During the final few weeks of the 2010 season, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman didn't hold back.
With the Mocs in the Football Championship Subdivision playoff picture but still in need of a strong finish to the season, Huesman was happy to discuss the elephant in the room -- sometimes at length.
The playoff talk picked up following UTC's 49-35 home loss to Elon, which dropped the Mocs' record to 5-3.
"At that point in time, we lose to Elon and I wanted our team to know that we were still playing for something," he said earlier this month. "We weren't going to win the [Southern Conference] championship, but we were playing for something."
The Mocs had two SoCon games remaining at that point, at home against a struggling Samford squad and the finale at Wofford. UTC needed to get to seven wins to have a shot at an at-large bid, which it was likely to receive given its strength of schedule.
After demolishing Samford 48-14, the Mocs were a win away. Meanwhile, Wofford had just been thumped 43-13 at Appalachian State.
All week leading up to the Wofford game, the playoffs were the hot topic when Huesman and his players spoke to the media. The Mocs have made the playoffs only once, in 1984, so the 2010 squad -- two years removed from a one-win season -- was on the brink of a breakthrough.
Instead, UTC, which was without several defensive starters for all or most of the game, went to Wofford and was buried 45-14.
Quarterback B.J. Coleman later said the Mocs may have been a little too focused on the playoffs, rather than solely focused on the game.
"I think we got a little too playoff-happy," Coleman said last November, "a little too playoff talkative there at the end."
Huesman said he had no regrets about the way he handled the situation. Heading into this season, he acknowledged that the subject of the playoffs will be present from day one, and he won't pretend that it isn't.
"Obviously if we don't compete for a championship or don't have a chance [at the playoffs], then it's going to be a disappointing year," he said. "I don't think I'm telling anybody something they don't know."
During last Tuesday's SoCon preseason teleconference, senior All-America wide receiver Joel Bradford stated the Mocs' goals for 2011 clearly.
"We have several goals, and our main goal this year is to win the SoCon and make the playoffs," Bradford said. "We believe we can go up to the national championship. We believe we're one of the better teams out there."
The Mocs came up way short in their win-and-you're-in game at Wofford last season, but it didn't have to come to that.
In their losses to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State, the Mocs blew fourth-quarter leads. In the loss to Elon, UTC had six turnovers, including two after tying the game at 35 in the fourth quarter.
"I hope we learned a lesson, and I'm going to make sure I address our football team that you don't go to the playoffs based on a last game," Huesman said. "You go to the playoffs based on what happens in the whole body of work."
The Mocs report Wednesday and begin practice Thursday at 3 p.m. at Scrappy Moore Field.