Game review, 2014: Coastal Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery from The Post and Courier

Game story, The Sun-News

WCSC-TV report

School release

Box score

Just a few thoughts, notes, etc. on the game:

- I wasn’t particularly shocked by most of what I saw during last night’s contest. Coastal Carolina moved the ball on offense, but the Dogs’ D held its own at times. On the other side of the ball, The Citadel showed flashes of a good triple option team, but couldn’t recover from a few costly mistakes.

Defensively, the Bulldogs did not get enough sustained pressure on the quarterback (one sack), which is one reason why there were only two passes defensed (out of 32 CCU attempts). In addition, The Citadel didn’t force a turnover and allowed the Chanticleers to convert eight out of thirteen third down plays.

The Bulldogs’ offense needed to be better on third down (5-13) and fourth down (1-3). One way to improve those numbers would be to not commit drive-killing personal foul penalties. I’m not worried about that happening again after watching video of Mike Houston being interviewed. Let’s just say his jaw was set.

The one thing that did surprise me was the disappointing performance of The Citadel’s special teams. There was a bad snap, a missed PAT, and an inability to catch the ball on kickoffs. All that’s got to get fixed, and ASAP.

- The Citadel fumbled eight times but lost none. That is…a statistical outlier.

- My favorite play call of the night came early in the fourth quarter. On 4th-and-14 from the CCU 36, The Citadel ran the option. Jake Stenson picked up 13 yards.

That was one yard short of the first down, but it was a marker for Brent Thompson and his approach on offense. There aren’t going to be “standard downs” and “passing downs” with this team. There are just going to be downs.

The play call itself reminded me vaguely of the way Charlie Taaffe did things when he was running the wishbone at The Citadel, and that is very much meant as a compliment. Taaffe was (and still is) a very good play-caller.

Off-the-field stuff:

- Almost very alum in attendance was happy to see the corps of cadets back on the home side. Several of them also observed that the corps appeared to be larger than last year, and appropriately so (the absence of a significant percentage of cadets in the stands had been a point of contention in the recent past).

- One issue with having a full complement of cadets in attendance was that when the game started, a lot of them were still waiting to get to their seats. I think it might be a good idea to begin the marchover about ten minutes earlier, to alleviate that problem. That might also have the added benefit of getting more people (i.e. parents and friends of cadets) into the stadium prior to kickoff.

- There appeared to be an attempt to “dial down” the videoboard excesses of the last few years. I suspect this was welcomed by everyone in Johnson Hagood Stadium. It really helped the ambiance and atmosphere, in my opinion.

- Now the next step is to unshackle the regimental band, which again appeared restricted as to when it was allowed to play. There was no music to be heard from that group throughout the first quarter.

The band played at the end of the first quarter and midway through the second (the grating-but-by-now-inevitable “Hey Baby”). That was it for the entire first half, unless I missed something.

- I was caught a little off-guard when the attendance (10,828) was announced. There were more people at the game than that (possibly around 13-14K), but it may be that one-quarter of the crowd was there via free admission and weren’t counted in the official total.

- The return of the cheerleaders was greatly appreciated.

- Also appreciated: Spike The Bulldog, working the tailgates and the stadium like a champ.

- This was the first home game of the season, so it is understandable if there were some minor problems and organizational challenges. There is plenty of time to work out the kinks, given the next home game isn’t until September 27.

On a personal note, I was very happy to be at the game; that had been a goal of mine since early June. I was also pleased by the way the team played, if not the result.

Next week’s opponent, Florida State, clearly was looking ahead to the game against the Bulldogs. That can be the only reason the Seminoles beat Oklahoma State by just six points.

I’ll have a preview of the game in Tallahassee later in the week. It’s not going to be nearly as long as the one for CCU (to everyone’s relief).

There really is only so much you can say about that game, to be honest. Just for kicks, though, I’m going to throw something in for the Gold Corps. Be forewarned.

As is traditional, my game review concludes with some pictures, none of which will be winning this year’s Pulitzer. I’m not a good photographer, and I don’t have a great camera. I just click and hope.

In this set, there aren’t the usual shots of the cadets lined up on the field (because I was late getting into the stadium), and the “action” shots only lasted until around the midway point of the third quarter (due to operator error).

 

 

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2014 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina

Football.

Football!

FOOTBALL!

FOOTBALL!

The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, August 30. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the newly minted “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Florence/Darlington: WJMX 1400AM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY1240AM/105.9FM

From two weeks ago: my sort-of-preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel. There are numbers in it.

Links of interest:

- Season preview from The Post and Courier

- The Sports Network SoCon preview

- Game notes from The Citadel and Coastal Carolina

- SoCon weekly release

- SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls

- Big South weekly release

- Big South preseason poll

- FCS Coaches poll

- Phil Kornblut (SportsTalk) interviews Mike Houston, along with Aaron Miller and Justin Oxendine

Coastal Carolina institutional quick facts:

The school opened in 1954 as Coastal Carolina Junior College, an extension of the College of Charleston. Soon afterwards CofC got out of the extensions business, however, and Coastal briefly operated as an independent JC.

