Prior to the 3-0 start for the The Citadel in 2012, the program's success on the gridiron has been fleeting, to say the least. After all, the Bulldogs have managed just four six-win campaigns and only three winning seasons since their 1992 Southern Conference championship season, which saw the Bulldogs go 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the Southern Conference under the direction of legendary coach Charlie Taaffe.
Since Taaffe was fired after the conclusion of the 1995 season, the Bulldogs haven't really been relevant on the SoCon or FCS gridiron, with only two winning seasons separated by a decade, in 1997 and 2007.
Taaffe and the Bulldogs' wishbone offense became not only known in the SoCon and FCS, but also the national landscape of college football, particularly with their success against FBS competition. The Bulldogs had the great equalizer, running variations of the wishbone and triple option offense under the direction of the genius of Taaffe.
Before coaches like Wofford's Mike Ayers or Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (former Georgia Southern head coach), Taaffe was the authority on running the triple-option attack. Before there was Sept. 1, 2007—a day when another Southern Conference school, Appalachian State, shocked the college football world—there was Sept. 5, 1992.
That was a day that will always be one of the greatest in the history of Citadel football, as the Bulldogs knocked off SEC West member Arkansas, 10-3, in Fayetteville, AK, shocking the college football world. It was a win that Citadel fans can still re-live to this day, and many didn't know if they would ever see another era approach the one Taaffe established during his nine seasons at the helm in Charleston. Taaffe would post a 55-47 record and help the Bulldogs to their second SoCon title and their only three trips to the FCS playoffs in school history.
With the likes of Jack Douglas and Everette Sands toting the ball out of the Bulldogs' backfield, it was The Citadel that could have claimed the distinction of being the best football-playing service academy in the nation in 1992, as the Bulldogs established the best season in school history.
With wins over Arkansas and later Army (15-14) in 1992, the Bulldogs are only one of two teams since Division I was re-classified in 1982 to knock off two Division I or FBS opponents in the same season. A couple of years prior to those upset wins over Army and Arkansas, the Bulldogs knocked off another Division I FBS foe, when they downed South Carolina 38-35 in Columbia.
The Bulldogs head to NC State on Saturday with likely their best team since the one that last went toe-to-toe with college football's big boys and actually forced those FBS foes to play their starters the whole game.
When the Bulldogs take the Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday afternoon to take on Tom O'Brien's NC State Wolfpack, they will take with them the nation's No. 10 ranking in the FCS football, as well as their best start overall (3-0) and in-conference play (2-0) since that historic 1992 campaign.
The Bulldogs, now in their third season in transitioning back to the triple-option, have shown the ability to move the ball at will in the first three games of the season, which include wins over a pair of previously ranked Top 10 teams, in No. 3 Georgia Southern (23-21) and No. 8 Appalachian State (52-28).
The Bulldogs will face a Wolfpack team that will enter the game with a 2-1 record, having claimed victories over both South Alabama (31-7) and Connecticut (10-7), while opening the season with a 35-21 setback to Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
The Citadel is a team that could very well take home a win on Raleigh on Saturday, as the two programs will be facing each other for the first time since 1983—a game that the Bulldogs took handily with a 45-0 victory. The Bulldogs and Wolfpack will be meeting for just the fifth time on Saturday, with NCSU having taken the previous three contests by convincing margins.
There's reason to believe that the 2012 Citadel team—with many of the same players that challenged nationally-ranked South Carolina last season in the regular-season finale before losing 41-20 last November—will give NC State all it can handle and perhaps even hand the Wolfpack a loss on Saturday.
Since re-classification of Division I in 1981, the Wolfpack has faced 29 FCS foes, holding a 26-3 mark against those teams, with all three losses coming from Southern Conference foes and the last coming from the now-defunct East Tennessee State (29-14) in 1987. Furman claimed wins over the Wolfpack in 1984 and 1985, which eventually led to Paladin head coach Dick Sheridan be hired to fix the NC State mess in 1986.
If The Citadel claims a win on Saturday, what happens to Tom O'Brien? Will he be shown the door like Jack Crowe was in 1992 or will Kevin Higgins be the next coach in Raleigh?
To Citadel fans, all those scenarios don't matter right now. All the Bulldogs want to do is keep winning and keep on climbing up in the Sports Network FCS polls. A win this week over the Wolfpack, and the Bulldogs likely ascend into the Top Five, already having climbed 11 spots after Saturday's first win over at Appalachian State since—you guessed it—1992.
For a complete preview of The Citadel/NC State matchup, check back on Thursday for the week four edition of Southern Conference football previews and predictions.