Improved position

Improved position

October 27th, 2010 by John Frierson in Sports - College

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hasn't locked up anything yet, but with each win the Mocs are creeping closer to earning a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Heading into Saturday's game against Elon, the Mocs are 5-2 overall and 4-1 in the Southern Conference. They've won five straight games and are ranked No. 20 in this week's Sports Network media poll and No. 23 in the FCS coaches' poll.

Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Mocs fans, dressed for a "white out," pack the stands during the match up between UTC and Appalachian State University at Finley Stadium in September.

Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Mocs...

Last week's Gridiron Power Index, which combines human and computer polls, listed UTC at No. 18. The Mocs should be even higher in the new GPI, which comes out today, following last week's 36-28 win at then-No. 25 Furman.

Mocs coach Russ Huesman said he's not ignoring the fact that UTC has put itself in a position to reach the playoffs, but with four tough games remaining he's not thinking beyond the Phoenix (2-5, 1-3), who are much better than their record would indicate.

"We've got Elon. That's what we've got right now," he said. "If we don't take care of business ..."

UTC's only playoff appearance came in 1984, when it won the SoCon and lost in the first round.

The playoff field has been expanded this season from 16 teams to 20, with 10 automatic bids for conference champions and 10 at-large spots available.

At this point, the SoCon title race appears to be among top-ranked Appalachian State (7-0, 5-0), No. 9 Wofford (6-1, 4-0) and UTC. Everyone else has at least two league losses.

Appalachian State rallied to edge UTC 42-41 in the season opener and hosts Wofford on Nov. 13. The Terriers host UTC in the season finale the following week.

Craig Haley, who covers the FCS for The Sports Network, said the SoCon likely will get three teams in the playoffs. In this week's playoff prediction on the TSN website, he has Applachian State, Wofford and UTC making the field.

Haley has had the Mocs in his playoff bracket since Oct. 4, and in his poll ballot he has ranked UTC No. 8 the past two weeks.

UTC's losses this season are to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State - which is undefeated and ranked No. 2 - by a combined five points. Haley said the Mocs likely would still receive an at-large bid even if they lost another SoCon game. UTC still has to play Bowl Championship Series No. 1 Auburn as well.

"Obviously they're going to lose to Auburn, but even if they lose one of their three remaining SoCon games, I still think at 7-4 that's a strong enough team to get in," he said. "I see it happening."

Even though the FCS national championship game has moved to Frisco, Texas, after 13 years in Chattanooga, Finley Stadium could still host a postseason game.

Athletic director Rick Hart said UTC, should it reach the playoffs, will try to host as many games as possible. Four games featuring at-large teams will play in the first round, followed by eight games in the second.

"We're far enough into the season that we have to start being prepared," he said. "We've got a lot of football left to play, but we've got to do our part now in being prepared."

The NCAA will e-mail championship information and forms to prospective participants today. Schools that want to host a first-round game, scheduled for Nov. 27, must return proposed budgets to the NCAA by Nov. 12.

The minimum financial guarantee required to host a first-round game is $30,000. Hart said he would talk to the Stadium Corp. and the Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee "in an effort to put forward the most competitive bid we can."

Stadium Corp. board chairman Bryan Patten said Tuesday that the guarantee "unequivocally" will be taken care of one way or another.

"The athletic department at the university is not going to be left worrying about ticket sales," he said. "I'm sure we can get contingent support that provides protection in that regard."

The Mocs' chances of hosting a playoff game are boosted by the surge in attendance this season. They have averaged 14,397 a game, which is 18th in the FCS.

The Stadium Corp. makes money during Mocs games via parking and concessions. Revenues in both areas are well ahead of where they were at this point last year.

"[Reaching the playoffs is] part of our vision for our program," Hart said, "so when it happens we'll be ready."

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


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