In the early 1960s, Coastal Carolina was converted into a regional campus of the University of South Carolina. Coastal began offering four-year degrees in 1974, and the school became autonomous in 1993.

Enrollment has more than doubled in the last two decades. As of fall 2013, there were 9,478 students at Coastal Carolina.

Coastal Carolina first fielded a football team in 2003, hiring David Bennett to start the program. Bennett had been a successful head coach at Catawba, and he guided the Chanticleers to a winning record (6-5) in that first season. The following year, CCU went 10-1 and won the Big South Conference (which at the time had five football members).

Bennett won nine games at Coastal Carolina in each of the next two seasons, but then alternated five- and six-win campaigns in the next four years.

In 2011, his ninth season at the helm, CCU finished 7-4. That year, Bennett also became an internet sensation after making anti-feline comments at a press conference.

It would be Bennett’s last season as head coach of the Chanticleers. He was fired December 9, 2011:

[Bennett] was coming off a recruiting trip that took up most of his week. It goes without saying that Bennett had absolutely no idea what was about to happen later in the day. Bennett was supposed to attend the Mr. Football awards ceremony, but never got there as he was summoned to a meeting with Dr. David DeCenzo and Hunter Yurachek where he was relieved of his head coaching duties…

…CCU President Dr. David DeCenzo focused on dollars and cents and poor attendance as reasons for a change.

“Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships. That is simply not happening. In addition, when you look at our record over the past five years, we have beaten only 3 teams that had winning records. Our attendance at games has fallen sharply; we sell about 50 percent of our available tickets. It is imperative that we find a way to create excitement around our program, attract more fans to Brooks Stadium, and increase our revenues to offset our expenditures.”

…Names will get thrown around during Hunter Yurachek’s search for the next Coastal football coach. Sources [say] that one name that will be a target for the next CCU coach is Gamecocks assistant coach Steve Spurrier, Junior.

Well, I guess some sources are better than others. As a matter of fact, Coastal Carolina’s next head football coach had met with the school president (and was apparently offered the job) before Bennett was actually fired:

The university president, having generated his own ideas about what makes a successful coach, and having read media reports about a retired chief executive officer turned United Football League coach named Joe Moglia, and having heard that Moglia recently moved into his community — a prosperous subdivision of Pawleys Island known as Prince George — sent Moglia an e-mail.

“Hello from a Neighbor in Prince George,” the university president wrote in the subject line.

Two weeks later, the university president and the multimillionaire met for breakfast at a restaurant called the Eggs Up Grill. Afterward, the university president seemed convinced he had found his man. Three weeks later, the school held a press conference at which it announced the firing of David Bennett, who had gone 63-39 in nine seasons at Coastal Carolina University.

Not surprisingly, the coaching change (and the circumstances surrounding it) did not go over well in some quarters.

Joe Moglia’s story is now fairly well known (and has already resulted in at least one biography), but just a quick recap:

  • Grew up in New York, went to Fordham
  • After graduating from Fordham, spent eight years coaching high school football in Pennsylvania and Delaware
  • Was then a college coach for six years at Lafayette and Dartmouth (defensive coordinator when the Big Green won two Ivy League titles)
  • Left coaching for the financial world; worked at Merrill Lynch for 17 years, rising through the ranks (became head of municipal lending)
  • CEO at TD Ameritrade from 2001-2008
  • Unpaid assistant/”advisor” at Nebraska for two years, basically shadowing Bo Pelini
  • Head coach of the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks for one season
  • Named head coach of Coastal Carolina in December 2011; 20-8 record in two years (winning the Big South both seasons)
  • May or may not be a billionaire (sources vary), but at any rate he can afford to pick up the check

Moglia’s transition from coaching to finance to coaching again has fascinated a lot of people in the national sports media, and as a result he has been the subject of a number of profiles. USA Today‘s Dan Wolken seems particularly enamored with the coach’s background, but Moglia has also come to the attention of ESPN and Sports Illustrated (among many other outlets).

While part of Moglia’s job description is to sell people on the promise of Coastal Carolina, sometimes it appears that the relationship is the other way around — that Coastal Carolina is selling people on the promise of Moglia. It’s very much a two-way street.

Incidentally, Moglia is not just the head football coach at Coastal Carolina. His official title is Head Football Coach/Executive Director of Football. He is also the Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division. I am not quite sure what being Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division entails, but I assume it doesn’t affect his current status as Chairman of the Board for TD Ameritrade.

