Russ Huesman looks at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team he'll have this coming season and likes what he sees.
"I think we've finally gotten this thing to a point where we're playing with guys that you're supposed to be playing with," said Huesman, who has a record of 23-21 in four seasons as the Mocs' coach.
And by that he means veterans. UTC has 18 players with at least 10 career starts. There are 34 seniors and juniors on the roster.
UTC has been on the verge of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the past three seasons, coming up short each time. The Mocs also have been in the Southern Conference title hunt.
There have been high expectations the past couple of seasons, and those for 2013 may be the highest yet. In part because UTC has a talented roster of All-SoCon-caliber players, including All-Americans in defensive end Davis Tull and linebacker Wes Dothard.
"I like our guys," Huesman said. "I like them a lot."
Expectations also are high because the FCS playoff field is expanding from 20 to 24 teams and because usual SoCon and FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are ineligible for the league crown and the postseason.
"I think we've had pretty high expectations every year we've been here, and I think it's because our coaches put them on ourselves and our players," Huesman said.
This is a 12-game season, giving the Mocs four nonconference games. Huesman said they will go into every game knowing they "can compete" -- though he didn't specifically include back-to-back BCS national champion Alabama, which UTC visits on Nov. 23.
The Mocs likely will be among the favorites to win the SoCon and at least earn an at-large bid to the playoffs, where UTC has not been since 1984. In three preseason polls already released, the Mocs are ranked No. 20 in two and No. 18 in another.
Huesman believes he has a good team. He also believes that meeting his and others' expectations isn't going to be easy.
The Mocs have six road games, including at Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the Crimson Tide, while Georgia State is playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time and Georgia Southern and App State are beginning their transitions.
All of that means that four of UTC's six road games will be against teams with more than the FCS maximum of 63 scholarships.
"[The schedule is] probably a little more challenging than people probably give us credit for," Huesman said.
And the Thursday night season opener against UT-Martin can't be overlooked. The Skyhawks, who went 8-3 last season and tied for second in the Ohio Valley Conference, beat Memphis in their 2012 season opener.
The Mocs begin preseason practice on July 31.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...