TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman was right not to get his hopes up.
Twice Saturday it looked like Southern Conference games were swinging the way the Mocs needed them to for locking up a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. And twice the games went the other way.
UTC ended its regular season on a cool, gray Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium -- in front of an announced crowd of 100,179, though there were many empty seats -- with a 49-0 loss to two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama.
"I feel disappointed in losing the game," Huesman said, "but that team has done this to a bunch of people -- this year, last year, the previous year."
Alabama (11-0) now proceeds to the game of the year in the Southeastern Conference, this week's Iron Bowl, with the BCS rankings leader visiting No. 6 Auburn (10-1) for the SEC West title. UTC finished 8-4, 6-2 in the SoCon, for its best season since it won the conference outright in 1984 and made the playoffs.
After his game, when told that Elon was leading at Samford, which had to lose for the Mocs to get the SoCon's automatic bid to the playoffs, Huesman said he didn't care what any score was until the clock read all zeros.
"I ain't getting real excited right now," he said.
Wise move after Furman rallied from 14-0 down to beat Wofford 27-14 and Samford edged Elon 33-32 in a thriller decided in the final 10 seconds. UTC shares the league title with those two winners, but Furman, which won its last five league games, has the guaranteed playoff spot.
UTC nearly won the title outright last week at Samford but missed by an inch or two on a third-down throw into the end zone in overtime and then hit an upright on a tying field-goal attempt in a 17-14 loss.
"We had a chance to control our own destiny earlier and we didn't do that, so this is what comes with it," said Terrell Robinson, who filled in for Jacob Huesman at quarterback and was 10-for-15 passing for 82 yards.
The Mocs would have claimed the tiebreaker if Elon (2-10) had beaten Samford, which it nearly did. The Phoenix led most of the game and were clinging to a 33-27 lead with just seconds remaining when, on fourth-and-goal from the Elon 12-yard line, quarterback Andy Summerlin passed to Chris Cephus for a touchdown and the 33-32 win.
"We're a couple of seconds away from the automatic bid and one missed pass and six inches from the automatic bid," Huesman said in a phone interview Saturday night from the team bus, where most of the players and coaches had been following the Elon-Samford action on their phones. "There's a lot of things that happened, but obviously we didn't make a play or two when we had to during the course of the season.
"And we've got to live with whatever [the playoff committee says]."
The 11-member selection committee, comprised of a representative from each of the 11 FCS conferences, will assemble a 24-team field that will be announced at 11:30 this morning on ESPNU. There are 11 automatic bids and 13 at-large spots up for grabs. UTC must now hope its eight wins, which included six straight SoCon victories, is enough to warrant an at-large bid.
"I think we're good enough," Huesman said. "I think we should be in there."
The Mocs opened the season with a 31-21 home loss to UT-Martin, which finished 7-5. UTC's only conference losses were on the road at Georgia Southern and Samford, by a combined five points. And the Sept. 28 loss to the Eagles certainly looked better late Saturday afternoon after Georgia Southern held on for a 26-20 win at Florida.
Huesman often has criticized recently those who regard the SoCon as being way down this season. The conference finished 7-11 against other FCS leagues, which has hurt its rating. Most of those losses were early in the season and the league produced a very competitive finish, as well as its first win over an SEC team since The Citadel beat Arkansas in 1992.
"The team with a 4-4 record in our league beats Florida," Huesman said, "and I think that says a little something about our league."
But does it say enough? Did UTC do enough? The Mocs will find out today.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.