Three Southern Conference teams made the 20-team field in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. League champion Georgia Southern automatically qualified and Appalachian State and Wofford received at-large bids.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lost to those three teams by a combined four points -- and two of those games were on the road. That's how close the Mocs' 2011 season was to being a memorable one.
While the playoff bracket was being released Sunday, coach Russ Huesman was digesting the Mocs' 5-6 season, which ended Saturday with a 28-27 home loss to No. 12 Wofford. UTC went 3-5 in the SoCon, finishing in a tie for sixth, and those five losses were by a total of 12 points.
Huesman said he was in his office around 5 a.m. because he couldn't sleep.
"I don't feel good about this year," he said, "but I feel good about the program and the direction we're heading with the players we've got in this program."
Most of those players players will be back. Of UTC's 22 offensive and defensive starters Saturday, five were seniors and 14 were either freshmen or sophomores.
Offensively, UTC loses quarterback B.J. Coleman and wideouts Joel Bradford and Sloan Allison. Defensively, the key losses will be linebacker Ryan Consiglio and safeties Jordan Tippit and Chris Lewis-Harris.
The big battle in the spring will be at quarterback. Terrell Robinson, named SoCon Freshman of the Week three times, will be competing with sophomore Graham Nichols and true freshman Jacob Huesman. UTC will be switching to a more spread-oriented system starting this spring, which will likely favor Robinson and Huesman.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm [the favorite]," said Robinson, who rushed for 417 yards and threw for 336. "We're going to battle it out. Jacob is in the same situation I was in last year. We're going to battle it out and see who gets the starting spot."
Asked if he would recuse himself from the decision-making process because his son is involved, Huesman said he hadn't thought that far ahead yet.
"Jacob's a good player and I hope he competes, and I hope Terrell competes and Graham competes," he said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
The Mocs relied heavily on freshmen this season on offense and defense. On offense, Marquis Green was the team's leading rusher with 530 yards, Robinson's 417 was second and fullback Taharin Tyson had 143 when he wasn't blocking.
In the passing game, tight end Faysal Shafaat started every game and caught 19 passes, Green had 17 receptions and Tommy Hudson and Ron Moore both made some plays.
UTC will return its entire offensive line, which at times included three freshmen. And the entire defensive line will be back -- a foursome that featured three freshmen for most of the season, including end Davis Tull, who finished with 5.0 sacks.
"He's so good, and he got better as the year went along," Huesman said of Tull.
The defensive line should have even more depth next season with the addition of Navy transfer Chris Mayes, who sat out this season, and the return of Nick Davison, a senior who was injured in the second game. Davison will have knee surgery next month.
UTC's defense finished the season first in the SoCon in scoring defense (19.7 points per game) and total defense (305.3 yards per game). Offensively, however, UTC was seventh in scoring (25.9 ppg) and eighth in total offense (319.4 ypg).
Huesman's message to the Mocs during their team meeting Sunday was to focus on the little things. With so many close losses, it was the little things in each game that proved to be the difference between making the playoffs and having to settle for 5-6.
"We've got to get better and find ways to win the games that we lost," he said. "And it's going to start today by doing the little things correctly all the way across the board, in every aspect of our lives.
"We can't do this again."