UTC football to play JSU in 2017 Kickoff Classic

UTC football coach Russ Huesman leads his Mocs into a crucial Southern Conference game Saturday at The Citadel. The Tennessee Vols also have a big game this week, hosting top-ranked Alabama.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has started to grow into a national brand at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

Next season, the Mocs will have a national audience.

The athletic department announced this morning that coach Russ Huesman's Mocs will face Jacksonville State on Aug. 26, 2017, at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. It will be called the Montgomery Kickoff Classic and will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. EDT.

"We are thrilled to be chosen as a part of the kickoff to the 2017 college football season," UTC vice chancellor and athletic director David Blackburn said in a press release. "We're grateful for the opportunity to showcase our University and compete against Jacksonville State on the national platform of ESPN.

"We want to sincerely thank ESPN; Johnny Williams, Executive Director of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl; Jacksonville State Director of Athletics Greg Seitz; and the City of Montgomery."

UTC and Jacksonville State are consensus top-five teams at the FCS level. The Mocs are ranked third in the coaches' poll and fifth in the FCS STATS poll, while the Gamecocks rank third in the STATS poll and fourth in the coaches' poll.

The teams were scheduled to open the 2017 season on Sept. 2 in Jacksonville, Ala. Now the game moving up will provide both teams with a second off week, with the Mocs traveling to LSU the following week while the Gamecocks are scheduled to face Georgia Tech.

"We are excited for the opportunity to play in front of a national television audience on ESPN against a quality opponent," UTC head coach Russ Huesman said in a release. "This is tremendous exposure for our student-athletes and our program and we are grateful for all of those who made it happen."

After hosting the Gamecocks in 2014 and 2015, the Mocs were supposed to travel to Jacksonville State in 2017 and 2019. Next season's game will not count towards that four-game series, according to a report in the Anniston Star.

UTC and Jacksonville State have developed a solid nonconference rivalry in recent years. They met twice during the 2015 season, with the Gamecocks winning 23-20 in the season opener and 41-35 in the second round of the FCS playoffs before eventually reaching the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas.

The Cramton Bowl is the site of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, a bowl that is controlled by ESPN. The site opened in 1922 as a baseball stadium and has been home to major league baseball spring training, as well as minor league baseball.

It later became a football stadium and has been the home of the Blue-Gray Football Classic played on Christmas Day. In addition, the Alabama State football team has played there, and it was the site of the first-ever football game played under the lights in the South.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.