Chattanooga Mocs left out of playoff field

Chattanooga Mocs left out of playoff field

November 25th, 2013 by John Frierson in Local Regional News

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs football head coach Russ Huesman waits as the FCS playoff bracket is announced at UTC's University Center auditorium on Sunday.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players Cedric Nettles, Chaz Moore and Derrick Lott, from left, wait as the FCS playoff bracket is announced Sunday.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman reacts as the FCS playoff bracket is announced at UTC's University Center auditorium today. The 8-4 Mocs were one of the first teams out of the postseason.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the Mocs have been given an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs?

The silence among the 100 or so in the University Center auditorium said it all.

First it was a silence of hope and nervousness. Would the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Southern Conference co-champions, make the 24-team Football Championship Subdivision playoff field? It was the best season in nearly 30 years, but was it good enough?

Then, as the pairings were shown on the ESPNU broadcast with no mention of UTC, and the 8-4 Mocs' chances dwindled, it was a silence full of tension.

Until finally, when Tennessee State's name was announced last, it was a silence of crushing disappointment, broken only by coach Russ Huesman reminding his players about a 3 o'clock team meeting.

The players slowly and sullenly headed for the exits, while Huesman wondered how his team wasn't one of the 13 to receive an at-large bid, to go along with the 11 teams that earned automatic bids for winning their conferences.

As he spoke to the media, the TV broadcast showed that the Mocs were the last team left out of the field by the 11-member selection committee.

"I thought we did enough, but as soon as I saw Sam Houston State show up, saw Southern Utah show up, I knew we were in trouble," Huesman said.

Sam Houston State and Southern Utah got at-large bids with 8-4 records, as did South Dakota State and SoCon co-champion Samford. That left no room for the Mocs. The SoCon got two teams in: co-champion Furman made it with the automatic bid, which it earned via tiebreakers, and the Bulldogs will make their debut appearance in the playoffs thanks to an at-large selection.

"They weren't going to take three out of the Southern Conference," Huesman said. "The perception of the league [was down] and it just wasn't going to happen."

Samford beat UTC 17-14 in overtime on Nov. 16, a game that would have secured the SoCon title outright and the automatic bid had the Mocs been able to prevail. Instead, the 1984 UTC team remains the only one to ever reach the playoffs.

"Obviously we feel like we should have been in there; we know we would have won some games if we got in it," Mocs senior right guard Kevin Revis said. "It's tough to end the season like that, but we all treated the last game and the last week of practice like it could be our last one. We all took it in and enjoyed it, and I think that was important."

Discounting Saturday's 49-0 loss at Alabama on Saturday, a game the selection committee likely didn't even consider when evaluating UTC's prospects, the Mocs lost didn't have a bad loss on their resume.

The season-opening defeat to UT-Martin hurt a little because it was at Finley Stadium, but the Skyhawks finished with seven wins.

Georgia Southern is Georgia Southern, a longtime SoCon power, and UTC fell 23-21 in Statesboro -- in a game that featured a late touchdown negated by what proved to be an incorrect penalty against the Mocs. The Eagles finished with seven wins, including Saturday's 26-20 upset of Florida.

UTC's other FCS loss was the Samford defeat, in which the Mocs just missed on a touchdown pass in overtime and then couldn't extend the game when a 31-yard field goal hit the left upright.

But it may not have been the losses that hurt the Mocs -- it may have been that their wins just didn't add up to enough.

UTC's three losses, excluding 11-0 Alabama, were to teams with a combined win-loss record of 22-13. The combined record of the eight teams UTC beat is 25-69. Four teams the Mocs defeated -- Austin Peay, Georgia State, Elon and Western Carolina -- have double-digit losses. The only team UTC beat that finished the regular season with a winning record is Furman (7-5).

Regardless of why the selection committee didn't pick UTC, "we had our chances and didn't get it done," Huesman said.

What UTC did do in 2013 was win six straight SoCon games for the first time ever, win eight games overall for the first time since 1980 and share its first SoCon title since 1984.

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