By Ed Greif
The TSSAA playoffs begin tonight, as the Stone Memorial Panthers travel to Ooltewah to face the Owls, who finished in a three-way tie for first in District 5AAA at 5-1 with Cleveland and East Hamilton.
Their 8-2 overall record earned them the No. 2 seed in quadrant two to face the No. 7 seed Panthers at 7 p.m. EST. Cleveland (7-3) earned the No. 5 seed and travel to No. 4 seed and District 6AAA runner-up White County, while District 6AAA champion Rhea County earned the No. 1 seed and faces No. 8 seed Lenoir City.
No. 3 East Hamilton hosts No. 6 seed Oak Ridge.
Ooltewah earned the higher seed over East Hamilton and Cleveland because of the TSSAA tiebreakers.
There are four quadrants in each of the Class 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A tournaments, while 1A and 2A only have 24 teams. In Class 5A, there are no teams with 4-6 records, every team is 5-5 or better.
Cookeville is the No. 7 seed in quadrant one of Class 6A and travels to No. 2 seed Sevier County. There are no teams with 4-6 or worse records in this class, as well.
Seven teams off of Cumberland County's schedule qualified for the playoffs — Rhea County, White County and SMHS in 5A, Cookeville in 6A, York Institute and Grundy County in 3A and Scott County in 4A.
Half of SMHS' opponents qualified for the playoffs — Rhea County and White County in 5A, Cookeville in 6A, Sequatchie County in 3A and DeKalb County in 4A.
The Southern Conference football championship is in the home stretch, with Coach Russ Huesman's 23rd-ranked Chattanooga Mocs right in the thick of it. The Mocs (7-2, 5-1) take a one-half game lead in Saturday's home finale against Wofford (5-3, 4-1).
No. 22 Samford, which is Mocs' opponent Nov. 16 in Birmingham, are 6-2, 4-1, after losing to The Citadel last week. Furman is 4-5, 3-2. Appalachan State, Georgia Southern and Elon are all ineligible for the conference title, as they will be playing with the big boys of the BCS next year.
Wofford still must face Appy State and Furman, while Samford must face UTC, Furman and Elon.
Mercer and VMI will join the league next year, while ETSU will play in 2016.
According to the UTC Media Guide, the Mocs' last seven-win season was in 1997, when they finished 7-4 under former coach Buddy Green. The Mocs were 4-4 in the SoCon. They were 7-4 under Buddy Nix in 1991, while Bill Oliver had three seven-win seasons and one eight-win season.
Huesman's team can match Oliver's eight win season in 1980 with a win over Wofford Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium.
Wofford leads the all-time series at 11-8-0 and has won three straight over the Mocs. Chattanooga won 38-9 on Sept. 26, 2009.
Chattanooga has the longest win streak in the SoCon (five games), most league wins (5), home wins (4) and home SoCon wins (4).
Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium, as the UTC coaches will be wearing fatigues. There will be free admission for all active military, veterans and their families.
At the other end of the spectrum, Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) hosts SEC West foe Auburn (8-1, 4-1) for homecoming. Coach Butch Jones and his Vols need to win two of their remaining three games to be bowl eligible. After next week's open date, they host Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4) and travel to Kentucky (2-6, 0-4) in the regular season finale.
Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4) travels to the Swamp to face Florida (4-4, 3-3), needing two more wins to become bowl eligible.
Along with Auburn, Alabama (8-0, 5-0), Missouri (8-1, 4-1), LSU (7-2, 3-2), Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) and South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) are all bowl eligible. Missouri and South Carolina are still in the hunt for the SEC East title.
Georgia (5-3, 4-2) and Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3) each need one win for bowl eligibilty, while Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3) and Florida need two wins to earn bowl spots.
Saturday's games — Auburn at Tennessee, Vanderbilt at Florida, LSU at Alabama, Missouri at Kentucky, Mississippi State at Texas A&M and Ole Miss at Arkansas — will have a lot to say about all the above, including the eastern and western division champions. South Carolina has the week off.
MTSU hosts Florida International in a Conference USA East game Saturday. The Blue Raiders need another win to become bowl eligible.
In the OVC, Tennessee State hosts winless Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech travels Southeast Missouri. UT-Martin travels to Memphis.
This will be the last year for the BCS, as there will be a four-team playoff in 2014.
(Ed Greif is the Chronicle sports editor and his column appears regularly.)