At the Big South’s Media Day, Moglia was asked by interviewer Mike Hogewood why Coastal Carolina has been so successful over the last two seasons. Moglia started his response by saying:

“I think it really begins with a philosophy. There are a lot of teams that have a lot of rules. We actually don’t have any rules in our program. We have a mission, to put a team on the field that Coastal is really proud of…”

Moglia went on to explain his “Be A Man” mantra. It’s not that he doesn’t have any rules; he has “a standard”. It’s really just semantics. Still, he might be better served not to begin answering a question by saying his program doesn’t have any rules.

Moglia did something interesting during Coastal Carolina’s spring practice this year:

[Moglia] outlawed tackling during practice.

“We want to have a culture of being physically and mentally tough,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “Trying to establish that while not being as physical is something I had to learn.”

For a football lifer like Patenaude, the plan undercut the very foundation of his coaching philosophy, but Moglia sees tradition as an inefficiency in the marketplace. Learning is like investing, he believes. Information compounds the same as interest, growing geometrically rather than linearly, but injuries derail the system. This spring, injuries were the enemy, so Coastal’s players endured just 65 minutes of tackling — 15 in the first scrimmage, 20 in the second and half of the spring game.

Now, Moglia is wrapping up the spring by distributing the results of this madness, typed, printed and passed among the room full of once dubious coaches. The team ran 400 more snaps this spring than last. Injuries in the spring game were cut in half. Practices missed due to injury declined by 250 percent.

I think this is a good idea. It reminds me a little bit of the approach taken by legendary Division III coach John Gagliardi.

Having said that, the author of the article tried a little too hard for a tie-in with Moglia’s business career. “Inefficiency in the marketplace”, “Learning is like investing”, “Information compounds the same as interest”, etc.

Also, I’m going to assume that Moglia, who holds a B.A. in Economics from Fordham and an M.S. in Education from Delaware, and who was the CEO of a major online brokerage for seven years, did not tell the writer that practices missed due to injury “declined by 250 percent”.

Per Coastal Carolina beat writer Ryan Young, the limited-contact philosophy has carried over to fall practice, with CCU having had “a couple of hard-hitting days, but most aren’t intense contact.” I greatly appreciate Young responding to my question on the subject.

Coastal Carolina played South Carolina last season and lost 70-10, with the Conway school paid $375,000 for the game. CCU doesn’t face an FBS opponent this season, and won’t face one in any other season if Joe Moglia has anything to say about it:

I don’t understand, someone has to do a better job of explaining to me the advantage of playing FBS opponents. No. 1, they don’t pay you enough. Now, the FCS hasn’t figured that out yet, but they don’t pay the FCS enough. They’re playing a guaranteed game and they have 80,000 people in their seats – they probably make $4 million that day, so they don’t pay you enough.

No. 2, what happens if early in the season you have a shot at having a pretty good season, and just because of the physical differences you end up losing two or three of your best guys [to injury against an FBS team]? You lose your season. That’s an incredible cost.

I would rather see schools go out and do a better job of raising the money, or commanding a far greater premium from the FBS schools. I don’t see what the advantage is. I don’t see any advantage…

…I might help raise the money – and I’m not going to be a fundraiser – but if there are people out there that I think might be able to help us, I’m willing to make those phone calls because I recognize I’m the one who says I’m not crazy about the [FBS games]. But I’m not funding the [money]. And that’s accurate.

CCU dropped scheduled games against Clemson, Kent State, and Georgia Southern. Not many schools would be willing to go along with such a request by a coach, but then not many schools have a coach with the ability to facilitate a $5 million gift from a major bank (a bank that may or may not be affiliated with the company for which said coach is Chairman of the Board).

Let me again quote Coastal Carolina president Dr. David DeCenzo, at the press conference announcing the firing of David Bennett:

Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships.

Indeed, Coastal Carolina has spent a great deal of money on its football program in recent years. A look at the Knight Commission’s spending database is instructive.

From 2006 through 2012, CCU increased its football spending on a per-player basis by 190%, to $60,557. The national FCS median increase was 45% ($31,213). The Citadel’s spending per player over the same time frame increased 4%, to a number ($31,640) very close to the national median.

Coastal Carolina’s per-player spending without including scholarship expenses increased 244% over the 2006-12 time period, to $42,332. The national median in this category in 2012 was $17,499 (a 36% increase). The Citadel’s spending without including scholarship expenses from 2006-12 actually declined 3%, to $15,262.

With that kind of monetary commitment, it’s fair to ask what the future holds for Coastal Carolina’s football program, and for its department of athletics in general. In May of 2012, the school’s Board of Trustees gave DeCenzo the authority to “take all actions necessary” regarding a potential conference switch.

The Board of Trustees asked DeCenzo in February to look into whether a potential move to another conference would make sense for the university. He said exploratory talks were held with the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association.

“Those two seem to be potentially good fits for us,” DeCenzo said.

