The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team begins preparing for a season of high expectations today at Scrappy Moore Field. The Mocs return a lot of key contributors from the past two 6-5 seasons, but they've got some significant holes to fill, as well.
Here are five questions facing the Mocs as they begin preparing for the Sept. 3 season opener at Nebraska:
1. Can the Mocs' defense be better in 2011?
UTC returns eight starters from a defense that in 2010 was eighth in the Southern Conference in scoring defense (31.2 points per game) and sixth in total defense (370.0 yards per game).
The Mocs had four players make the SoCon coaches' preseason all-conference teams and other playmakers, as well. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said the defense must eliminate the big plays of 20 yards or more.
"If there was one biggest statistic -- whether it was in the run game or throw game -- it was big plays and making it easy for people," Fuller said. "That absolutely crushed us [in 2010]."
2. Will UTC be relying on a lot of freshmen?
For just about every senior that plays a major role for the Mocs this season there will also be a true or redshirt freshman doing the same.
Among the redshirt freshman, Taylor Dodds takes over at left tackle, Davis Tull will line up at defensive end and Keyon Reed and Devin Scates are in the mix for the starting job at defensive tackle.
In addition, several true freshmen will likely see a lot of playing time on offense. At least one of the running backs, Marquis Green and Kendrix Huitt, will get some carries and possibly help out in the return game. Freshman will also contribute at wide receiver, as well.
"I know [the redshirt freshmen] have a spring under their belt, but they're going to have to come around in a hurry," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "The [true] freshmen, we're going to have to find out quickly who can play because some of those guys are going to play this year."
3. What kind of offensive weapons does UTC have?
The Mocs had one of the top offenses in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2010 and the offensive leaders, quarterback B.J. Coleman and wide receiver Joel Bradford, are back for their senior seasons.
At running back UTC has two experienced players in juniors J.J. Jackson and Chris Awuah, and they could be challenged by the freshmen Green and Huitt.
At wideout, 6-foot-5 Marlon Anthony had a productive spring and summer after catching 17 passes last season. He should be a bigger threat as a sophomore now that he's added some muscle to his lean frame.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield likes the players he has, but admits that there will be a lot of new faces playing a lot of snaps this season.
"Thank God we've got enough games early before the conference just to get the kinks out to see what people can do, because we're going to look like a totally different football team from a personnel standpoint," he said.
4. Is the kicking game still a problem area?
With a healthy Nick Pollard the Mocs might have upset Appalachian State and Jacksonville State in their first two games last season. But Pollard was injured, and ultimately redshirted, and the Mocs missed several key kicks in both losses.
For the season, UTC was 4-of-10 on field goals and 41-of-47 on extra points.
Pollard, who will be a redshirt freshman, had a good spring and is ready to go. He's got a strong leg that should eliminate the need for the Mocs to go for it on fourth down in field-goal range like they did often last season.
5. Can UTC move past the six-win barrier?
After consecutive 6-5 seasons, the Mocs have their sights set squarely on adding to that win total, making the playoffs and challenging for the SoCon title. To do so, they're going to have to play well each week because the schedule is daunting.
The Mocs play virtually the same schedule as 2010 -- with Auburn replaced by Nebraska -- but this season they have to play at Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two teams ranked in the Top 5 of all the major preseason polls.
UTC also has home games against Jacksonville State and Wofford, both of whom are ranked in the Top 10.
The pieces appear to be in place for a special season, but it won't come easy.