Several of the Football Championship Subdivision's best linebackers will be on the field at Finley Stadium on Saturday.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's own All-American, Wes Dothard, is one. Another is No. 18 Appalachian State's Jeremy Kimbrough, who like Dothard was an All-American in 2011 and made numerous 2012 preseason lists. Dothard and Kimbrough were also named to the Southern Conference coaches' preseason all-conference first team, along with Wofford's Alvin Scioneaux.
Odds are no conference has more All-America-caliber linebackers than the SoCon. Along with the above trio, there's Wofford's Mike Niam - who was named to a preseason All-America team yet wasn't preseason All-SoCon - and Appalachian State's Brandon Grier. To be All-SoCon this season, you pretty much have to be an All-American.
"Between what we see every day [in practice going against UTC's linebackers] and the guys at Wofford and the guys at App - we see not just good ones, but really, really good ones," UTC offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. "They're playmakers; fast, rangy, FCS versions of [former Alabama star] Rolando McClain-type linebackers."
Satterfield and the Mocs (1-2, 0-0 SoCon) remember well how Kimbrough can take over a game. Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1) couldn't do much of anything against UTC offensively last season, but Kimbrough helped lead the Mountaineers to a 14-12 win in which ASU's offense didn't score.
Kimbrough had 11 tackles and two sacks in the game and his 46-yard interception return for a touchdown proved to be the game-winner.
"He had a monster day," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said.
Kimbrough leads the SoCon with 41 tackles, and Grier is fourth with 29. The Mocs have talked this week about making more big plays on offense and making more guys miss - well, it likely be Grier or Kimbrough that UTC's runners will have to go through. The senior duo has made 28 percent of the Mountaineers tackles so far this season.
"All I know is whatever awards those two linebackers for App get, they're well deserved based on the games I've watched," Huesman said. "Those two guys can play! I'm telling you, I put the film on and they are bonafide."
Dothard is second on the team in tackles with 18 -safety D.J. Key leads with 21 - and he has two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. The redshirt junior will have to pick up the pace a little to match last season's total of 98 tackles and 15.5 for loss.
"It's been kind of a slow start, but it's been average," Dothard said of his season so far.
Average probably won't get it done for Dothard and the Mocs against the Mountaineers, who have won seven straight in the series. Both teams have explosive players on offense and the linebacker corps that plays the best might prove the difference between winning and losing what is a critical game for both teams.