Four Southern Conference teams – Georgia Southern, Wofford, Appalachian State and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – have one loss going into this weekend’s play.
Georgia Southern sits atop the league standings at 4-1.
Wofford and Appalachian State are tied at 3-1.
UTC is in fourth place at 2-1, nursing a half-game lead over Samford, the Mocs’ foe on Saturday at Finley Stadium, and The Citadel.
“Georgia Southern is kind of ahead of the pack right now,” UTC coach Russ Huesman said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “They’ve played five conference games, we’ve just played three. So I think they’re in better shape than the rest of us.”
The Eagles (5-1 overall) are also on a four-game conference winning streak, having beaten Elon, Samford, Western Carolina and Wofford on successive Saturdays.
Georgia Southern plays at Furman on Saturday and at UTC on Oct. 27 and host Appalachian State on Nov. 3.
The Mountaineers (5-2) defeated UTC, Elon and Samford and take a three-game winning streak into their next game against Wofford. They still have to play Western Carolina and Georgia Southern.
Wofford (5-1) is at Appalachian State on Saturday and close league play with games against Citadel, Samford and UTC.
UTC (3-3), which opened league play with a 34-17 loss to Appalachian State, regrouped to win consecutive road games against Citadel and Furman to keep pace with the other teams with one conference loss.
The Mocs need to extend their mini-streak if they want to stay in the thick of this year's title chase.
“That’s a great point,” Huesman said. “Two-game streaks won’t get you anywhere in this league. To be good, get to the playoffs and win a championship, you’ve got to reel off a bunch in a row from here on out.”
Well, that’s been easier said than done at UTC.
In the past 22 years, the Mocs have had one four-game win streak (2010) and two that reached three in 1990 and 1997.
In 2010, Huesman’s second year at the helm, UTC opened league play with wins over Western Carolina, Citadel, Georgia Southern and Furman.
The Mocs were sitting pretty, but they lost two of the final three SoCon games, beating Samford and losing to nationally ranked Elon (No. 20) and Wofford (No. 7) to finish 5-3.
Under coach Buddy Green in 1997, UTC was routed by Georgia Southern, but had wins over Wofford, VMI and Western Carolina for a 3-1 league record. The Mocs couldn’t sustain the streak, however, and lost three of their final four games against conference opponents to finish 4-4.
Going back to 1990 under coach Buddy Nix, now general manager of the Buffalo Bills, the Mocs to Furman before knocking off East Tennessee State, No. 16 Citadel and No. 17 Marshall only to drop two of the next three games to close at 4-2.
Mocs redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Huesman, the coach’s son, said going on extended rolls in the SoCon is a big challenge for any team.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” Jacob Huesman said. “The SoCon is one of the best conferences in (FCS) football, no question about that. It’s a struggle every week. To put together two straight wins like we have is an accomplishment. Obviously, we can’t stop there. We want to win out and finish at the top of the conference. That’s our goal.”
Winning titles has not been easy for the Mocs.
UTC won SoCon titles from 1977-79 – coach Joe Morrison’s final three years in Chattanooga – and Nix captured one league championship in 1984, his first season with the Mocs, by winning five of six league games. UTC has not won a SoCon title since.
The younger Huesman seems to have a pretty good grasp of UTC’s football history – his dad played for the Mocs from 1978-81 – and realizes the current Mocs want to change the perception that UTC is an infrequent title contender.
“In years past at UTC,” he said, “we haven’t competed well enough to put together big strings of wins. That’s something we’re looking to change. We’re trying to turn a page here and become a team where people come into the (UTC) game thinking they don’t want to play these guys because they’re so tough.”
If that happens in 2012, the page turning has to continue starting when Samford visits for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.
Another loss puts any of the contenders in a tight spot.
“At this point in the season, with everybody being so tight and playing to the best of their abilities,” Jacob Huesman said, “losing a game could easily put a team out. If we go to two losses and everybody else is sitting there with one, all of a sudden we’re scrambling from behind and that’s not a situation we want to be in at all.”
With his Mocs coming off the loss to Appalachian State and facing back-to-back road tests, coach Huesman wasn’t sure how strong the team’s psyche really was.
“We were at 1-3 (overall) and kind of a fragile football team going on the road to play a team (Citadel) that had beat App State and Georgia Southern,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘How much confidence do we have, really?’ You talk about it, but deep down I wonder how much confidence we had.
“I knew we were talented, but I don’t know if you can read confidence. I couldn’t say if we were a confident team or we acting like a confident team. In the App State game, it just didn’t show up in our demeanor or our mentality.”
Huesman found the answers to those questions in the Mocs’ 28-10 and 31-10 victories over Citadel and Furman, respectively.
“In the Citadel game, I could see their confidence in the locker room and on the sidelines and I felt a lot better about it,” he said.
So, he’s OK with the confidence thing now?
“No,” Huesman said. “I don’t think coaches ever seen enough confidence.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)