UTC vs. the SoCon
The Mocs have gone 12-12 in league play since coach Russ Huesman's first season in 2009. Here's a breakdown of UTC's records against SoCon teams during the past three seasons:
Appalachian State: 0-3
Georgia Southern: 1-2
The Citadel: 2-1
Western Carolina: 3-0
Russ Huesman looked a little perplexed by the question. It wasn't that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach didn't understand it, instead he seemed to feel it was irrelevant.
The question, posed to Huesman during Thursday's Southern Conference media day in Spartanburg, S.C., was whether or not he felt UTC had earned the respect of the league during Huesman's first three seasons.
"I don't really think much about that," Huesman said. "Obviously you can't worry about what anybody thinks."
The Mocs were picked by the SoCon coaches and the media to finish fourth in the SoCon this season, behind Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford. UTC went 3-5 in the SoCon in 2011 - 5-6 overall, for Huesman's first losing season - but the Mocs' largest league loss was a seven-point defeat against Furman.
UTC had three losses by the score of 28-27, a 14-12 loss at Appalachian State and the 14-7 loss at home to Furman. The Mocs lost to the SoCon's three playoff teams - ASU, Georgia Southern and Wofford - by a combined four points.
"They always had talent - even my freshman year when we beat them pretty bad [2008, 56-7], they had talented guys," Wofford linebacker Mike Niam said. "I just don't think they had the glue to put it all together."
In the three seasons prior to Huesman's hiring in December 2008, the Mocs won a total of six games and went 4-18 in the SoCon. Included in that rough stretch was an 0-8 slog through the SoCon during a 1-11 season, the worst in school history.
The Mocs began to earn respect, and respect themselves more, offensive lineman Adam Miller said, during the 2009 season opener. That was a 30-13 win over Division II Glenville State played in front of 14,002 seemingly rejuvenated fans. UTC's final three home games in 2008 drew a combined 14,630.
"We had ended the season before having almost no one come to our games, and it was embarrassing," said Miller, who was a redshirt freshman in 2008. "For us to come out for that Thursday night game, to a crowd like that, that was when we knew everyone wanted to see us excel.
"Just coming out of the locker room and seeing that, it was a confidence booster for us."
The Mocs didn't have a single player voted all-conference by the media or coaches in 2008. In 2009, Huesman was voted Coach of the Year, defensive end Josh Beard was Defensive Player of the Year and the preseason and postseason honors have piled up ever since. The highlight from 2011 was linebacker Wes Dothard making the Sports Network's All-America first team.
UTC had eight players named preseason All-SoCon heading into this season, tied for second most in the league, led by defensive end Josh Williams, safety D.J. Key and Dothard.
"I think they're a lot more competitive and they're in every game no matter who they're playing," Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette said. "You can tell that their confidence is a lot higher. ... They've got playmakers on offense and defense, and that's what great teams have."
Don't expect Huesman to throw the word "great" around until his Mocs make a deep playoff run. The Mocs have earned the respect of their peers and the next step is challenging for championships.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.