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The combination of conference changes and the chance to earn two huge paydays will give this year's University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football schedule a considerably new look and feel.
Six of the Mocs' 12 opponents were not on last year's schedule and they will face seven opponents on the road, including a season-opening Thursday game at Central Michigan on Aug. 28 and an Oct. 11 trip to Tennessee in Knoxville.
With the schedule officially released today, university officials confirmed the Mocs will make a combined $800,000 for traveling to those two FBS opponents, including $450,000 for playing the Vols for the first time since 1969.
"The excitement that I've already heard throughout the city about our game at UT is just unreal," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "There is a much greater interest and excitement in that game than any of our previous games against FBS teams like Alabama. I'm more worried about the five games before that one, but I admit it is neat.
"We appreciate the BCS schools playing us and we'd love to play Tennessee every three or four years, because we get more out of it than they do, no question."
Huesman was given the choice of scheduling a small-school opponent for a likely easy win or opening at CMU and collecting a big check that will be used toward the planned football building that will cost an estimated $15 million.
It was a risky decision since seven road games, including two at FBS opponents, leave little margin for error for a team focused on earning a playoff berth.
"I made that decision based on what's best for the program long-term," Huesman said. "It's a tough schedule, but Central Michigan offered us a good enough guarantee, and since we're trying to get the football building going, I felt it was the right move for us.
"The only way I'll play a Thursday game anymore is if we're the road team. When you host a Thursday game your kids are in class all day and not in their normal game-day environment. As the road team, we'll get up there the day before and go through our usual game-day procedure so it will feel like a Saturday. No matter what, our goal remains the same, to win the Southern Conference and get to the playoffs."
The Mocs were forced to find replacements on the schedule for departed Southern Conference foes Appalachian State, Elon and Georgia Southern, as well as Georgia State and UT-Martin who canceled out of contracted games for this season.
New SoCon members Mercer and VMI took up two of those vacant dates and the Mocs also added a home date with Jacksonville State and trips to Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech as well as the two FBS foes.
"It was a scramble, a lot more than usual, to put together this schedule," Huesman said. "It's going to be really weird not having App State and Georgia Southern, and to be honest I'm going to miss playing them, and I think our fans and players will miss playing them.
"Those teams traveled great and made for a really good game-day atmosphere. But everybody moves on, and even though the schedule looks different, there's a lot of reason to be excited."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
UTC 2014 football schedule
Aug. 28 (Thur.) at Central Michigan
Sept. 6 Jacksonville State
Sept. 13 at Austin Peay
Sept. 27 Samford
Oct. 4 VMI (HC)
Oct. 11 at Tennessee
Oct. 18 at The Citadel
Oct. 25 Mercer
Nov. 1 at Western Carolina
Nov. 8 Wofford
Nov. 15 at Tennessee Tech
Nov. 22 at Furman
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...