HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Chattanooga.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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CHATTANOOGA (6-5 IN 2018)
The SoCon (UTC was Tied for 5th in 2018)
COACH: Rusty Wright – At School: 1st year (0-0 record), Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2016 (second round loss to Sam Houston State)
2018 OFFENSE: 21.5 ppg. (98th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 21.0 ppg. (14th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 28 – vs. Western Carolina: Let's face it, Chattanooga's September schedule is rather daunting — with FCS powerhouses Jacksonville State and James Madison and a trip to Rocky Top to face the Tennessee Vols glaring back at the Mocs. Though UTC looks rather strong this year, that gauntlet will be a test and WCU and talented QB Tyrie Adams will be a challenge on Sept. 28 — but it's at home at Finley and a winnable game. After being challenged in September, this game is critical to prove the Mocs are playoff caliber. Plus … these are natural rivals in the SoCon.
SUM IT UP: A year ago, this Chattanooga team was 13 points away from being 9-2 with its only losses being to SoCon champion Wofford (by 11) and to the SEC's South Carolina. Well folks, there are 17 starters back from that Mocs team … and that's why they are premiering at No. 19 in the HERO Sports Preseason Top 25. We believe they have that kind of potential. New head coach Rusty Wright isn't new at all. He was on staff with Russ Huesman from 2013-16 when this program made three straight trips to the FCS playoffs and won a game each season, only to fall in the next round by just a few points. He also was a four-year letterwinner for the Mocs. He knows Chattanooga.
Let's start with what went really well last year — the defense. As you can see in the stat above, this group was 14th in the FCS in scoring defense, and it also was 6th in red-zone defense and 21st in turnover margin. Granted, some key parts of that defense have graduated, but nine players who made starts are back on the defense. On offense, there's no question improvement is needed — particularly in the run game. But the good news is all five starting linemen and the tight end are back, multi-dimensional starting RB Tyrell Price is back and quarterback Nick Tiano is one of the top signal callers returning in the FCS. This program may bump its production up 10 to 15 point a game if chemistry is found. Don't be surprised when that happens, and couple that with a solid defense and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where this could go.
Also, there are key transfers to consider, like former South Carolina LB Zay Brown, Louisville LB Kam Jones and North Carolina LB Kayne Roberts. Chemistry, again, is the key here … but they could be big helpers.
OUR TAKE: Who are we kidding? Chattanooga could end up taking some lumps early in the season thanks to the No. 2 toughest schedule in the FCS. Having Jacksonville State, Tennessee and James Madison in back-to-back-to-back weeks will test the Mocs and they'll get better because of it. When it comes to the SoCon schedule, the Mocs are in a nice position. Tough matchups with Western Carolina, ETSU, Furman and The Citadel — all competitive programs this year — are at Finley Stadium. Typical SoCon frontrunner Wofford is on the road, however. We think this is a eight to nine-win type program with a firm shot at making the FCS Playoffs. And if the Mocs somehow win one of those three big non-conference games mentioned above? They may be talked about as a Top 10 type program.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Jr./WR Bryce Nunnelly (HERO Sports Preseason All-American — 1,237 yards receiving, 7 TDs)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./DB Brandon Dowdell (2nd Team All SoCon — 3 INTs, 40 tackles, 9 passes defensed); Soph./DL Devonnsha Maxwell (HERO Sports Freshman All American in 2018 — 6.5 TFLs and 32 tackles as a freshman); Sr./LB Marshall Cooper (2nd Team All SoCon — leading tackler last year, 98 tackles); Sr./RB Tyrell Price (2nd Team All SoCon — 697 yards rushing, 9 TDs; 278 yards receiving); Sr./QB Nick Tiano (2,170 passing yards, 15 TDs in 2018); Sr./OT Malcolm White (35 career starts for UTC); Jr./DB Jerrell Lawson (20 career starts, 53 tackles, 4.5 TFLs);
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./OL Brock Bethea (HERO Sports No. 153 overall FCS signee in February's signing class — reported two FBS offers and 13 overall)
THE QUOTE: "I can't tell you how excited I am to come back to Chattanooga. It is my alma mater, it is my home and it is a place I care deeply about. I am very honored for the chance to lead our football program and I would like to thank Mark Wharton, Dr. Steve Angle and everyone else involved for this opportunity. There is a solid foundation for success with some great student-athletes in our program. I want to build on that in a way that continues to instill pride in our student-athletes, our University, alumni and community. More importantly, I want to do it for the long haul." — Head Coach Rusty Wright said when hired
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Chattanooga Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The SoCon
Chattanooga | ETSU | Furman
Mercer | Samford | The Citadel
VMI | Western Carolina | Wofford
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast