It’s 16 miles from the gates of The Citadel to the campus of Charleston Southern University.
Who: Charleston Southern at The Citadel
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
Is that proximity, plus a brief and one-sided history of games, enough for a college football rivalry?
It depends on your point of view.
For Charleston Southern, the junior partner in the series with a 1-5 record against The Citadel and a football history that dates back to just 1991, it’s most definitely a rivalry.
“I don’t know if The Citadel sees us as a rival,” said first-year coach Jamey Chadwell. “But we certainly see them as a rival. We have to go down there and see if we can get them to respect us a little bit.”
The perspective from The Citadel, which has been playing football since 1905, is a bit different. The average score in the Charleston Southern-Citadel series is a 44-19 Bulldogs victory, and the entire Southern Conference (and VMI) edges out CSU on the list of Citadel rivals.
“We look hard at Southern Conference teams, and one of our goals is to win the SoCon championship,” said coach Kevin Higgins, starting his ninth year at The Citadel. “We spend a lot of time talking about Furman and the teams in our league.”
OK, so it’s not Clemson-South Carolina, or even the Military Classic of the South, in which VMI and The Citadel battle for the coveted Silver Shako.
But as a season opener, Saturday’s CSU-Citadel game at Johnson Hagood Stadium does nicely, with Lowcountry bragging rights thrown in.
For Chadwell, who returns to CSU after five years as head coach at Division II schools North Greenville and Delta State, it’s a chance to make an immediate statement.
“We’re really trying to establish our identity and the vision we have for the program,” said Chadwell, an assistant under former CSU coach Jay Mills. “Our young kids did everything we asked them in camp, and we pushed them to get in the best condition possible. We’re trying to change our culture and our way of thinking.”
The Citadel, coming off a 7-4 season, is eager to demonstrate it is ready for a run at the SoCon title, and must avoid the pratfall SoCon favorite Chattanooga took Thursday night it its opener. The Mocs fell flat in a 31-21 loss to Tennessee-Martin.
“The first game is the biggest game as you prepare during the summer,” Higgins said. “I’m glad Charleston Southern is the first game. Our guys spent so much time talking about and preparing for them. All of that makes it a game that will be full of emotion and excitement.”
With a senior-dominated offense led by quarterback Ben Dupree, the Bulldogs will look to avoid the execution problems that plagued them in last year’s 49-14 win over CSU. The Citadel fumbled six times and trailed 14-7 late in the first half before pulling away.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are relying on senior QB Malcolm Dixon and Christian Reyes at running back and Donte Sumpter at receiver in Chadwell’s spread option attack. The Bucs also are switching to a 3-4 defense and hope to slow down a Citadel attack that rushed for 479 yards against CSU last year.
“I don’t think you can stop them,” Chadwell said. “But we’ll try to slow them down. It’s a big challenge, and hopefully our defense will be up for it.”