Wiedmer: Mocs 'confident' in visiting FBS foe

Wiedmer: Mocs 'confident' in visiting FBS foe

August 29th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

UTC football coach Russ Huesman watches practice.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

For much of the past two weeks, Russ Huesman has watched with more than passing interest the expanding and alarming hurricane known as Isaac.

"At first they were saying it could hit Tampa the last day of the Republican convention," said the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach, whose Mocs will play there at the University of South Florida on Saturday, two days after the convention will end.

"I started to think, 'Are we even going to play this game?'"

Alas, Isaac has shifted its wrath west toward New Orleans, which is terrible news for the Crescent City and much of the rest of the northern Gulf Coast, but a big break for the Mocs, who'll now travel to Tampa as planned for their 7 p.m. kickoff against the Bulls.

"It brings a little extra excitement," said senior offensive tackle Adam Miller. "You always want to see if you can compete against a Big East Conference school. Being a Southern Conference school, winning a game like this would bring a lot of excitement to our campus."

The Mocs' last win over a BCS conference school was the storied 14-6 victory over Tennessee in 1958. UTC's last BCS loss by fewer than 20 points was a 34-15 defeat at Arkansas in 2007.

The school's last win of any kind against an FBS school came in 1984 against Southwestern Louisiana, which UTC also defeated in 1983.

But that doesn't mean there's no hope. Fellow SoCon member Appalachian State famously won at Michigan five years ago this weekend. Jacksonville State came from way behind to shock Ole Miss in 2010.

"We know they're a great team from a BCS conference," said junior linebacker Kadeem Wise. "But we're also very confident. [Conditioning] Coach [Scott] Brincks killed us during the summer, so we're in the best shape we've been in since I've been here. We're ready to play."

The Bulls may not have the national rep of last year's opening opponent, Nebraska, or the 2008 season opener at Oklahoma.

But in the initial Sagarin computer poll, South Florida is rated 47th, three spots above Tennessee's Friday foe, North Carolina State (50), and four spots behind the Volunteers (43).

'I wasn't aware of that," Huesman said. "But I do know we're about to play a really good team with great personnel and a great coach in Skip Holtz. I know they beat Notre Dame last year. It's a great test for our team."

You wonder what would happen inside the city limits of our town if Tennessee lost to N.C. State on Friday and UTC stunned South Florida on Saturday, especially given the Bulls' superiority over the Wolfpack in at least one computer poll.

Would the Vols feel compelled to buy out their 2014 visit from the Mocs? Would UTC's fan base turn on its Big Orange big brother? Is it possible that the Blue and Gold is actually facing a tougher foe than the Orange and White?

"I don't even think about that," Huesman said. "We've got plenty to worry about without worrying about anyone else's games."

But if Wise hadn't thought about it, he knows Mocs Maniacs the region over have at least considered it.

"I'm sure the fans would get a kick out of it," he said. "But we're not getting caught up in that."

But could they catch lightning in a bottle, as App State did five years ago and Jax State did two years ago?

The Bulls undeniably suffered the same kind of buzzard's luck as the Mocs last season, losing three of their final four games on field goals as time expired or overtime to finish 5-7 at the same time UTC was going 5-6. Also like the Mocs, they welcome back 17 starters.

USF never previously has lost to an FCS school, standing 15-0.

But none of that matters to UTC's fan base, said Mocs junior linebacker Wes Dothard.

"They're ready," he said with a wide smile Tuesday. "They're ready to watch us on ESPN3 and see what we've got."

They're ready to see if the Mocs can become the perfect storm to take down the Bulls.