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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Fans watch as UTC quarterback Nick Tiano awaits a snap against Eastern Illinois on Aug. 29, 2019, at Finley Stadium.

If there's one constant for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football season openers, it's that they usually come with some sort of spotlight element.

Against a Power Five conference opponent. On a Thursday night. As part of a high-profile matchup.

This season, the Mocs have a mix of the first two.

The opening game of their 2020 schedule at Western Kentucky has been moved to Thursday, Sept. 3, with kickoff in Bowling Green set for 7 p.m. EDT. The Mocs and the Hilltoppers both announced the move from Sept. 5 on Thursday.

Since 2005, eight of the Mocs' season openers have come on a Thursday, including three of the past four. The lone exception during that span was in 2017, when the Mocs faced Jacksonville State in the Montgomery Kickoff Classic in Alabama. In 2015, the Mocs and Gamecocks faced off in a clash of two Football Championship Subdivision teams ranked among the top 10 in the nation.

UTC has also faced Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Florida and Central Michigan in season openers.

The Mocs are coming off a 6-6 record in 2019, Rusty Wright's first season as his alma mater's head coach. The team must overcome the loss of starting quarterback Nick Tiano, who was a fifth-year senior last season, but returns two All-Southern Conference running backs in senior Tyrell Price and sophomore Ailym Ford and two-time All-SoCon receiver Bryce Nunnelly, along with its entire starting offensive line.

On defense, the Mocs will be led by their line and a secondary spearheaded by two-time all-conference safety Brandon Dowdell.

The Hilltoppers will be playing their fourth Thursday night opener in six seasons. Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton — Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2018 — was named the Conference USA coach of the year for 2019. He returns 16 of 22 starters as well as both specialists from a 9-4 team that won the ServPro First Responder Bowl in Dallas.

UTC also released important information on season tickets Thursday as the June 30 deadline for renewing seats at Finley Stadium approaches.

"We plan to play a full football scheduled this fall, but our department understands the concerns that could arise from the current COVID-19 pandemic," the release read. " We hope to be at full capacity at Finley Stadium for the entire 2020 season. However, if seating limitations are necessary, then priority access will be provided to season ticket holders that have renewed by June 30."

The release goes on to explain that access will be ranked by season ticket holders who purchase by the deadline, that Mocs Club priority points "will then determine seating for those who have purchased by the deadline" and that availability after the deadline will be based on the date the order was received.

UTC has also planned for the possibility of games being "postponed, canceled or altered in any fashion due to COVID-19," with options for ticket holders to have their credits accounted for the 2021 season, transfer the credit to a gift for the Mocs Club to support student-athletes or request a full refund.

Also, UTC is offering a Father's Day special for the 2020 schedule that includes general admission season tickets for $35 each (minimum purchase of two required) and a "Happy Father's Day" video message from a member of the Mocs football program that will be delivered via email on the holiday weekend of June 20-21. This package is available until June 18; visit gomocs.com to purchase.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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