published Saturday, November 20th, 2010

20-team playoffs aid UTC

Audio clip

Russ Huesman

If the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga receives an at-large bid into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the Mocs will have the NCAA to thank.

Not only because the Mocs — who must win at ninth-ranked Wofford today to have a chance — would have been chosen by the Division I football committee, but also because the committee two years ago pushed for the expansion of the playoff field from 16 to 20 teams starting in 2010.

“It’s increased a bunch of people’s opportunities,” Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. “If it was a 16-team field, I probably wouldn’t be popping off as much, saying how much we deserve to be in there. But I truly believe, if we win, that we’ve got a good enough football team and our body of work would show it.”

Wofford can clinch a share of the Southern Conference championship with a win, so the Mocs (6-4, 5-2) are well aware that all playoff talk is pointless if they don’t upset the Terriers (8-2, 6-1) at Gibbs Stadium.

At the same time, UTC has demonstrated this season, especially in close losses to No. 2 Appalachian State and No. 4 Jacksonville State, that it can compete down to the wire with the top teams in the FCS.

“They may be as good as anybody in the country,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said of the Mocs.

UTC’s only playoff appearance came in 1984, so today’s game is being called the program’s biggest in 26 years.

“It’s definitely the biggest game in my five years here,” athletic director Rick Hart said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s the biggest game in much longer than that.”

Because of the Mocs’ schedule, which is rated the third-toughest in the FCS, seven wins might give them a shot at a bid in a 16-team field. One 7-4 team, Weber State, made the playoffs last season.

The expansion of the playoff field has added an extra round of games. The bottom eight teams will play in the first round next Saturday, while the other 12 teams receive byes.

The semifinals will be played on Dec. 17-18, and the finalists will play in the championship game on Jan. 7, three weeks later than in previous years.

After 13 years in Chattanooga at Finley Stadium, the FCS committee voted in February to move the title game to the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas.

Both NCAA director of football and baseball Damani Leech and Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee president Scott Smith said the date change had no bearing on the committee’s decision to move the game to Frisco.

Finley might no longer be the home of the title game, but UTC has submitted bids to host all of its playoff games should the Mocs receive a bid. Among the criteria for selecting playoff sites are the quality of the facility and attendance history and potential.

According to the NCAA’s website, UTC ranked No. 24 in the FCS in attendance this season with a school-record average of 12,699 per game.

Half of the 20 teams in the playoffs will be the champions from the 10 conferences with automatic bids. The other 10 will be selected by the FCS committee, which is comprised of 11 athletic directors from FCS leagues throughout the country.

Seven wins against Division I opponents is essentially the minimum needed for consideration, though the NCAA allows some wiggle room. According to the Division I handbook, less than seven D-I wins “may place a team in jeopardy of not being selected.”

The Mocs have to pick up their seventh win today, as do several other teams that have strong resumes, including both of the teams in last season’s title game, defending champion Villanova and Montana.

“You’ve got to be awfully good to get into the playoffs,” Hart said. “We’re one of very few programs in the country right now that still has something to play for.”

“All this stuff is good for FCS football,” Hart added, “and that’s exciting.”

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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