The Chattanooga Mocs football team is entering the 2021-22 season ranked No. 18 on two different polls.
The first came on Aug. 9 when the Stats Perform FCS Poll placed them there with their initial selections for the season. Two spots behind the Mocs are their Sept. 2 opponents -- Austin Peay.
UTC also claimed the No. 18 spot on the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) poll last week -- making them the highest-ranked Southern Conference team on the list. Austin Peay wasn’t forgotten once again. The AFCA bid them the No. 25 spot.
Coming into a new season ranked naturally instigates optimism, however, rankings don’t mean a thing.
This was proven when Chattanooga jumped to the No. 9 ranking in March after beginning the spring season 3-0 -- the highest national ranking for UTC since the 2016 FCS Playoffs. The Mocs proceeded to lose to Mercer the following week and then opt out of the season entirely.
But UTC doesn’t need to be ranked at all to feel like a promising season lies ahead. This team has other, more important characteristics that entice success this fall.
Sure, they haven’t played much football in the past year. They played only one game in the fall and had their spring season cut short.
The confidence stems from a great fall camp and a deep list of returning starters.
“We’ve got older guys who I really challenged to step into leadership roles and hold the younger guys accountable,” secondary coach Jordan Tippit said. “I think we’ve gotten our hands on more footballs this camp than my entire time on the coaching staff here.”
And returning starters?
The wide receiver group has three. This includes Reginald Henderson who averaged 19 yards per catch last season with a team-high 15 receptions that totaled 285 yards.
The linebackers also have three starters returning with an added four returners with career starts. One is Jay Person who tied for most tackles for loss in the SoCon last year and has been mentioned for All-SoCon this preseason.
The most returning starters happen to come from the most experienced room on the team: the defensive backs. They boast the five players who helped the Mocs secure their No. 9 ranking last year. Another six of these guys have had career starts. Between the 11, five players have had more than 30 career starts.
“I think we have one of the best secondaries in the nation,” wide receiver coach Adam Mims said. “That competition allows us to feed off one another -- not only as a group -- but as a team.”