Coastal opens Big South title defense Saturday vs. VMI

What a difference a year has made for the Coastal Carolina football team.

This time last season the Chanticleers were sitting at 1-4 and fans were starting to openly question the direction of the CCU football program.

Coach David Bennett and his team answered those detractors by winning five of their final six games to capture the all-important Big South Conference title and an FCS playoff berth.

Now the 23rd-ranked Chants find themselves in quite different situation this time around. They are 3-1 entering Big South play Saturday against VMI, but they know how quickly things can turn around, regardless of the direction.

Losing in the conference can keep the Chants home in November no matter what they did in non-conference play. Just as a midseason surge put the Chants in the driver’s seat last year, a midseason skid can leave them on the side of the road this season.

“Every conference game is important, Bennett said. “… We have got to prepare for every game like it’s the most important one on schedule.”

Fortunately for the Chants, they get to open league play at home against a winless VMI team. Noting like a cupcake to open league play? Not the way Bennett sees it.

“Who have they played? (Akron), Richmond and William and Mary is who,” he said. “Last time I checked, Richmond’s like No.  11 and William and Mary’s No. 6. They moved the ball on them.

“(So) they are averaging about 100 yards rushing every game and 200 yards passing every game. They are averaging 300 yards a game against the top in the nation. So, this is probably the best VMI team we’ve ever faced.”

Coastal rolled to a 31-3 victory over VMI last season en route to winning the Big South championship and earning the league’s first automatic bid to the newly expanded FCS playoff bracket.

“You can throw that record out the window. . They have played a tough schedule. VMI competed against William and Mary and they competed against Richmond. They are kind of in the situations we were last year where we had a chance at Richmond and had a chance at Georgia Southern.”

But that season is in the past and the task at hand this year is another conference banner to hang in Brooks Stadium. The Chants’ conference repeat campaign kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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