Stakes high for three SoCon squads

Stakes high for three SoCon squads

November 23rd, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Southern Conference

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has done what it can do in the Southern Conference and the Football Championship Subdivision.

Today, the Mocs (8-3) wrap up their regular season at Alabama (10-0) in a game that should have little to zero bearing on their playoff chances. Unless, of course, they somehow pull off a massive upset, which certainly would make UTC a more appealing at-large candidate.

Mocs defensive tackle Josh Freeman said UTC's focus this week is not on what might happen with the playoffs, but on the top-ranked two-time defending BCS national champions.

"It's 100 percent Alabama, without a doubt," Freeman said. "I don't know how you could focus on anything else."

Three teams are still in play for the SoCon title and the league's automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. For UTC to claim the title outright and get the automatic bid, it needs for Wofford to beat Furman and Elon to beat Samford. To share the title and get the automatic bid, UTC needs for Samford to lose; the Mocs would get the bid ahead of Furman because of UTC's head-to-head win on Oct. 12.

That Furman (6-5, 5-2) is in the hunt at all is an achievement. The Paladins were 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the league after UTC's 31-9 win. Furman has gotten healthier in some areas since then, primarily the return of quarterback Reese Hannon, and has won four straight SoCon games.

One player who has helped is former Baylor School standout John Mackey, the starting nose tackle. He has 46 tackles, including four for loss.

"I don't think it's been a matter of believing. I just think it's been a lot of development since that loss to UTC," Mackey said in a phone interview Thursday. "We're just preparing to do the best we can each week, and we're going out and playing hard and playing as a team."

UTC has the advantage of already having eight wins, a mark that Samford will try to reach today and a number that would appear to be an important benchmark for an at-large candidate in a 12-game season.

Furman can't get to seven wins, but it can finish 6-2 in the league and share the title. In a three-way tie, Furman would win the tiebreakers because of its sweep of the teams that are 4-4 or can get to .500.

Paladins coach Bruce Fowler said his team essentially has been playing a playoff game each week for the past month, so the stakes for today's game against Wofford are nothing new.

"Now that we're down to the last game ... it's very apparent what we're playing for," he said.

The FCS playoff selection show will be shown on ESPNU at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

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