Playoff path: UTC football earns first-round bye in FCS playoffs

November 25th, 2014

Despite the assurance of having already secured a spot in the NCAA Division I FCS football playoffs for the first time in 30 years, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga players, coaches and fans who packed the University Center auditorium Sunday morning still had much to be anxious about.

After claiming their sixth consecutive win in convincing fashion Saturday, the Mocs, who have tied the school record with nine wins this season, were hoping to be named one of the top eight seeds for the 24-team tournament. Being in the top eight means a first-round bye and the right to host a second-round game.

As all eyes in the room stared up at the giant video screen airing the ESPNU selection show broadcast, many players fidgeted nervously, then scooted to the edge of their seats to rest their forearms on their knees as they leaned in closer.

Within the first few minutes of the bracket announcement, the room erupted into cheers when it was announced that the Mocs had earned the No. 8 overall seed. Players raised their arms in celebration, whooped and hollered and exchanged high-fives for several seconds before settling back down to examine the entire bracket and find out who they will play in two weeks.


Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman, left, and offensive lineman Chris Mayes rejoice after hearing the team is the eighth seat and has a first-game bye in the FCS Playoffs.

Photo by Logan Foll.

“Before they made the announcement I turned to some of the guys and said, ‘Look at the room now compared to how it was last year,'” senior defensive lineman Derrick Lott said. “There were a lot more people here to support us today and it was good coming in knowing we were already in the playoffs.

“Then to get that eighth seed and the bye was just really exciting. If you’re not excited, I don’t know what else you’ve got going on. I can’t wait to see how we prepare and then play. With the passion and intensity we’ve already played with, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for a playoff game at home.”

In making the playoffs for only the second time in school history, UTC will host the winner of this weekend’s game between Indiana State (7-4) at Eastern Kentucky (9-3). That game will be played Saturday, Dec. 6, at Finley Stadium at 1 p.m.

“Right now they’re already working on getting ready for whoever we play back at the office,” Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. “We’ll get film and meet [Sunday] afternoon and go over the plan for this week and how we’ll handle scouting both those teams. Obviously, we’ll watch that game for sure.

“To get the eighth seed and to have a home game was huge. It worked out really nice today. Now we just have to get ready and play.”

UTC (9-3) earned its seeding by not only winning its second straight Southern Conference championship, but doing so in dominating fashion. The Mocs finished 7-0 in the conference for the first time, beating those opponents by an average of 26.4 points, the second-highest margin of victory in SoCon history behind Marshall’s eventual national championship team of 1996.

Unlike last year, when there was a three-way tie atop the league standings and UTC was left out of the postseason, the Mocs left no doubt that they belong among the nation’s elite programs this year, ending the season by beating nine consecutive FCS foes and holding four straight opponents to fewer than 20 points.

UTC’s losses this year came at Central Michigan, at Tennessee and in overtime to Jacksonville State, all respectable losses. Central Michigan is a seven-win FBS program headed to a bowl game, the Vols are a member of the powerful Southeastern Conference and Jacksonville State is the No. 3 seed in the playoffs on the opposite side of the playoff bracket from UTC.

“I think it’s a significant moment in time for this university and a great way to show our student-athletes, our students, our campus and our city what’s possible,” UTC Athletic Director David Blackburn said. “The work that the football team has done, Russ and his staff and the players, it’s a great moment.

“What we find is morale is lifted with something like this. Morale builds confidence and confidence builds success. It’s a building process and this is a huge step to continue in the direction we want to go with the program.”

Regardless of which team UTC hosts in the second round, there is a common link to both. Tennessee Tech defeated Eastern Kentucky 39-31 in late October but lost to Indiana State 49-14 early in the season. The Mocs whipped Tennessee Tech 38-17 two weeks ago.

Should the Mocs advance to the quarterfinals, they could potentially travel to overall No. 1 New Hampshire, if the Wildcats get past the winner of Fordham vs. Sacred Heart.

The FCS championship game will be played Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas.

Courtesy of: Stephen Hargis

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