The game has a nickname - the newly minted "Chucktown Throwdown" - and the geographical factors are right. After all, only 14 or so miles of Interstate-26 separate campuses of The Citadel and Charleston Southern. But college football rivalries require more. Some history and a little bad blood are necessary, as well. And as CSU and The Citadel prepare to meet for the fourth time today at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Bucs vs. Bulldogs seems to be making strides toward full-fledged rivalry status, if it's not there already.
"We'd like it to be a rivalry every year between the schools," said Buccaneers coach Jay Mills, who has been on the sideline for two of CSU's three losses to The Citadel. "But we have to perform better for it to be considered that.
"I don't think we are considered that by The Citadel, and rightfully so. We haven't earned that respect yet."
From the Buccaneers' standpoint, the non-conference clash with The Citadel stands with their annual Big South showdown with Coastal Carolina as the two biggest games of the year.
From a Citadel point of view, it's more complicated. The Bulldogs already have Furman and VMI on the list of teams to hate, and there is not much love for Wofford, either. Throw in two games against Division I-A foes, where the Bulldogs must get up to play their best or be embarrassed, and it's difficult to see where Charleston Southern fits in.
At least one former Citadel coach was not eager for CSU to be viewed as a rival.
But second-year coach Kevin Higgins is not in that camp.
"I think the changes we've had from staff to staff to staff, our kids might be trying to figure out, 'Is it Furman, is it VMI, is it Charleston Southern?' " Higgins said. "But from our standpoint, we've talked a lot about Charleston Southern, especially since they were the first game on our schedule last year.
"When we played them in basketball, we made sure our players were there. We make sure they understand what's taking place in the atmosphere around the game. I think our players do look at this game as a rivalry."
The fledgling rivalry was boosted by events over the last year. CSU, blown out in its first two meetings with the Bulldogs, cut the gap to 28-14 a year ago. Then, the Bucs claimed a share of the Big South title, and enter this game with a six-game win streak, third-longest in I-AA. At last season's CSU-Citadel basketball game at McAlister Field House, the teams traded barbs in the stands as the Bucs won the game.
"We remember that," said Citadel defensive end Nick Fender.
Higgins said this year's CSU team is the best in the school's 16-year history. Senior quarterback Collin Drafts and linebacker Jada Ross were the Big South preseason players of the year, and junior receiver Maurice Price led the nation with nine catches per game last year. He had nine catches for 93 yards in last week's 21-13 win over Presbtyerian.
"No question, this is the very best team they've ever had," said Higgins, whose club is coming off a 35-3 loss at Texas A&M.
The Citadel offense showed signs of improvement against theAggies, posting 243 yards and running 71 plays. But Higgins would like to see better accuracy from junior QB Duran Lawson(19 of 38) and fewer dropped passes and penalties.
The game could be decided in the trenches. CSU managed just 38 rushing yards last year, while the Bulldogs ran for 192. Citadel defensive end James Wilson is out three to four weeks with a shoulder injury.
--Today's game marks the debut of Johnson Hagood Stadium's new west-side stands, so school officials ask for patience as fans enter and find their new seats. CSU sold out its allotment of 1,000 tickets, and Citadel officials expectbetween 15,000 and 18,000 for the game. The new scoreboard and videoboard are up and should be operational for the game.