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Chattanooga prepares for No. 1 Alabama while awaiting FCS playoff fate

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Chattanooga heads to No. 1 Alabama to face the two-time defending national champions while wondering about its own postseason fate. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Chattanooga heads to No. 1 Alabama to face the two-time defending national champions while wondering about its own postseason fate. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Chattanooga heads to No. 1 Alabama to face the two-time defending national champions while wondering about its own postseason fate.

The Mocs squandered an opportunity to clinch their first Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearance since 1984 last week when they lost 17-14 at Samford in overtime. Chattanooga still could earn the Southern Conference's automatic playoff bid Saturday if Elon (2-9) upsets Samford (7-4). The Mocs (8-3) otherwise must wait to learn Sunday whether they've received an at-large playoff invitation.

In just about any other circumstance, that uncertainty might distract a team. The opportunity to face Alabama (10-0) on Saturday assures that won't be a problem in this case.

"It's 100 percent Alabama without a doubt," Chattanooga nose tackle Josh Freeman said. "I don't know how you could focus on anything else with such a (game) being played Saturday."

Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman says he isn't thinking about this game as one last chance to impress the committee that determines which FCS teams get at-large playoff berths.

"This is totally separate," Huesman said. "The bottom line is were our eight wins good enough to get to the playoffs. Ultimately, that's what's going to happen. We had eight (wins), no matter what happens with Alabama. Were those eight good enough to get us in? I believe that's where it is. I could be dead wrong, and maybe they'll watch this game. I doubt it. I wouldn't be watching it if I was there. It's not the game of the week to watch."

Chattanooga still savors the chance to get on a national stage this week. The Mocs will garner more attention from this game than they'd receive from any playoff berth.

That's apparent whenever the players talk to their classmates.

"In the engineering department, they don't really know that much about football," said Chattanooga offensive tackle and electrical engineering major Brandon Morgan, "but when they hear the name Alabama, they always ask me, 'When's the Alabama game?' 'When's the Alabama game?'"

This opportunity represents a reward for a team that already has won at least a share of the Southern Conference title for the first time since 1984. But it isn't an ideal time for Chattanooga to face this kind of challenge.

Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman, the coach's son, has a knee injury. Russ Huesman said Tuesday he anticipates Jacob will play against Alabama. Chattanooga has other injury issues as well and now must worry about the physical toll of facing the nation's premier program a week before a potential first-round playoff game.

The Mocs are familiar with this type of challenge. Chattanooga has faced two of the last four national champions, losing 45-0 to Alabama in 2009 and falling 62-24 to Auburn in 2010.

Russ Huesman appreciates Alabama coach Nick Saban's achievements so much that he took notes while reading Saban's book, "How Good Do You Want To Be?" Huesman said he occasionally goes back and reads those notes.

The respect between the two coaches is apparently mutual.

"Chattanooga has a really good team," Saban said. "They're very successful in their division. I think Russ does a really good job of finding ways to get the most out of his players in terms of what they can do."

Huesman gets amused when he sees various fans and teams holding "We Want Bama" signs at stadiums across the country.

"I saw that Pee Wee group that did it, that little 7-year-old or 8-year-old group," Huesman said. "If they want to take our place this week, I'll let them."

All joking aside, Chattanooga's players don't want to give up this opportunity. Whether or not they reach the FCS playoffs, the Mocs at least know they'll get a chance to test themselves against the best college football has to offer.

"That's something that we all dream of, these opportunities and these moments to play against these guys that are said to be the best athletes in the country," Freeman said. "We look forward to it. It's a challenge we embrace."

___

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.

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