August 30, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Opening the season on Thursday night has become quite the tradition for Vanderbilt, taking advantage of the chance to lure a few more eyes.

Now the Commodores want to tweak that trend.

By winning.

The Commodores open Thursday night hosting South Carolina - the fifth straight year they've helped open the college football season. They've come so very close to wins over the past four seasons but have not won an opener at home since beating Elon in 2011.

Coach Derek Mason isn't sure if there's any benefit to being among the first to play each season.

''I like getting the season started early,'' Mason said Tuesday. ''It's nice to have a kickoff game that people talk about and everybody knows and understands when college football starts. So to hit it on a Thursday night, we've done it for the last couple of years, so for me it's become old hat. I like where it's at, and that's good.''

Being on national TV never hurts, even a team in a Power Five conference with its own network. The competition on Thursday night will be stiffer with 29 other games being played, though adding the Southeastern Conference opener certainly helps.

The Commodores haven't beaten South Carolina since 2008, and this gives them a big chance to kick off the season in style. But the Commodores have lost three of their past four season openers by a combined 10 points. Last year's loss may have been the most painful, losing 14-12 to Western Kentucky when Vandy's 2-point conversion failed at the end to force overtime.

The only game that wasn't close came in 2014 in a 37-7 rout at the hands of Temple in Mason's coaching debut, a game that didn't finish until the wee hours of the next day because of a lightning delay.

Vanderbilt is coming off a 4-8 season, and Mason has written an open letter to fans asking for their support Thursday night to fill up the stadium. He's also asked students to turn out as well. The coach said the Commodores need momentum along with the opportunity to do something they haven't done his first two seasons.

''This team knows how important it is just based on our recent history,'' Mason said. ''There's an opportunity to win the first home opener in I don't know six years or whatever it is, to beat south Carolina for the first time in a long time. So there's some important factors for us that really don't ride necessarily on just it being the first game.''

Linebacker Oren Burks said the Commodores see opening on Thursday night as an opportunity to showcase themselves on a national stage.

''It's Thursday night, all eyes are on you,'' Burks said. ''There's not a lot of games ... I'm excited for this season.''

Vanderbilt has 15 starters back, including seven from a defense that ranked 28th nationally in total defense last season and 22nd allowing 21 points per game. Kyle Shurmur started five games last season at quarterback, a job he has a firm hold on this season.

''We've all been chomping at the bit to get ready for this game,'' Shurmur said. ''We're all ready to go and we're real excited. Anytime you can get it two days earlier a game, it's great.''

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Online:

AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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

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