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CHARLESTON – Citadel coach Kevin Higgins felt like his program was ready to break through in the Southern Conference a few years earlier before discovering he had to rebuild and revamp his offense.

This time with the overhaul complete, Higgins believes the Bulldogs are ready to capitalize on last year’s success and return to the top of the league.

“You like to have that kind of pressure,” Higgins said. “We hope we can achieve what we all want.”

Citadel took a big step forward last season in going 7-4, its first winning record since 2007. That was Higgins third season with the Bulldogs and seemed to point toward even bigger things ahead. But after going a combined 8-15 the next two seasons, Higgins scrapped his offense for the triple-option, a style Citadel used to defeat big-time opponents South Carolina and Arkansas and lead the national in rushing at times during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

After two more seasons of adjustments, the Bulldogs offense clicked in 2012 to finish fourth in the nation at more than 300 yards a game. Citadel also knocked off SoCon powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to put itself in the hunt for its first NCAA playoff berth in nearly two decades.

A stretch of four losses in five games, however, took them out of contention. The Bulldogs rebounded to close the year with three straight victories and send them into the offseason with a ton of inspiration for what’s ahead, defensive lineman Derek Douglas said.

Five things to watch as Citadel competes for the SoCon title:

  1. DUPREE IN CONTROL: Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree was the team’s second-leading rusher a season ago and expects to kick things up a notch this year. He says he’s gotten several new offensive wrinkles with shotgun formations. Dupree’s backup, Aaron Miller, is also experienced playing 19 games the past two seasons.
  2. BIG UP FRONT: Offensive line could be Citadel’s strongest position this fall. The group features five, fifth-year seniors who return after leading the Football Championship Subdivision with just 18 sacks allowed.
  3. SEEKING BACKFIELD HELP: An area in need of depth is the backfield. Fullback Darien Robinson returns after rushing for 1,021 yards last season, the Bulldogs first 1,000-yard back in five years. Citadel, though, loses slotbacks Rickey Anderson and VanDyke Jones, who accounted for 13 TDs in 2012.
  4. LOOKING FOR D: The Bulldogs are without all-Southern Conference end Chris Billingslea, who led the team with 6{ sacks and 9{ tackles for loss last year. But Citadel’s secondary was seventh nationally in pass defense and starting cornerbacks Brandon McCladdie and Sadath Jean-Pierre both return.
  5. TOUGH STRETCH: Citadel might know its NCAA fate before its bye week on Oct. 19. The Bulldogs play SoCon powers Wofford, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern before the break. The Mountaineers and Eagles, though, are ineligible for the league title because they’re moving up a subdivision next season.

Predicted finish: Sixth in nine-team SoCon

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