Opportunity occasionally knocks. Other times it just barges in with designer cupcakes and party favors.

Starting with a Saturday night home date against Southern Conference title favorite Georgia Southern, The Citadel faces three games in a row against probably the three best foes on the schedule; a trip to perennial FCS power Appalachian State is on deck followed by a “money game” at N.C. State.

“Three totally tough defenses,” Citadel senior left tackle Neal Strange said Monday.

Head coach Kevin Higgins on Monday called the three-game stretch “our sternest test.”

Excellent! Just what the Bulldogs need to demonstrate another major stride in the third year of their triple option offense. Win or lose, if the Bulldogs emerge from this gauntlet with a fresh coat of improvement, the rest of the schedule is full of potential wins.

“These next three games are definitely going to give us an opportunity to show how much we have improved (in the triple option),” Strange said. “We improved a great amount from year one to year two, but the part about taking the program to the next level is making substantial improvement in the third year and carrying over that success.”

The 4-7 Bulldogs of 2011 averaged 286.6 rushing yards per game, a jump of 80 yards from 2010, when The Citadel stumbled to a 3-8 record.

Quarterback Ben DuPree (77 yards), fullback Darien Robinson (120) and running back Rickey Anderson (80) led a rushing attack that amassed 479 yards rushing in a season-opening 49-14 victory over Charleston Southern.

No one in Bulldog blue is looking ahead to Appalachian State, even considering the Mountaineers’ 35-13 loss last week at East Carolina. Or to an N.C. State team that gave up 524 yards in a 35-21 loss to Tennessee.

But in the Now It Can Be Told Dept. — shhh! — Citadel players going into the Charleston Southern game were well aware of the next thing.

“We talked about it,” Strange said. “After the really close loss last year to App State and the even closer loss at Georgia Southern, it made us really want to play them again. We weren’t overlooking Charleston Southern but Georgia Southern was definitely in the back of our minds.”

Along with a 49-42 loss to Appalachian State and a 14-12 heartbreaker at Georgia Southern, the 2011 Bulldogs also lost 18-15 in overtime at Elon and 19-14 to Samford.

Austin Boyle, a Citadel senior safety who knows the Bulldogs’ triple option all too well, expects noticeable strides.

“Our offense makes a lot more big plays,” Boyle said. “They’re a lot faster, and they know what they’re doing. I’ve been here since the time they put it in and it’s a huge difference this year.”

There is room for improvement in the improved offense. Parts of the first half against Charleston Southern resembled a basketball game, the ball was bouncing around so much: six Citadel fumbles (two lost).

Dupree (0 for 1 passing against Charleston Southern) and fellow quarterback Aaron Miller (3 for 5) need more completions to keep defenses guessing at least a little bit.

Another close, low-scoring game is possible against Georgia Southern, which runs a similar offense and doesn’t have to make a lot of adjustments in practice. But you know The Citadel offense gets full attention in Statesboro and everywhere else on the Bulldogs’ schedule as its triple option stock rises.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff