Chattanooga head coach Tom Arth is making a big leap up the college football coaching ranks for the 2017 season.
Arth took over at Division III John Carroll four years ago and saw his star rise meteorically after a win over D-III powerhouse Mount Union last year. The victory gave John Carroll its first outright conference title in almost three decades and was the impetus for a semifinal appearance.
Arth was brought in by the Mocs this offseason to replace former head coach Russ Huesman, who had been at Chattanooga for eight seasons and led the Mocs to three playoff appearances during his time there.
Can Arth adjust to a different level of college football and get the Mocs in position to make another playoff appearance?
2016 Chattanooga Football Season In Review
The Mocs started the season strong against relatively weak competition, rising to No. 5 in the FCS Top 25 rankings. However, they were unable to beat the two best teams in the conference.
Chattanooga dropped games to both The Citadel and Wofford in Southern Conference play, but the squad still found a way to reach the playoffs. In postseason play, the Mocs hammered Weber State in the first round before having to deal with No. 1 seed Sam Houston State.
The Mocs fought valiantly against SHSU and almost pulled off a mammoth upset. After falling behind by 21 points early, they battled back and were down just five with the ball at SHSU’s 25-yard line with 37 seconds left. Their comeback fell short, however, ending what was a solid campaign for the program.
Quarterback Alejandro Bennefield was the leader of the offense and put up solid numbers in his first year on the job. He was the second-best signal caller in the conference, throwing for 2,622 yards and 26 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Bennefield was a good running threat too, rushing for 377 yards and six scores, forcing defenses to respect him as a true dual threat.
Derrick Craine was the team’s leading rusher in 2016. He ran for 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he couldn’t get going against the best teams in the SoCon. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in the losses to The Citadel and Wofford.
Chattanooga had one of the best defenses at stopping the run last season despite playing a 4-2-5 scheme. The Mocs held opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry and were 25th in the nation in rush defense.
2017 Chattanooga Football Season Preview
Bennefield is back and should benefit from Arth’s coaching. Arth was a quarterback in the NFL, NFL Europe, CFL and AFL, and he has a vast knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a signal caller. The new head coach probably won’t use Bennefield as a runner as much, but expect improvement in the passing game to occur.
Arth indicated in spring that he will use the tight ends much more than the previous regime. That position was rarely utilized in the passing game in 2016, with just eight balls being completed to the spot last fall. According to Arth, it is the second-most important position on offense, so don’t be surprised to see more multiple tight end sets this season.
Defensively, the Mocs are replacing six starters from last year’s squad. However, they will get a big boost from another year of one of the best defensive backs in college football.
Lucas Webb has earned first-team all-SoCon honors in each of his first three seasons, and opposing quarterbacks are wary to throw his way. He will be counted upon to make even more plays as the defense switches from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4.
2017 Chattanooga Football Schedule
August 26: Chattanooga vs. Jacksonville State (In Montgomery)
September 9: Chattanooga at LSU
September 16: Chattanooga vs. UT-Martin
September 23: Chattanooga at VMI
September 30: Chattanooga vs. Western Carolina
October 7: Chattanooga vs. Furman
October 14: Chattanooga at Mercer
October 21: Chattanooga vs. The Citadel
October 28: Chattanooga at Samford
November 4: Chattanooga at Wofford
November 18: Chattanooga vs. East Tennessee State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The opener against Jacksonville State is going to be tough for a Chattanooga team that is going through a pretty big transition.
Fortunately for the Mocs, they won’t play any tough opponent at the FCS level after that until the third week of October when they face The Citadel. By that time, the 3-4 should be entrenched, which will help against The Citadel’s option attack. Take Chattanooga to win a low-scoring game in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests that week.