The school president seemed confident CCU could find a new home with relative ease.

If Coastal Carolina ends up leaving the league, there must be a conference who wants them. And President Dr. David DeCenzo does not think that will be a problem—at least facility-wise. “With the opening of the recreation, convocation center and what we are doing with the baseball and softball facilities, I think that makes us very attractive.”

The motion by the Board of Trustees was passed more than two years ago, but Coastal Carolina remains in the Big South. Conference realignment issues certainly affected both the CAA and SoCon (a combined total of nine schools departed from those leagues over the last two years), but despite all that movement, CCU didn’t land in either conference.

The “exploratory talks” with the SoCon and CAA referenced in the first article were presumably held between February and May of 2012. Based on those talks, DeCenzo and the Board of Trustees were obviously secure in going public with the motion.

Here is what I find interesting about that. Shadesof48, a blog devoted to William & Mary athletics, filed a Freedom of Information request to W&M for any information pertaining to conference realignment, including anything related to the CAA or the SoCon. The blog received emails from June of 2012 to April of 2013, mostly having to do with the CAA.

When I was going through the information for my own blog post on the subject, one of the biggest surprises (at least to me) was that Coastal Carolina was not mentioned in any of the emails. There wasn’t even a reference to the school approaching the CAA during that time period.

Among the schools that appear in the correspondence: Hampton, Fairfield, Appalachian State, UNC-Greensboro, Boston University, Davidson, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth, and Furman.

Elon, College of Charleston, Albany, and Stony Brook are all in the emails too — but not Coastal Carolina.

So sometime between February and May of 2012, Coastal Carolina held exploratory talks with the CAA. Beginning in June of that year and lasting at least through April 2013, though…nothing.

As for why Coastal Carolina wasn’t offered an invite to the SoCon last year, there are multiple reasons. Here are some of them:

1) Location, location, location

Some people think location is an advantage for CCU, but in terms of getting in the SoCon, it’s actually a problem.

The league already has three football-playing members in the state of South Carolina. While the conference is in essence a “bus league”, having four football schools in one small state would probably be one school too many.

CCU becoming a SoCon member wouldn’t provide any real benefit to Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel. It doesn’t do those schools any good to add another instate institution with significant differences in mission and resources.

One current advantage those three schools do have over Coastal Carolina: league affiliation. Why give that advantage up?

2) CCU’s long-term game plan

While it may not be fair, the reality is more than a few SoCon observers look at Coastal Carolina and think “Marshall II”, only with a billionaire football coach instead of George Chaump/Jim Donnan.

Coastal Carolina may not have hired Joe Moglia because it has the FBS in its sights. However, that is the perception in certain circles.

In the ESPN article I linked earlier in this post, Moglia was reported to have said that CCU had only achieved 75% of his vision. Not everyone is sure what the remaining 25% of his vision would be.

3) The SoCon membership dynamic

While the league has a few medium-sized public institutions and recently added another (East Tennessee State), those schools aren’t dramatically increasing in size. I think at this time the SoCon is content with a membership consisting of smaller private/public schools.

Hey, let’s talk about action on the field!

First, a comparison of the two teams in select statistical categories from 2013. The Citadel’s statistics are for conference games only (eight contests).

For Coastal Carolina, I debated what would work best in terms of illustrating team tendencies/strengths/weaknesses. I decided not to include the two games in which the Chanticleers were completely outclassed (South Carolina and North Dakota State). I also threw out CCU’s game against VMI, because quarterback Alex Ross did not play in that contest (not that it mattered much).

In other words, Coastal Carolina’s statistics below are for the 12 games started by Alex Ross in which the Chanticleers were competitive, which I think is a fair way to look at CCU’s 2013 season.

 

CCU The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 8.82 6.40
Offense yards/rush attempt 5.87 5.13
Offense yards per play 6.92 5.41
Offense points per game 43.75 24.25
Penalties per game 6.3 2.4
Penalty yardage/game 52.2 20.5
Offense 3rd down conversion % 55.7 38.2
Offense 4th down conversion % 100.0 59.1
Offense Red Zone TD% 80.0 50.0
Offense pass completion % 65.6 52.1
Defense yards/pass attempt 7.09 7.20
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.52 4.39
Defense yards allowed per play 5.64 5.47
Defense points allowed/game 26.0 23.25
Defense 3rd down conversion % 43.1 45.0
Defense 4th down conversion % 48.3 33.3
Defense Red Zone TD% 60.8 65.6
Time of possession 28:08 33:05

[CCU offensive coordinator Dave] Patenaude said he wanted his quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of their passes. “The tempo’s going to be dictated by you,” he said. “This is a quarterback-driven system.”

Patenaude would have been pleased with last year’s completion percentage, as the above table shows. Actually, a 60% completion rate appears to be good enough to make his system work.

