Chattanooga Mocs enter season as a SoCon favorite (with video)

Chattanooga Mocs enter season as a SoCon favorite (with video)

August 29th, 2013 by John Frierson in Local Regional News

UTC senior Caylor Haynes leads dancers in a routine during Wednesday afternoon's football pep rally at Miller Plaza.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Will you go to the Mocs game tonight?

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Kadeem Wise, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team's fifth-year senior cornerback, signed with the Mocs when the team was coming off a 1-11 season and had a new coach in Russ Huesman.

While Wise redshirted in 2009, UTC went 6-5. That was followed by another 6-5 run in his first season, then 5-6 and the Mocs went 6-5 again last season.

More than once during the careers of Wise and the other fifth-year players, the Mocs have been a win, maybe even a play or two, from making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs or sharing a Southern Conference championship.

In Wise's opinion, the No. 25 Mocs, who open their season against UT-Martin tonight at Finley Stadium, have banged on the door long enough.

It's now time to knock it down.

"We think it's our time," said Wise, a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. "It's time for us to go out here and prove what we can do, that we can make the playoffs and compete for the SoCon championship."

UTC has made the playoffs once -- in 1984, which was also the last time the Mocs won the SoCon. UT-Martin, coached by former Mocs offensive coordinator Jason Simpson, made its only playoff appearance in 2006, Simpson's first season. Simpson's Skyhawks went 8-3 last season, opening with a win over Memphis, and finished 6-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Despite eight wins, UT-Martin didn't receive an at-large bid.

"I still have my questions about what it takes to get in as an at-large," Simpson said, "but all you can control is your conference standings."

And your nonconference schedule. Either the Mocs or Skyhawks will walk out of Finley tonight with what should be a quality win -- one that should look good to the FCS playoff selection committee. The playoffs have expanded from 20 to 24 teams this season and SoCon powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State aren't eligible because they're playing with more than 63 scholarships this season.

"This game won't hurt either team's resume," Simpson said.

Huesman knows there are high expectations for the Mocs, who should have an improved offense and one of the top defenses in the FCS. Many think UTC is the team to beat for the title. The league's coaches picked UTC third in the projected order of finish, behind App State and GSU, both of which are leaving after this season for the Sun Belt Conference.

Regardless of what happens, Huesman said, it's the first of 12 games to be played in the next 13 weeks.

"Whether we win big, lose big, win close, lose close -- whatever happens, you have to play a 12-game season," said Huesman, who is 23-21 in his four seasons as UTC's coach.

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