It's not often that a college football team begins a new era with the same head coach in place, but one could argue that's what The Citadel will do today.
Coach Kevin Higgins begins his sixth season with the Bulldogs with seven new assistants on staff, a new offensive scheme and a new philosophy on defense.
The question of whether the changes can help The Citadel improve on its winning percentage of .429 (24-32) under Higgins will begin to be answered in today's season opener against Division II Chowan at 1 p.m. at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Higgins, who used a pass-heavy spread attack to win 56 games and four Patriot League titles in seven seasons at Lehigh from 1994-2000, has found winning more difficult since coming to The Citadel in 2005.
The same spread offense helped the Bulldogs to a 7-4 peak in 2007. But as The Citadel slumped to 4-8 in 2008 and 4-7 last season, Higgins began to ponder a switch to the run-oriented triple option.
He pulled the trigger after last season and the departure of All-American receiver Andre Roberts and quarterback Bart Blanchard, saying that the three-back offense, similar in scheme to those of Georgia Tech and Navy, gives the military school a chance to compete against more talented teams.
"No question in my mind, this is the right thing to do," Higgins said this week. "In our old scheme, if you have to hold up in pass protection 25 times a game against good defensive ends, that makes it hard.
"When you run the option, you have a chance, just from a scheme standpoint and with lesser personnel, to beat good people. And that's not to say we have lesser personnel. But if you get banged up and get injuries, you still have a chance."
In particular, Higgins said, the option can help the offensive line, which might be the thinnest part of the Bulldogs squad. If left guard Jameson Bryant (shoulder) can't play today, for example, right guard Jim Knowles and right tackle Lincoln Kling will have to shift around to plug the hole.
"If Arizona (next week) has an All-American defensive end that we will have a challenge to block, we can option that guy," Higgins said. "The option enables you to do things you couldn't do before."
The Bulldogs will have two freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree and Matt Thompson, running the option, with the 5-9, 180-pound Dupree slated to make his first collegiate start today.
The duo should be able to ease into their roles against Chowan, which is 4-18 in its third season under coach Tim Place and is coming off a 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne -- the Division II school from which Higgins hired his new offensive coordinator, Tommy Laurendine.
On defense, new coordinator Josh Conklin was plucked from Wofford with an eye toward simplifying schemes and increasing aggressiveness.
"The biggest change we've made is playing fast," said senior cornerback Cortez Allen. "The coaches have done a great job of simplifying what we do, and that enables us to make more plays and move a lot quicker to our adjustments."
--Freshmen to watch for today: QBs Dupree and Thompson, running backs Darien Robinson and Terrance Martin, center Mike Sellers and cornerback Jamal Allen … The Citadel will debut a new Kids Zone today at Johnson Hagood near the bronze bulldog statue. It's open two hours before kickoff and is free.
Who: Chowan (0-1) at The Citadel (0-0)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium