Western Kentucky University opens the new season on Thursday night against SEC foe Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., with a shot to win a sixth straight game. The Toppers finished last season 8-5 and won the Bahamas Bowl.
WKU Insider gives you a look at five storylines for Thursday's game:
STATEMENT FOR WKU The Toppers can make a statement on a big stage with the game on a Thursday night - not many other games out there - and on the SEC Network. Western is only 2-15 against SEC foes with those two wins against Kentucky in 2012 and '13. The Toppers can get the season off on the right foot and extend the winning streak to six.
EXPECTATIONS RAISED One of the toughest thing for Jeff Brohm and his staff will be managing expectations from not just within - but outside the program. There's a lot of talk nationally about the Toppers and in the C-USA race. Brohm said told his players to focus on one game at a time and they will need to do that this season, just don't get ahead of themselves.
CAN DEFENSE STEP UP? Brohm told me last week he knows the defense will be better than it was last year and it better be. The Toppers have some added depth - and beef - up front that should help out. One tough thing for the opener is Vandy won't be naming a starting QB until game time. Sophomores Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck battled throughout camp.
INJURIES WKU is nicked up and the depth chart released earlier this week might not be what Brohm puts on the field. Joe Manley and Matt Nord have been linemen injured, while running back Ace Wales is out. Linekbacker Dejon Brown has been sidelined and WKU top receiver Jared Dangerfield has been out of practice. Dangerfield caught 69 passes for 825 yards last season and scored 11 times. If he's out that would be a serious blow for the Toppers offense.
SEASON OPENERS The Toppers need success in this first game. Western is 56-33-6 all-time in season openers but have won three in a row. In the 33 seasons that WKU lost the opener, there was just 16 winning seasons. So, getting off to a fast start for this bunch of Toppers is a very key ingredient for a successful season.