painful 3-9 season that started with a 37-7 loss to Temple.

''We'll see what happens on Thursday,'' Sherfield said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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