Last season, Chanticleer quarterbacks completed over 60% of their passes in ten of Coastal Carolina’s fifteen games. CCU won all ten of those contests. In the five games where the completion percentage dipped below 60%, the Chanticleers were 2-3.

The tempo mentioned by Patenaude could be fast-moving at times. While Coastal Carolina averaged just a few more offensive plays per game last year than did The Citadel (70.3 for CCU, 65.2 for the Bulldogs), keep in mind that the Chanticleers’ time of possession was a lot less.

Coastal Carolina averaged 2.57 offensive plays per minute last season, significantly higher than The Citadel (2.03 per minute) or, for that matter, Mike Houston’s Lenoir-Rhyne squad (2.13).

In 2013, Alex Ross cemented his status as one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS division. For the season, Ross passed for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns (against only nine interceptions), and added 540 yards and six TDs on the ground.

At Montana in the FCS playoffs, Ross was 16-21 for 202 yards through the air, and picked up an additional 123 rushing yards, as the Chanticleers beat the Grizzlies 42-35 in a “statement” win for the program.

His list of preseason accolades is long and Ross is considered a serious candidate for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top player in FCS. He isn’t a big QB (6’1″, 205 lbs.), but he has a habit of making big plays.

Ross will have to work with a largely different cast of skill-position players on CCU’s offense. The Chanticleers are replacing a host of wide receivers and All-American running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (who rushed for 1,729 yards last season).

The new starting running back for Coastal Carolina will be Summerville High School alum De’Angelo Henderson, who rushed for 599 yards last season in a backup role (averaging 7.3 yards per carry) and who may be “the most exciting player on the field this season“. In 2010, Henderson was a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award along with (among others) Jadeveon Clowney, Everett Golson, Justin Worley, Brandon Shell, and current teammate Quinn Backus.

While the wide receiving corps will feature four players with experience, Coastal Carolina lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013, a trio that combined for 145 receptions and 18 touchdowns. The returning wideouts expected to fill the depth chart caught a total of 62 passes last season, seven for TDs.

CCU has a lot of depth at tight end, with four players who could be part of the rotation this season, including Thomas Pauciello (three TD catches last year).

The offensive line must replace two quality linemen, including left guard Jamey Cheatwood, a four-year starter and two-time All-Big South performer. Last year’s right guard, Mo Ashley, will move over to take Cheatwood’s spot on the left side, which leaves two new starters at guard and tackle on the right side.

One of the players expected to compete for a starting role, Georgia Tech transfer Morgan Bailey, is injured and not expected to play against The Citadel. It could be argued that the right side of the OL is Coastal Carolina’s only real point of concern entering the season.

Coastal Carolina’s defense is looking to improve on last year’s campaign. The unit took its lumps at times, particularly against the run. While tough games against South Carolina and North Dakota State could be excused, allowing 323 rushing yards to Charleston Southern was a different matter.

In that game, CSU controlled possession for over 40 minutes, including the final six minutes of the contest, holding off a CCU rally after the Chanticleers spotted the Buccaneers a 25-point lead.

There were other difficult moments for the CCU defense, including allowing Liberty to run up over 600 yards of total offense and 52 points (albeit in a double-OT game that Coastal Carolina eventually won). However, it was the game against Charleston Southern that may be of the most interest to The Citadel’s coaching staff, at least in terms of approach.

This year, Coastal Carolina has made some adjustments, according to linebacker Quinn Backus:

Some of the difficult concepts that we had in the past, they’re kind of simplified now. Or the concepts that were more difficult in the past, we got rid of them and [the coaches] kind of put the plays to our strengths. Checks that used to be like three calls, it’s like one simple call now. And little things like that [so] we can [play] rapidly and be able to play faster.

Backus himself doesn’t really need to make any adjustments. The native of Greenwood is the reigning two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year and a legitimate contender for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top defender in FCS. Backus enters the 2014 season as the division’s active leader in tackles (314).

Other standout players on the Chanticleers’ D include safety Richie Sampson (who is currently battling an injury), cornerback Denzel Rice, and defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst.

Hollenhorst will be joined on the defensive line by Leroy Cummings, a transfer from Savannah State who has been “one of the most talked about players in preseason camp“.

Cummings is one of several transfers expected to see action for the CCU defense. Other newcomers who should be on the CCU depth chart include fellow DT Jabarai Bothwell (a transfer from Western Michigan) and defensive back Kyle Fleetwood (who was at South Carolina last year). Of the nineteen players on the Chanticleers’ roster who began their careers at junior colleges or other four-year schools, eleven are defenders.

Just a formation note: CCU tends to play two linebackers and three safeties, although that could change against The Citadel’s triple option. Then again, it may not.

Alex Catron was 10-13 on field goal attempts last season for the Chanticleers. He was the all-Big South placekicker. Catron made three field goals of 46 yards or longer last year, all on the road (including a 50-yarder against Charleston Southern).

