There’s a different vibe with Charleston Southern heading into the 2016 college football season.
But Buccaneers coach Jamey Chadwell said that comes with being the favorite to repeat as conference champion.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” Chadwell said during Tuesday’s Big South Conference media day in Charlotte. “If you had told me that three years ago, I’d have said you were crazy. But I knew the expectations were changing.”
Charleston Southern was the near-unanimous choice to win the Big South title this season, taking 16 of 18 first-place votes from the league’s head coaches and media.
It’s the first time the Buccaneers have been the preseason favorite since the Big South was formed in 2002. The best they have finished in the preseason vote was second in 2006, the year after Charleston Southern won its first league title.
In fact, the Buccaneers weren’t favored in the preseason poll during both of their championship seasons. They were picked to finish last in 2005 and third in 2015 behind Coastal Carolina (now playing in the Sun Belt) and Liberty.
However, Charleston Southern went undefeated in league play and finished the 2015 season 10-3, advancing to the quarterfinals in the Buccaneers’ first Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“In the locker room, we always believed we could do it,” said senior running back Darius Hammond, voted the Big South’s preseason offensive player of the year. “We’re going to keep that mentality, strive for greatness and build as a team.”
The odds are in Charleston Southern’s favor with 16 returning starters, including Hammond and junior defensive lineman Anthony Ellis, the league’s preseason defensive player of the year.
But Chadwell knows it will be a different feeling this season.
“We don’t take this lightly, and we’re going to do our best to win this thing,” he said. “(But) this is the first time we’ve not been the hunter. We’re going to be the huntee. That’s going to be unique for us.”
▪ Liberty was second in the Big South preseason poll with one first-place vote and 86 total points, beating out Kennesaw State (one first-place vote, 68 points). Monmouth was fourth (47 points), followed by Gardner-Webb (40 points) and Presbyterian (31 points).
▪ In addition to sweeping the preseason player of the year honors, Charleston Southern also led the Big South’s preseason all-conference team with picks at nine positions, with Hammond named at three spots – running back, and kick and punt returner.
▪ Three Gardner-Webb players were named to the preseason all-conference team: offensive lineman Caleb Smith and linebackers Aaron Cook and Chad Geter. Geter was a first-team all-conference pick at the end of last season, while Cook was named to the second team.
▪ Charleston Southern opens its season with a nationally televised game (on ESPN) against defending FCS national champion North Dakota State on Aug. 27 in Fargo, N.D.
Big South preseason poll
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Charleston Southern (16), 106
2. Liberty (1), 86
3. Kennesaw State (1), 68
4. Monmouth, 47
5. Gardner-Webb, 40
6. Presbyterian, 31