Southern Conference announces spring football schedule, UTC to open against VMI

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / UTC football coach Rusty Wright, shown during practice on Oct. 14, is getting his team ready for Saturday's game at Western Kentucky. On Wednesday, though, the SoCon released its spring semester schedule.

With the probability high the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football roster won't be the same the next time the Mocs step on the playing field after Saturday's game at Western Kentucky, the program's focus this fall has been on the Hilltoppers.

Now, though, there's a plan for what's next - COVID-19 permitting, of course.

The Mocs will begin their unprecedented 2021 spring semester football season, a postponement forced by the pandemic and the Southern Conference's decision to delay, with a home game against Virginia Military Institute on Feb. 20.

The SoCon released its league schedule Wednesday, and UTC also has home dates against Wofford (Feb. 27), Mercer (March 27) and Samford (April 10), plus trips to The Citadel (March 3), Furman (March 20), Western Carolina (April 3) and East Tennessee State (April 17).

Teams are allowed to play eight-game schedules, with the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs set to begin April 24. The Citadel, which played four games this fall after being "strongly encouraged" not to, is only playing seven games and will be ineligible for the league title, according to The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.

"The SoCon Council of Presidents approved a plan for the Bulldogs to compete in seven league games with one no-contest against a randomly selected league opponent," the league office stated Wednesday in a news release. "Furman was selected as that opponent in a blind draw. The no-contest will be considered a forfeit in the conference standings only, per NCAA policies."

The league also put certain parameters in place: no stretches of more than two consecutive road or home conference games, at least one of the three final games is a home game, no stretches of four out of five weeks on the road or at home, and a limit to the number of crossover games with basketball and baseball.

After Saturday, the Mocs will turn their focus to the spring. Graduation, transfers and other circumstances are likely to affect the team in some fashion between now and kickoff in late February.

"It's going to be different," UTC football coach Rusty Wright told the Times Free Press earlier this week. "When they canceled the season (in August), we had a team meeting and I told the guys, 'Take a look around this room, because even though everybody's going to get time back and we're going to have the opportunity to have everybody back, life's going to take people out of this room.'

"I hope some of those guys understand that every chance you get to play is precious, and we're only guaranteed one snap every time you go out there."

The Mocs have one more practice Thursday morning in preparation for their game against Conference USA's Hilltoppers (1-4), which kicks off at 4 p.m. at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. The game will be shown online on ESPN3, with the radio broadcast on 97.7 FM.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.