The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team has six games left in its regular season. Six games to make 2012 special.
Before Russ Huesman took over as coach, in December 2008, UTC had won a total of nine Southern Conference games in the previous four seasons. Two SoCon games his fourth season, the Mocs (2-3, 1-1) are 13-13 in league games under Huesman.
Not great, but clearly progress has been made. So which will prove harder, moving from the SoCon cellar to the middle of the standings or going from the middle to the top?
"It's so hard to tell," Huesman said.
The Mocs, who visit Furman (2-4, 1-2) on Saturday, went 4-4 in the SoCon in 2009. That was followed by records of 5-3 and 3-5 -- UTC lost five games in 2011 by a combined 12 points) -- and UTC has split its league games this season, losing badly at home to No. 14 Appalachian State and winning comfortably at No. 22 The Citadel.
"That first year, we won six games, and I think we won six because it was a change and there was a new level of excitement," Huesman said. "I think the second year, we actually had a really good football team and probably got to where we were supposed to be at that point in time, or close to it.
"Then last year, we were close. Losing the games we lost, it could have been a fantastic year."
Senior running back J.J. Jackson said making the jump from the middle of the pack to top third in the nine-team league is probably harder than escaping the cellar. A big reason why, he said, is the talent in the SoCon.
"It takes a little bit more effort at practice, it takes doing more of the smaller things on and off the field to reach that higher level, to get nine or 10 wins," he said. "A lot goes into it: execution, the little things, team chemistry, as far as the brotherhood on the team and how strong is that -- I think that all factors in."
Up next is a trip to Paladin Stadium -- the site of one of the Mocs' best wins in many years. Down 28-10 entering the fourth quarter, in 2010, UTC scored 26 unanswered points for a 36-28 win.
It's performances like that, winning games you probably shouldn't, that can move a program up a few notches. The Mocs have been on the receiving end of those kinds of comebacks the past two seasons, losing games it led in the fourth quarter, and that must change if UTC is to move out of the middle and join the SoCon elite.
"We've got great players on this team, with a lot of team speed and a lot of athleticism," junior linebacker Gunner Miller said. "We get after it, we work hard, so it's not a work-ethic thing. We've just got to put everything together and get on a roll."