Not unlike life, football seasons -- and ultimately careers -- are defined by moments. Good moments or bad, opportunities made or missed, the paths and the pitfalls of a legacy start with a single step.
At various times this afternoon, a team and a freshman, separated by half the country and 180 degrees of expectation, will face those elusive first steps. The moment is here for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs and for University of Tennessee freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs.
We know this is a moment for UTC football, and as simplistic as that sounds, they do not come around that often, especially for a program that has made one postseason trip.
In fact, the predetermined Mocs moments are so rare it's difficult to name the last one that was clear and present before kickoff. Sure, UTC has had some nice wins in the last few years, but those were moments made rather than in-moment monuments.
A Mocs win today at Appalachian State makes almost anything possible. A win makes the playoffs seem like a foregone conclusion and a potential conference title and even a postseason home game. A win would force even the most pessimistic Mocs detractor to notice the ascent, because a win means 7-2 and that's not a fluke or a product of schedule or whatever.
Heck, the last time the Mocs were 7-2 we were wondering who shot J.R., for crying out loud, and Dave Winfield just signed the biggest baseball contract ever at 10 years for $1.5 million per season -- a total that is less than half of the average salary of a major leaguer now.
A Mocs loss, though, could be as damaging as a win could be productive in some ways. Sure, a loss to App State -- something that has become as commonplace in the late fall as changing colors and belly-ached trick-or-treaters -- would not end all hope, especially considering that despite its 2-6 record, App State is starting to look a whole lot like App State again. Even with a loss today, wins against Wofford and Samford still likely would be enough to get the Mocs into the postseason and could be enough to win the league.
But a stumbling performance today, and the Mocs leave open the question of have they improved and if so how much? It also drags a draining word to the lips of those who are wondering about the status of this team and the program as a whole -- typical. A loss today would be typical. A win would be monumental.
"Typical" is a paralyzing word for the Mocs right now, and a loss would make it reappear in mass quantities. A loss also would leave open to question whether UTC ever will be able to take the next step, the step from competitive to lead dog.
It's not an easy step, to be sure, and the walk is paved with strides that are made and forged in road games such as today.
Here's saying the defense comes to play. This group is fast and athletic and talented at each level, even if it's short on numbers. It's likely that 24 points could be enough for either side, and that's high praise for UTC considering the run App State has been on the last three weeks.
So the question remains how many can the Mocs score, and that question gets bigger and louder and more confusing since Keon Williams will not play. This is a big moment for UTC in general, for quarterback and team leader Jacob Huesman in particular and for offensive coordinator Jeff Durden as much as anyone.
No stops should be left unpulled, no rocks left unturned or no pages left unearmarked. This is a must-have for UTC facing a perennial power that may be more power in name than talent but a power nonetheless. It is a springboard. Or it could be a sinkhole.
The stakes are not as high for Dobbs, the talented and confident UT freshman, but making his first start today at Missouri could be every bit the springboard. The rest of the month appears to belong to Dobbs if for no other reason than he is the healthiest of the Vols' QB options, so the downside is far less dire.
If he struggles at Mizzou, which is possible, he'll likely be back out there next week, too.
If he's just OK, and he was better than that in the second half last week at Alabama, then there will be a surging movement among the fan base to make him the guy. Johnny Vols Fans everywhere have wanted someone other than Justin Worley for most of the season. Yes, Worley was the QB1 when the Vols landed a monster win over South Carolina -- the program's first over a ranked foe since 2009 -- but that victory will be remembered as the Marquez North moment more than Worley throwing into double coverage.
If Dobbs is good -- or better -- or even if he's above average and the Vols win, you have to figure that Dobbs will hold the keys for the rest of the season.
If Dobbs kills it, the job likely could be his for the foreseable future, and you likely are looking at the guy who then steps forward to be the face of the brick-by-brick movement.
As big a moment as this is for Dobbs, it's a pretty big moment, too, for Riley Ferguson, the other UT true freshman QB who was reportedly ahead of Dobbs in the pecking order before injuring his leg.
Careers are made from making the most of moments like this. Made and altered -- for those in the moment and those on the periphery.
Other than that, it's just a typical Saturday.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp.