UTC Mocs football team reaches its highest-ever ranking

UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman stiff-arms Western Carolina defensive back Keion Crossen at Finley Stadium on Saturday.
photo UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman stiff-arms Western Carolina defensive back Keion Crossen at Finley Stadium on Saturday.

The UTC football team has vaulted up in the national polls, moving to No. 3 in both the Football Championship Subdivision media poll and in the FCS coaches' poll released Monday.

For the fourth consecutive week, the Mocs - who are 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Southern Conference - reached their highest-ever ranking. The team travels to face Mercer (3-5, 0-4) this weekend.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman has previously downplayed the Mocs' placement in the polls. The ranking is nice, but it only increases the target on the team's back on a week-to-week basis, players have said.

Huesman said the biggest change has been in the perception of the program, which is 48-30 since he took over in 2009, with back-to-back conference championships.

"Going back seven years ago, a lot of people thought you could win here at Chattanooga," he said recently. "The perception throughout the country was Chattanooga had a lot to offer and you should be able to win. Why are we not winning? I think we changed the culture based on bringing the right players in. We haven't been perfect by any stretch, and no one is."

The program has been ranked in the top 25 for 31 consecutive weeks - the ninth-longest active streak in the FCS - and in the top 10 for seven straight. UTC was ranked top 10 in the national small-college rankings in the 1960s, advancing as high as No. 3 on Nov. 1, 1968, which was before it became an NCAA Division I program in 1977 and before the FCS rankings started in 1982.

UTC trails No. 1 Jacksonville State (7-1) and No. 2 Illinois State (7-1) in the polls. Jacksonville State handed the Mocs a 23-20 loss on Sept. 5, and the Gamecocks' only loss was to Auburn of the Southeastern Conference a week later.

The Mocs are the highest team ranked without any first-place votes. In the coaches' poll, Jacksonville State claimed 23 of the 26 first-place votes, with Illinois State taking the other three. In the FCS Stats media poll, the Gamecocks had 139 first-place votes, with Illinois State taking 18th. Ninth-ranked McNeese State and 10th-ranked Portland State garnered one each.

The Mocs are now tied with The Citadel for first in the conference. The Bulldogs checked in at No. 22 in the coaches' poll and No. 25 in the media poll, and the two teams could play in what would be a winner-take-all game for the championship on Nov. 14 at Finley Stadium.

Contact staff writer Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/gene henleytfp.