South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough has reason to be excited about his defense this year.
He returns eight starters, including preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selections defensive back Johnnie Williams, defensive lineman Travis Kinloch and linebacker Dreak Pooler. Throw in safeties Joel Taylor, Greg Brown, linebackers Cody Lucas and Shanode Williams - and the momentum of giving up a paltry 19 points a game last season - and Pough could have one of the best defensive units in the conference.
"We're pretty deep on the defensive line and it's always good to return linebackers like Dreak Pooler, Cody Lucas and Shanode Williams," Pough said in a statement from the MEAC Press Luncheon in July.
As good as his defense could be, his offense might be in trouble.
The Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Reese McCampbell to graduation. He had 16 touchdowns last season.
Pough will turn to Brett Young, who missed most of spring practice with a viral infection, to lead his offense. Young does have some options in the huddle.
The team's leading receiver, and All-MEAC preseason choice, Tavarus Morgan and leading rusher Coty Martin return.
Martin, who didn't start until the third game of last season, ran for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns. Morgan caught 70 balls for 807 yards and scored seven times.
"We have a chance to do fairly decent this season," Pough said. "Provided that our offense can get accustomed to what we want ..."
The Bulldogs did catch a break in the scheduling department. South Carolina State is home for conference foes Bethune-Cookman and Hampton and will play pre-season No. 1 North Carolina A&T at a neutral site.
Last year, the Bulldogs were beaten by both Bethune-Cookman and Hampton.
Pough's Bulldogs did wrap up the season with an impressive 49-9 thrashing of MEAC champion North Carolina A&T. The win gave the Bulldogs (8-4, 5-2) a three-way tie for second in the conference.