John Frierson, who is in his sixth year as the UTC beat writer, breaks down this year's Mocs.
The Mocs hit their first real bump in the road during the program's turnaround last season, dropping a bunch of close games and finishing with a record of 5-6 (3-5 SoCon). The Mocs had gone 6-5 in each of coach Russ Huesman's first two seasons, and a playoff push appeared to be a possibility. It's time for the program to take another step forward, which means being in the hunt for a playoff spot and challenging for the SoCon title.
The SoCon coaches and media picked UTC to finish fourth in the league, behind Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford. That seems about right, but keep in mind that the Mocs lost to all three of those teams in 2011 by a combined four points. Nationally, UTC isn't ranked in the Top 25 of any polls but is receiving votes. A good start to the season, especially a win over Jacksonville State, likely would put the Mocs back in the polls.
The Mocs have been so close to beating Appalachian State the past two seasons. In the 2010 season opener, UTC was a two-point conversion away from upsetting the Mountaineers, who had to stage a huge second-half comeback to win. Last season, in Boone, N.C., Appalachian's offense was held scoreless but the Mountaineers were able to eke out a 14-12 win. A win over ASU in Week 4 would be the program's biggest in many years.
The biggest newcomers, physically, are defensive tackles Chris Mayes and Derrick Lott. The two transfers are about the same size at roughly 6-4 and 300 pounds, and they should cause defenses problems inside. A couple of other impact newcomers should be safety Dean Haynes, a North Carolina State transfer, and 6-4 freshman wide receiver Tray James.
The schedule is a problem for the Mocs trying to make the playoffs. UTC opens against Football Bowl Subdivision opponent South Florida and two weeks later plays Division II Glenville State. The first game is likely a loss, and beating Glenville State won't count toward the seven wins UTC needs to make the playoffs, which means the Mocs will need to win seven of their other nine. That won't be easy.
If Derrick Lott is the force inside that it looks like he could be - after all, he was a four-star recruit who played at Georgia for two seasons - then he could help make the Mocs' defensive line the best in the SoCon. With him inside, all of those triple-option runs up the middle might not be going very far. Players with his size and agility don't show up in the SoCon very often.