Saturday’s season-opening game against Coastal Carolina can’t get here soon enough for those associated with South Carolina State football, eager to put behind the school’s first losing season in 12 years.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 5-6 season that included back-to-back games at Arizona and at Texas A&M, where they ran into Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Not that head coach Buddy Pough expects a cakewalk against the Chanticleers, who are ranked in the FCS top 25. Nor does he expect a letup when the Bulldogs travel to Clemson for their second game.
“At least we won’t have to go as far to play,” Pough said. “We had a hard schedule travel-wise. Not only did we have to go to Arizona and Texas A&M and play night games in later time zones that put us getting back at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning, we also had a tough year as far as the league was concerned. Our league was better. It was just a tough year all-around. We had guys banged up and some key injuries. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
Pough pointed out that linebacker Joe Thomas and defensive lineman Marquis Parks both missed half the season with injuries.
Pough said S.C. State is doing everything possible to make improvements, “our process, our organization, everything from practice times to the way we do staff organization.” New assistant coaches were added, players were switched around and an emphasis was made on recruiting.
Veteran quarterback Richard Cue, who threw for 1,819 yards and 11 TDs, returns to lead the offense and will be throwing to a group of receivers that includes the top four from a year ago. Julius Pendergrass, who was third in rushing last season, is the top returning running back. Thomas at middle linebacker heads the list of defensive returnees.
The Bulldogs are picked to finish second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Pough said the Bulldogs should have a better chance of surviving the early part of the season without the extensive travel.
“We have a good conference schedule logistically,” Pough said. “Everybody in the league is improving, but we still have to get out there and get after it.”
2013 South Carolina State Bulldogs
HEAD COACH: Buddy Pough, 88-39 in 11 seasons at S.C. State
LAST YEAR: 5-6 overall (4-4 in MEAC)
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 8
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 9
IMPACT PLAYERS: QB Richard Cue, WR Caleb Davis, LB Justin Hughes, DT Javon Hargrave.
QUESTION MARKS: Bulldogs must avoid injuries which combined with a killer schedule hampered S.C. State in 2012. Hargrave has an injured ankle and been unable to practice. Building depth has been a priority in preseason camp. Starting QB Richard Cue is facing a challenge from backup TeDarius Wiley and the two may split time.
S.C. State Schedule
Aug. 31 Coastal Carolina 6 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Clemson 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 Alabama A&M 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Benedict (Columbia) 4 p.m.
Sept. 28 Hampton 2 p.m.
Oct. 5 vs. North Carolina A&T (Atlanta) 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 at North Carolina Central 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Bethune-Cookman 4 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Savannah State 1 p.m.
Nov. 9 Florida A&M 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 14 Morgan State 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 at Norfolk State 1 p.m.