The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is learning something former Southern Conference members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern found out at the peak of their reigns.
It's not easy being the hunted.
The fifth-ranked Mocs survived yet another difficult road test Saturday, needing a 38-yard field goal by Henrique Ribeiro as time expired to defeat Wofford 20-17 at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C.
Saturday's game ended a string of four road games out of five straight, with the Mocs coming out unblemished. In a crazy season of Football Championship Subdivision football, UTC will benefit from its survival and possibly move up in the rankings, considering fourth-ranked James Madison lost to Richmond.
Survive and advance, indeed.
The Mocs (6-1, 4-0) were outgained by Wofford in yardage but held on to give head coach Russ Huesman his second win in a game decided by three or fewer points, as well as give the program its first win at Wofford since 1998.
"A lot of teams in the SoCon are a lot better from last year," defensive tackle Josh Freeman said. "Some of that just comes with us having the target on our back. We understand that we're going to get other teams' best shot every week. Wofford played an amazing game, but we came in and took care of business."
A year has shown that most of the teams within the league have improved. The Mocs' average margin of victory in SoCon play last season was 26.3 points. Halfway through this season, it's 11.8.
They now are tied with The Citadel with undefeated records in the SoCon. The Mocs' opponent this week, Western Carolina, was a trendy pick to win the conference in the preseason and was second in one poll. The Catamounts are 3-1 in league play, with their loss coming to Citadel — and they'll definitely be mindful of what happened a season ago, when UTC traveled to Cullowhee, N.C., and handed the them a 51-0 beating.
"I think a lot of teams see us at the top of the conference, No. 5 in the country and they want to beat us," quarterback Jacob Huesman said. "I bet Wofford had an unbelievable week of preparation, and VMI did the week before that. Plus it's tough to play on the road, but we pride ourselves on being road warriors. We focus well on away trips, and it's something we pride ourselves on."
Three wins in league play separate the Mocs from a third consecutive conference championship, which would be their second straight outright title. With two of their final three opponents in the top three in the league, the Mocs are prepared to absorb the best shots of the Catamounts, Mercer and The Citadel.
But the positive for the Mocs? They still haven't played "that game" yet — one in which they're clicking on all cylinders and put away an opponent. The closest thing to that was a 31-3 win over Furman on Oct. 10.
"Truthfully, I know we haven't reached our full potential yet," safety Lucas Webb said. "I believe we'll play to the best of our ability and, when it comes down to it, we know we can get done what we need to get done."
The deadline for this weekend's C-Club celebration at Homecoming is on Wednesday. The event is free for all 2015-16 C-Club, and included will be a campus tour on Friday along with a social hour at Clyde's on Main, then a tailgate on Saturday morning prior to the game against Western Carolina.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/genehenleytfp.