South Carolina’s small colleges open season
COLUMBIA — The college football season opens in South Carolina this weekend with a couple of teams that have never played each other before.
Coastal Carolina heads to The Citadel today for a game between the Chanticleers, who made the Football Championship Division playoff quarterfinals a year ago, and the Bulldogs, who are adjusting to a first-year coach and haven’t been to the playoff since 1992.
But Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia said he doesn’t read too much into last year’s results.
“Whether or not we are successful (today) is going to be a function of how well we have prepared and how well they have prepared and nothing else,” Moglia said.
In other games today involving South Carolina’s FCS teams, South Carolina State plays Benedict in Columbia in the Palmetto Capital City Classic; Furman hosts Gardner-Webb; and Wofford travels to Georgia Tech.
On Thursday, Charleston Southern opened the season under its new lights with a 61-9 win over NAIA Point, while Presbyterian lost to Northern Illinois 55-3.
In Charleston, The Citadel is excited to play one of the best FCS teams in the state right off the bat, coach Mike Houston said.
“A great test for us to see just where we are at this time,” said Houston, who came to Charleston from Lenoir-Rhyne to take over for Kevin Higgins, now an assistant at Wake Forest.
Houston is keeping the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense, which should make the transition to his system a little simpler.
For the Chanticleers, it is about sustaining excellence. Coastal Carolina won the Big South Conference title and made it to the FCS quarterfinals, losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State.
Starting quarterback Alex Ross is back. The junior threw for 3,093 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He is considered a preseason candidate for the top FCS awards this season.
Moglia didn’t let Ross sit on his laurels during the offseason. He made him work with his position coach to make better decisions after the snap and shifting his targets based on the defense.
Ross will have to find some new help on offense, though. The Chanticleers lost four of their top five wide receivers and their top rusher from last season.
In Columbia, South Carolina State opens its season with a game against Division II Benedict that might be more difficult than it looks. First, the Bulldogs have to deal with all the pageantry of playing in the Palmetto Capital City Classic. South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said his team also knows almost nothing about the Tigers.
“We don’t even have a depth chart for them,” Pough said.
The Bulldogs earned an at-large bid to the FCS playoff last year, which was a nice improvement over 2012 when they had their first losing season since Pough started coaching the team in 2002. South Carolina State needs to fill holes in places like quarterback, wide receiver and center. But Pough said the replacements have looked good in preseason workouts.
“We’re probably deeper than we have in some time,” Pough said.
In Greenville, things appear to be set for a good season for Furman as the Paladins kick off by hosting Gardner-Webb.
Furman won five of its final six games to overcome a 2-4 start and win the Southern Conference title. The Paladins also won a first-round FCS playoff game and return 15 of their 22 starters on offense and defense.
Quarterback Reese Hannon is back. He missed last year’s stunning opening loss to Gardner-Webb with an injury. The junior completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,748 yards last weekend.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs don’t have much experience. Coach Carroll McCray said 26 of the 65 players he takes to Furman this weekend have never played a down for his team.
In Atlanta, Wofford fans may feel like they are looking at the same team as the Terriers take on Football Bowl Subdivision member Georgia Tech.
But Wofford coach Mike Ayers said there is one big difference between his team’s triple option attack and the plays run by the Yellow Jackets’ similar offense.
“They happened to be running them with bigger, stronger and faster people,” Ayers said.
The Terriers have won just once in 16 previous games against FBS teams, and last season’s FBS trip ended with a 69-3 loss to Baylor.
Wofford finished 5-6 last season for only its second losing record in 12 years. Ayers said much of the blame should fall on him for not having the team prepared at the end of the season. He expects bigger things this season.