Weekend Preview: Buccaneers make the trek to Mississippi State to open 2017 season

Weekend Preview: Buccaneers make the trek to Mississippi State to open 2017 season

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Another football season has arrived as the Charleston Southern football team travels to Starkville, Miss. for a Saturday showdown against Mississippi State.

"It's fun to think about," Head Coach Mark Tucker said about the season kicking off. "We're going to a great college venue with a lot of excitement in the seats. It's a SEC environment and I've heard those cowbells before. It was loud pretty loud when I went there last in 1998, so we're preparing and we'll see how we function. It's going to be a lot of fun."

The Buccaneers-Bulldogs kickoff the 2017 season at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.

The Charleston Southern Sports Network will also carry the game live via Stretch Internet with the link available HERE.

The Buccaneers are 8-18 all-time in season openers dating back to the program's inception in 1991. During the span, CSU has struggled on the road with a 2-16 record away from Buccaneer Field for the opening game of the season. The Bucs' first road opening win came in the 2006 season with a 21-13 victory over Presbyterian. Under former head coach Jamey Chadwell, the Bucs opened the 2013 season with a 32-29 road win over The Citadel. CSU is 0-3 against FBS competition in road openers falling at Miami (Fla.) (52-8, 2008), Florida (62-3, 2009), and UCF (62-0, 2011). Last season the Bucs had their season-opening win streak end at three following their 24-17 overtime loss at North Dakota State.

CSU first took on a SEC opponent in the 2009 season when the Buccaneers dropped a 59-0 decision to Florida at the Swamp on September 5. Since then, CSU has traveled to Kentucky (2010), Vanderbilt (2014), and Georgia (2014), before traveling to Alabama (2015) in their most recent matchup. The Bucs fell to the Crimson Tide, 56-6, in CSU's regular season finale. Saturday's matchup against the Bulldogs will be the first time CSU takes on a SEC opponent in the season opener.

Charleston Southern is still seeking its first win against a full FBS opponent, having beaten both Appalachian State (2013) and Coastal Carolina (2016) during their transitional years from FCS to FBS. The Bucs are 0-18 all-time against FBS opponents since CSU first lined up against South Florida back in the 2002 season. The Bucs will face another program making the transition to FBS this season as Liberty enters its final season as FCS members. The Flames will be making the transition to FBS as an independent member in the 2018 season.

Charleston Southern entered 2016 as a heavy Big South Conference favorite. The Bucs ended it as champion, overcoming a good deal of adversity along the way to validate the program as the league's best and a national contender. CSU was at its best when it mattered most. With its playoff fate hanging in the balance following a disappointing home loss to Gardner-Webb, the Bucs thumped Liberty and Kennesaw State by a combined 76-33 score to secure the title and a second consecutive berth in the FCS Playoffs. CSU dropped a 15-14 heartbreaker to Wofford in the first round, but not before it spent nine more weeks in the top-ten and added several memorable moments to a sterling four-year run under former head coach Jamey Chadwell.

Mark Tucker makes his head coaching debut on the sidelines this weekend after taking over the program as the fourth coach in program history in January. Tucker's wealth of experience and depth of knowledge have been instrumental in CSU's growth over the past four seasons. Serving as the CSU quarterbacks coach, Tucker's QBs have been instrumental in ranking among the nation's elite in rushing offense each of the last four years. He has developed consistent quarterback play with Shane Bucenell, Austin Brown, Kyle Copeland, Malcolm Dixon, and Danny Croghan all making significant impacts.

Including special teams, Charleston Southern returns 16 starters from last year's squad (six on offense, eight on defense). Four of the returning offensive starters are on the offensive line, while the defense returns the entire front seven, including Preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Ellis. On special teams, the Buccaneers return two starters – placekicker Tyler Tekac and kickoff starter/holder David Kennedy.

Quarterback Shane Bucenell will guide the Buccaneer offense after securing the starting job last season. The 5-11 redshirt sophomore threw for 1,100 yards and led the Big South with 15 passing touchdowns, despite playing in only nine games for the Bucs. Bucenell was a two-time Big South Freshman of the Week honoree and led the conference in total offensive yards per play with 7.1.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kameron Brown looks to reprise his role as the Buccaneers' primary downfield target in 2017 after a season leading the Big South and finishing fifth in the NCAA in yards per catch (20.0 ypc). Brown broke out in the season opener with a three-catch, 58-yard game against North Dakota State, and added a 57-yard catch and score against Florida State two weeks later.

A pair of redshirt sophomores will look to carry a CSU rushing attack that has finished among the nation's best in each of the past two seasons. Chanin Hamilton, Ronnie Harris, and company will look to replicate the success that saw Mike Holloway, Darius Hammond, and Ben Robinson combine for nearly 6,000 rushing yards and 62 touchdowns over the last four years.

Defensive end Anthony Ellis returns as CSU's anchor on the defensive line after leading the Big South in both sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (16.5). Ellis is a two-time Preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year and headlines a talented Buccaneer defense that finished first in the conference in total defense in each of the past three seasons.

Redshirt junior linebacker Solomon Brown also returns after leading the Buccaneers in tackles (70) while finishing second in the conference in tackles for loss (14.5). Lining up in the BUC position this season, the defensive end/linebacker hybrid shined brightest against the toughest competition last year with nine tackles, 3.0 TFL, a sack, and a pass breakup against Florida State.

Junior defensive back Shadarius Hopkins leads a new secondary this season as the Winnsboro, S.C. native returns as the lone starter from the 2016 season. Hopkins finished fourth in the Big South with 12 passes defended, including two interceptions that came in key games against Liberty and Kennesaw State.

Tyler Tekac reprises his role as the Buccaneers' place kicker in the 2017 season after converting 4-of-6 field goal attempts and 43-of-45 PATs in the 2016 season. The Goose Creek, S.C. native finished the season strong converting on his last 16 attempts to close out the year.

A new punter will take over duties for CSU in 2017 as Kyle Reighard takes over the reins from graduated senior Truett Burns. Reighard impressed the Buccaneers' coaching staff over the spring and fall as CSU will look to employ a traditional look to their punt game this year.

Gone is return ace Darius Hammond, but the Bucs' return game is in good hands with juniors Jonathan Slaton and James Allen ready for their turn. Slaton ran a 10.7 in the 100m dash as a high school senior and brings toughness to the position, while Allen averaged 23.1 yards per return as the primary returner for UMass last season.

Charleston Southern will spend the first three weeks of the season on the road as the Buccaneers travel to Mississippi State, S.C. State, and Elon, before making their home debut on September 23 against Point University. It's the third time in program history the Bucs have been away from home for the first three games of the season and first since CSU did it in 2011. The Bucs fell in all three contests that year, dropping decisions to UCF, Florida State, and Jacksonville. CSU also dropped all three games in 2008 with losses at Miami (Fla.), Wofford, and Miami (Ohio).

Defensive end Anthony Ellis, linebackers Zane Cruz and Bobby Ruff, and offensive lineman Jackson Williamson were named as 2017 team captains by head coach Mark Tucker prior to the start of the season. All four players are seniors and have been influential in the Bucs' development into FCS contenders over the past five seasons.

For more information on the CSU football program, follow the Buccaneers on Twitter at "@CSUSports", "@CSUGameDay", and "@CSUFB".

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