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Confident UTC Still Looking For That Swagger
Pollsters Taking Notice Of Huesman’s Mocs
After hanging with 10th-ranked Nebraska (FBS) and beating No. 10 Jacksonville State (FCS), University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman dealt with questions about the Mocs’ confidence and swagger at Tuesday’s weekly media luncheon at McKenzie Arena.
“I think our guys had confidence coming out of Nebraska,” said Huesman, whose Mocs (1-1) play at Eastern Kentucky (1-1) on Saturday at 6 p.m. “They’re confident now. You want to have confidence, but you don’t want to be too confident. They have to be humble and continue to work.”
Huesman was asked about whether the team’s swagger returned after last year’s win over Georgia Southern, or if not, is it back now after belting the Gamecocks, 38-17, at Finley Stadium.
“The swagger wasn’t back,” he said. “The swagger isn’t back until we win a championship, go to the playoffs and do those things. That was a good win last year, but we hadn’t arrived. We haven’t arrived yet.
“I don’t know if at 6-5 anybody was scared of us. I don’t think anybody is scared of us right now. They’re probably thinking we’ve gotten better, but we’re not a championship team. I don’t blame them for thinking that way right now. We’ll figure out that swagger thing, if we have it or not, at the end of the year.”
Sophomore linebacker Wes Dothard, the Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Week, jumped into the debate during his time with media representatives.
“I’m not sure I can distinguish between confidence and swagger,” said the 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound Dothard, who had five tackles, forced a fumble, broke up a pass and hurried the quarterback once in the 38-17 victory over the Gamecocks.
“We knew (Jacksonville State) was a top team. We knew if we beat them everyone would be excited. I think we have some swagger and a lot of confidence, too.”
Well, the folks who vote in the Football Championship Subdivision polls, seem to like the way UTC is playing after two games.
The Mocs are No. 14 – their highest ranking since starting the 1992 season with two straight wins – in the Sports Network poll and 17th in the FCS Coaches poll.
Huesman, like almost every other college football coach in the country, isn’t one to openly embrace the rankings and hasn’t spent much time discussing the team’s rankings with his players.
“I haven’t talked about that much,” he said. “Maybe I should start, I don’t know. I guarantee you if we lose a game we won’t even get any votes we’ll be so far out of those polls. Maybe that’s why I don’t talk about it. I don’t want to jinx us or anything like that.”
In the Sports Network voting, UTC is three spots ahead of Jacksonville State. However, the coaches have the Gamecocks one spot ahead of the Mocs, and Huesman votes in that poll.
“I didn’t put Jacksonville State ahead of us because I didn’t think they deserved it, but I kept them in the top 15,” Huesman said. “I put them one spot behind us. Realistically, we’re both 1-1 and we beat them. My poll is probably a little different than what came out. If we keep winning, we’ll move up and that’ll help us.”
At times, it’s difficult to understand how some coaches fill out their rankings. For instance, Eastern Washington started the season ranked No. 1, has lost two straight games and still has a No. 10 ranking and got one first-place vote this week.
After No. 1 Georgia Southern (2-0), the next four teams have one loss. Sixth-ranked North Dakota State is 2-0 and then comes two more teams with one loss are ahead of 2-0 Richmond. The next 14 teams have one loss and Massachusetts rounds out the Top 25 at 1-0.
“I see a lot of weird things about the polls,” Huesman said. “If you notice, when you get ranked high to start, it’s hard to move out of that thing. When you (are not) ranked, it’s hard to get ranked. That’s the way it is.
“I also think the elite (teams) are shown a little bit of favoritism in the polls, and rightfully so. When you’ve been good a long time, they lose and it’s not like they stink. It’s like, ‘Well, that’s an aberration. They’ll get them next week.’ I think the Top 10 teams all deserve to be there. They’re pretty legitimate and I think Georgia Southern at No. 1 is legit. I voted them No. 1.”
The Mocs will have several opportunities to grab the attention of other voting coaches over the course of the season. Three other SoCon teams – Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford – are ranked in the Top 10 and Furman received a vote in this week’s poll. All, of course, are on the Mocs’ conference schedule.
Eastern Kentucky is among schools receiving votes.
“Any time you beat a good team, I think people take notice of that,” Huesman said. “We’ll have to win a bunch of games quick to get into the Top 10.
“I think we have good enough players to play with anybody on our schedule. We’re athletic, the kids work hard and football is important to them. If we stay healthy, we can compete with everybody we’re playing.”
UTC plays No. 3 Appalachian State after Eastern Kentucky. The Mocs go to No. 1 Georgia Southern on Oct. 8 and close the season at home against No. 8 Wofford on Nov. 19. They host Furman on Oct. 29.
Although he often sees strange voting habits in the polls, Huesman won’t discount them, especially when it comes to determining teams for the postseason playoffs.
“They’re huge,” Huesman said. “The top five teams get seeds, and folks probably use some of those rankings to place teams. The bottom line is you want to be a top-five see and get home field advantage as much as you can. And, obviously, if you’re ranked you’re probably winning enough games to get in the playoffs.”
By Larry Fleming, The Chattanoogan