(Sports Network) - The talk of the Southern Conference's offseason has been about the impending departures of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, and to a lesser extent Elon, next season.
Many are saying the Wofford Terriers will be the top dog until further notice.
Perhaps the Samford Bulldogs have the star power to provide such notice.
Chattanooga, well, there's always a lot of talk with the Mocs. Clearly, it's time for them to back it up.
Meanwhile, tucked away in quaint Charleston, S.C., with little fanfare is The Citadel. These Bulldogs will show only so much southern hospitality to visitors.
Considering they swept both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season, it's time to include them in the conversation about a potential SoCon champion.
Still, The Citadel was picked only sixth on Wednesday in the conference's two preseason polls (coaches and media). Georgia Southern, like Appalachian State, ineligible for the conference title and its automatic FCS playoff bid, was picked first in both polls.
"Everyone is talking about what the loss of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will do to the league, but I feel like it gives several teams an opportunity to move up to that next level," said The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose team's 7-4 overall and 4-3 SoCon records last year tied for the best marks in his first eight seasons in Charleston, S.C.
"Obviously, Wofford is the team that has been there in the past and will continue to be at the top of the league, but teams like Samford and Chattanooga will now have the opportunity to take their programs to another level. Everyone in the league is thinking the same thing about how this is a great time to make a move and establish themselves as a top-three-type of team."
The Citadel always presents a problem for opponents with its triple option, ranking fourth in the FCS with nearly 301 rushing yards per game last season. The Bulldogs are well-stocked this year with quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller and 1,000-yard fullback Darrien Robinson returning behind a veteran offensive line.
The defense, which returns nine starters, also has returning standouts in defensive tackle Derek Douglas, linebacker and leading tackler Carson Smith, and cornerback Brandon McCladdie.
"On defense we have to replace a three-year starter in Chris Billingslea (defensive end), who was a very productive player for us, and his leadership was outstanding," Higgins said. "He was a presence at the line of scrimmage. Also, Austin and Davis Boyle in the secondary really did a nice job and had several turnovers between the two of them, and their leadership back there will be missed.
"From a special team's standpoint, Cass Couey was a four-year starting punter and we haven't settled on our new starting punter yet, but camp will be important for that.
"On the offensive side, Rickey Anderson (running back) was a great leader for us and will be missed along with our All-American center, Mike Sellers."
"On offense, we will continue with the triple option and continue to look to expand that package. And one of our goals on defense will be to do a better job stopping the run."
ASU and GSU are ineligible for the SoCon championship because they will go over the 63-scholarship limit while transitioning toward the FBS level next year. Elon, headed to the Colonial Athletic Association, remains eligible for the title.
The title race would be turned upside if The Citadel can upset perennial power Wofford at home on Sept. 7.
No matter what happens that day, the SoCon race will have a different feel this season.
"If you just look at the conference overall," Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said, "I think our conference has gotten so much better in the last few years. If you just look, I think the middle of our conference has turned pretty good.
"I think the bottom, which we were when we first got here, to the middle part has made this conference a better conference."