CCU also returns its punter from last season, Austin Cain. He averaged just over 38 yards per punt in 2013, with 16 of his 56 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Cain is a good athlete capable of overcoming a botched snap (which he did against Hampton, running for a 25-yard gain) and executing a fake (a 25-yard shovel pass for a first down versus Liberty).

Devin Brown, one of Coastal Carolina’s wide receivers, is also a dangerous kick returner. He had a 95-yard kickoff return TD against VMI last year.

The Chanticleers were 16th nationally in kick return defense in 2013, allowing an average of 17.3 yards per return. CCU also finished in the top 20 in average punt return yardage allowed.

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier has produced an excellent series of articles on each of The Citadel’s position groups. I see no reason to regurgitate similar information for this post; rather, I would encourage anyone interested to read Hartsell’s breakdowns of the quarterbacksfullbacks, slotbacks, offensive line (both stories), receivers, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, and kicking game.

Earlier in the post I linked my preview of The Citadel’s upcoming season. It focuses more on tendencies than specific players, and also delves a little into ball-possession/pace-of-play issues. Related to that, Mike Houston mentioned “tempo” as a key in the P+C preview, and there is also an interesting discussion along those lines late in Phil Kornblut’s interview of the coach.

Odds and ends:

- Coastal Carolina’s teams are known as the Chanticleers. The school wants to make sure everyone knows how to pronounce “Chanticleer”, so much so that a pronunciation explanation for the nickname is listed on two of the first three pages of the CCU football media guide.

The proper pronunciation is SHON-ti-clear. You may also hear Coastal’s athletic teams referred to as Chants (SHONTS) to shorten the Chanticleer nickname.

- Next season, Coastal Carolina’s football facility (Brooks Stadium) will have an artificial turf field — and the turf will be colored teal. Yes, a teal turf.

“It only made sense to be the first school in the country with a teal field,” [interim AD Matt] Hogue said.

Okay, then.

- In the Grantland article I linked earlier that profiled Joe Moglia, writer Michael Weinreb made a reference (in a footnote) to “Coastal Jersey”. That’s because, while 54% of CCU’s enrollment consists of South Carolina residents, the state with the next-highest number of students at the school is New Jersey (7% of the total enrollment).

There are almost three times as many CCU students from New Jersey as there are from neighboring North Carolina. There are also more than twice as many students at the school from both New York and Maryland than North Carolina.

Based on the CCU media guide’s numerical roster, 68% of Coastal Carolina’s football players are from out of state. Almost one-quarter of the Chanticleers are from the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts).

At The Citadel, 51% of the corps of cadets is from South Carolina (as of 2013), while 48% of the Bulldogs on the current football team are from the Palmetto State.

- Coastal Carolina’s interim director of athletics, Matt Hogue, was formerly the Chanticleers’ radio play-by-play announcer. This year, Joe Cashion (previously the sideline reporter) will call football games for CCU.

Cashion is a public affairs officer for the South Carolina Air and National Guard. He missed most of the 2010 football season while deployed in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Cashion wrote a preview of the upcoming CCU season for the Palmetto & Pine Sports Network.

- For a CCU preview from the perspective of a conference opponent, I recommend Liberty beat writer Chris Lang’s look at the Chanticleers: Link

- After last year’s “Unigate” situation, with The Citadel’s players forced to change jerseys after warmups for the Furman game, the last thing the military college needed was another uniform to be deemed illegal. Fortunately, that didn’t happen:

The Citadel’s plan to include the words “Honor, Duty, Respect” – the motto of the military school – on the back of football jerseys this season meets NCAA rules, school and Southern Conference officials said Wednesday…

…In the NCAA rulebook, Rule 1-4-5 says that other than the player’s number, the jersey may contain only the player’s name, school name, NCAA logo, sleeve stripes, the American and/or state flag and a logo for the school, conference, mascot, postseason game, memorial or the military.

The rule also states: “By interpretation, only military service academies may substitute words such as Honor, Integrity, etc., for the player’s name on the back of the jersey … civilian institutions may not substitute other words for the player’s name.”

For purposes of this rule, The Citadel is considered a military service academy, said Jack Childress, coordinator of officials for the Southern Conference.

The interpretation lacked a little clarity in its reference to “military service academies”. When that was added to the fact The Citadel is by nobody’s definition a “civilian institution”, the Bulldogs were (correctly, I believe) allowed to wear the uniforms.

- As of Sunday night, at least one establishment in Las Vegas lists Coastal Carolina as a nine-point favorite.

It’s hard to have a good sense of what might transpire on the gridiron when it’s the opening game of the season. My own (undoubtedly faulty) analysis:

- I think The Citadel’s front seven on defense has the athleticism and intelligence to hang with Coastal Carolina’s high-powered offense. It won’t be easy, but Mitchell Jeter, Carson Smith and company should be able to ask some questions of CCU’s reconfigured offensive line.

