After a school-record 10 victories in his first season, Charleston Southern head football coach Jamey Chadwell realizes the bar has been raised for his program in 2014.
Considering the CSU program has won only 92 games since it began playing in 1991, reaching double figures in victories in his first season clearly has excited the fan base.
Expectations can be unrealistic, says Chadwell, but he would rather have the pressure of duplicating a great season than for followers of the program to have no expectations at all.
"I would rather come off a 10-win season than a two-win season, simply because of the confidence factor with our football team," said Chadwell, an assistant on the staff when CSU won its only Big South Conference title in 2005.
"Last season helped us as a program from a confidence standpoint. I think it gave our players a chance to buy into what we are doing and success helps that along. Entering last season, there was more of a hope that we can be okay. This year there is more of a confidence that what we are doing is working."
Matching the victory total of last season will be no easy task, considering the Buccaneers have games at Vanderbilt and Georgia, as well as road conference games at league favorites Coastal Carolina and Liberty.
CSU opens the season with four home games (Point, Newberry, Campbell, The Citadel), all of which will be at night for the first time in school history. As exciting as night football on campus will be, the Buccaneers play six of their final eight games on the road.
Chadwell has not and will not talk about goals, in terms of wins and losses, with his team.
"We never really set goals so we don't talk about winning the Big South or beating a certain team," he said. "Everything we do is done to prepare to be our best every time we play, no matter what the scoreboard says. If we, as a team, give everything for each other, good things will happen."
The Buccaneers return enough experience at key positions to be a Big South contender this fall. CSU has four of five starters back on the offensive line, led by preseason all-league selection Clayton Truitt at right guard.
There also is solid depth along the line, as well as a core group of running backs that allowed CSU to lead the nation in time of possession and finish 17th nationally in rushing offense.
Senior Christian Reyes rushed for 1,254 yards last season and enters this season needing only 488 yards to become the school's all-time leading rusher in only two seasons at the school.
Junior Zac Frazier and sophomores Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson combined to add nearly 1,000 yards more on the ground, with Holloway averaging 10.5 yards per carry on 40 attempts.
"Running back is one of our deepest areas and all of those guys, and a few younger guys, have had a good camp," said Chadwell.
Three candidates will vye for the starting nod at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Danny Croghan played in eight games and was the Big South Freshman of the Year last season. His backup, sophomore Kyle Copeland, has pushed hard during camp, and UAB transfer Austin Brown, a junior, is in the mix as well. Croghan had off-season shoulder surgery and is coming along slowly.
"We love having three but we need one to take control and play," said Chadwell. "If things work out like we hope, it can be a position of strength for us."
Wide receiver was a position of strength and depth coming out of last season, but that has changed significantly since the spring.
The Bucs lost their top two returning pass catchers - Kevin Glears and Larry Jones III - to season-ending knee injuries. Jones was injured in the spring while Glears, who led CSU with 31 receptions and six touchdowns, was hurt in the team's second scrimmage of the preseason. In all, CSU's top four receivers from a season ago will not be available when the season begins.
Defensively, CSU's strength is up front where senior end Dylan Black and senior nose tackle James Smith are all-conference candidates. Black posted a team-high 12 tackles for loss last season while Smith had 41/2 sacks and is a run stopper in the middle.
Three of the top five tacklers from a year ago are gone, including two starting linebackers. Junior bandit Tre DeLoach (Ashley Ridge) is back while senior Zac Johnston is back at middle linebacker. Strong safety Demaris Freeman, CSU's leading tackler with 90 hits last season, returns in the secondary, along with junior free safety Corbin Jackson.
The starting corners will be first-year starters.
"The 11 guys that start defensively will be guys that either started or played significant snaps for us last season," said Chadwell. "The depth, right now, will be young and inexperienced."
"We have really good talent but they have a lot to learn."