MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Thursday's game at Central Michigan was a much tougher way to open the season than the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had planned.
The Mocs were scheduled to host Georgia State, but the Panthers backed out of that game after UTC's lopsided win at the Georgia Dome last year, leaving a vacancy. CMU also was looking for a game after North Carolina State opted out of their scheduled meeting.
"We actually lost four games we had scheduled," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said, referring to Appalachian State and Georgia Southern dropping UTC when they moved up to the FBS to play in the Sun Belt Conference and Elon departed for the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Mocs filled their other scheduling holes with sixth-ranked Jacksonville State and new Southern Conference opponents Mercer and VMI.
"We could've paid a D-II team to come in, but when Central Michigan called they offered a nice payday," Huesman added. "That made the schedule a lot tougher, obviously."
Central Michigan used the $350,000 it was paid when N.C. State opted out to get the Mocs on the schedule. UTC will also receive a $450,000 payday for its game at Tennessee this season, marking the first time since 2008 (at Oklahoma and Florida State) the Mocs will have two guaranteed big-pay games. The money from those two games this season will be used toward construction of the planned football building.
This was the fourth time in coach Dan Enos' five seasons that CMU has started a season at home on a Thursday night against an FCS opponent. The Chippewas remain undefeated in those meetings and are 23-3 all-time against FCS foes after their first game against a SoCon opponent.
UTC senior tight end Faysal Shafaat injured his shoulder in the first half and was unable to return, while defensive linemen Zach Rayl and Keionta Davis suffered what looked to be sprained ankles. Coach Huesman said that each of those players are expected to be OK and could return by next week's home opener against Jacksonville State.
CMU entered the season with the second-most returning starters in Division I football, bringing back 20 starters (10 on offense, eight on defense and two on special teams). Texas-San Antonio has one more than that to lead the nation.
Hay sees chance
Junior cornerback Jeremiah Hay, who transferred to UTC over the summer from Pasadena City Junior College, recently acknowledged how rare an opportunity he has been given by Coach Huesman.
Although Huesman inherited several junior college players on the roster when he took over the program, he had not brought in any juco players before Hay.
"He was stretching and I walked by him and he said, 'Hey, Coach, I'm honored,'" Huesman said. "I asked him what he meant and he said, 'I'm the first juco you've ever taken here, and I won't let you down.'
"I thought that was pretty cool."
Hay worked his way into a starting spot at right corner for the Mocs.
The Mocs had to check out of their hotel about an hour earlier than originally planned Thursday afternoon to make room for a team they soon will be very familiar with.
Jacksonville State, which visits Finley Stadium next Saturday for the Mocs' home opener, was set to check into the same Lansing hotel that UTC stayed in Wednesday. The Gamecocks open their season at eighth-ranked Michigan State tonight.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.