- I am not as sure about the Bulldogs’ revamped secondary. There could be some issues in the defensive backfield, particularly given that the defense is expected to be considerably more aggressive this season.

That’s why it is imperative The Citadel gets pressure on Alex Ross. If the Bulldogs don’t do that, it could be a long day at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Opponents generally did not succeed in harassing Ross and Coastal Carolina’s other signal-callers last year. Chanticleer QBs threw 397 passes but were only sacked 20 times.

- On the offensive side of the ball, I have confidence in Aaron Miller at quarterback. The receiving corps should be excellent, if not overly used as pass catchers.

- The Citadel should be okay at the B-back position. The decision by the coaching staff to return Vinny Miller to slotback was a good sign.

- Aside from Vinny Miller, the available slotbacks on Saturday are not all that experienced. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.

I am more than a little curious to see Cam Jackson playing the position. At the very least, he’ll be a tall target for a pitch.

- The Bulldogs’ offensive line is a work in progress. I’m concerned about how much progress can be made by gametime.

The lack of seasoning on the o-line could really be a problem against CCU’s talented defensive front.

It’s a tough matchup for the Bulldogs to begin the season, but shirking from a challenge is not exactly the ethos of The Citadel. Just the opposite, in fact.

Like everyone else wearing blue and white, I’m looking forward to Saturday. Let’s get out to the stadium, have some fun, make some noise, and root the home team on to victory.

Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled all around.
In and out of town,
Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled ’till the Bulldogs cut ‘em down

Go Dogs!

Competing for a crowd: alternatives to the action at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014

There are a lot of opinions on how The Citadel can attract bigger crowds to its home football games. I have shared more than a few of my own in the past.

However, the purpose of this post is simply to highlight some competition the school will face on each of its six home dates in 2014. It goes without saying that winning is a key factor in producing better attendance, but there is more to it than that.

Anyway, without further ado:

August 30 — The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, 6 pm

South Carolina plays on Thursday night (August 28). Clemson plays at Georgia in an ESPN game that starts at 5:30 pm.

South Carolina State plays Benedict in Columbia at 5 pm, while Charleston Southern opens on Thursday.

Those are the nearest football options. Also taking place on August 30:

- Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

Multiple jazz performers will be featured. Luckily for The Citadel, festival headliner Bobby Caldwell is performing on Thursday night. Since he will presumably be free on Saturday, perhaps Caldwell can team up with the regimental band at halftime for a unique rendition of “What You Won’t Do For Love“.

- Shrimp and Grits Chefs’ Competition (Charleston Visitor Center)

For $35 at the door, you can sample some of the cuisine. My suggestion: have some shrimp ‘n grits for lunch (or breakfast) instead, and then head out to the game.

September 27 — The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, 6 pm

It’s a long time between the first and second games at home, isn’t it?

Clemson and South Carolina are both on home on this date, playing North Carolina and Missouri, respectively. Times have not been announced (which is the case for most of their games this season).

SCSU hosts Hampton at 6 pm, while CSU is at Charlotte.

Other events on September 27:

- Folly Beach Pier Tournament

The good news is that the tournament will be over by 2 pm, so you can get your fishin’ fix in and still make it to Johnson Hagood Stadium with time to spare.

- MOJA Arts Festival

It’s the 30th anniversary of this ten-day happening.

- Taste of Charleston

The main event takes place on Sunday at Boone Hall Plantation. Saturday night will feature catered food on Charleston Harbor. I’m sure you can find more edible fare in Johnson Hagood Stadium’s concessions area.

October 11 — The Citadel vs. Charlotte, 2 pm

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. Rings ahoy!

South Carolina is off this weekend, while Clemson hosts Louisville.

Meanwhile, South Carolina State tangles with North Carolina Central in Orangeburg, and Charleston Southern is at Vanderbilt.

Horning in on the October 11 action:

- Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival (Blackbaud Stadium)

This actually doesn’t look half-bad, though perhaps a bit expensive (admittedly, I’m kind of thrifty). The general type of music being featured isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ve seen worse lineups.

If you must see Big Head Todd, Blues Traveler, and/or Bela Fleck, though, I’m sure they won’t get going until later in the evening, convenient enough when an afternoon football game is in the offing. Be sure to tell all your friends and neighbors the same thing.

October 18 — The Citadel vs. UT-Chattanooga, 1 pm

This game is being televised on the American Sports Network, which may or may not be available in your locale.

South Carolina hosts Furman, with that contest also kicking off at 1 pm. Clemson ventures north to face Boston College, a traditional banana peel of a game for the Tigers.

S.C. State is off this week. Charleston Southern is at home and plays Presbyterian at 3 pm.

Also of note:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

For $75, you can learn to fly fish, just like Brad Pitt.

November 8 — The Citadel vs. Furman, 2 pm

It’s Homecoming Weekend at The Citadel. All the cool people will be tailgating at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s 25th-anniversary reunion features the Class of 1989.

Neither South Carolina nor Clemson play on this date. The Gamecocks are off for the week, while the Tigers play at Wake Forest on Thursday night.

South Carolina State is on the road, playing Florida A&M. CSU hosts Gardner-Webb, with that game starting at 11 am.

Other events:

- Charleston’s Veterans Day Parade starts downtown at 10 am. If nothing else, those going to the football game might want to make note of that. It should be over by around 11:15 am.

- Lowcountry Hoedown (Charleston Visitors Center)

This event runs from 7 pm to 11 pm and includes “Bourbon, Moonshine, BBQ, and Bluegrass”. Well then. Featured performers: Barefoot Movement (they don’t wear shoes, as you may have guessed) and Seven Handle Circus (an act that, oddly, appears to only include six musicians).

- YALLFest (American Theater ballroom, American Theater cinema, Charleston Music Hall)

YALLFest “is the largest and most renowned festival in the country specifically geared toward Young Adult and Middle Grade Literature, with over 5,000 international fans expected to attend.” A bunch of young adult author types will also be making appearances at this particular shindig.

The official YALLFest band: Tiger Beat. So, so predictable.

November 15 — The Citadel vs. Samford, 1 pm

Clemson, South Carolina, South Carolina State, and Charleston Southern are on the road this week. Their respective opponents: Georgia Tech, Florida, Morgan State, and Liberty.

Remaining in the Charleston metropolitan area:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

Yes, it’s back! It’s a monthly thing, and this is November’s scheduled date.

- Plantation Days (Middleton Place)

If you’re into sugarcane pressing, gourd making, and leather tanning (and who isn’t?), this is the event for you.

There you have it. That is a sampling of what the folks in the marketing department are up against as they promote The Citadel’s home football schedule this year.

At least the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering (September 20, Boone Hall Plantation) won’t conflict with any of The Citadel’s home games this season. That will come as a blessed relief for bagpiper groupies.

However, if crowds this year at Johnson Hagood Stadium are to become truly massive, the maxim of a former assistant football at The Citadel must come into play:

Just win, baby.

2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

As a follow-up to my most recent post on conference realignment, including the SoCon, this is just a quick post on what sports various schools offer, etc…

The SoCon sponsors 19 sports (counting indoor and outdoor track separately). Ideally, a school joining the league would field teams in most of them. A rundown of the offerings for some of the schools that have been mentioned for membership:

Mercer

Mercer has teams in 14 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. The exceptions: football, men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor), and wrestling.

It also has teams (or will soon have teams) in several sports not sponsored by the SoCon, including men’s and women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball. Mercer will begin playing football (non-scholarship) this year.

VMI

VMI has teams in 11 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. Exceptions: women’s hoops, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

It also fields teams in men’s lacrosse, women’s water polo, men’s and women’s swimming, and rifle.

If VMI were to re-join the SoCon, it may have to add at least one women’s sport that is sponsored by the league.

East Tennessee State

ETSU has teams in 17 of the SoCon’s sponsored sports. It does not have teams in football and wrestling. Of course, ETSU is expected to re-start football in time for the 2015 season.

Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State fields teams in 16 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. There are no KSU teams in football, men’s soccer, and wrestling. Kennesaw State will begin playing football in 2015.

William & Mary

William & Mary has a fairly diverse sports portfolio. It fields teams in 17 SoCon-sponsored sports. W&M doesn’t have a softball team or wrestling squad. It does have men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey.

Belmont

I don’t really think Belmont is a serious candidate for the SoCon, but I decided to take a look at its offerings anyway. Belmont does not have a football team or a wrestling squad, but fields teams in every other SoCon-sponsored sport.

Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina competes in 18 of the 19 sports sponsored by the SoCon. The exception is wrestling. CCU also fields a women’s lacrosse team.

Richmond

Though I think Richmond is really only an SoCon option for football, I’ll include a rundown of its sports too. For the 2013-14 school year, it will compete in 13 of the 19 sports sponsored by the Southern Conference. Somewhat controversially, Richmond’s administration has decided to drop men’s soccer and men’s track and field while adding men’s lacrosse.

Besides men’s soccer and men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), UR does not field teams in wrestling, softball, and women’s volleyball. In addition to men’s lacrosse, Richmond has or will have women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s swimming, and women’s field hockey.

Delaware

Like Richmond, Delaware would almost certainly be a football-only candidate for the SoCon (and even that would be a longshot). It has teams in 15 SoCon-sponsored sports, not having teams for men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s cross-country, and wrestling. Delaware also fields squads in women’s field hockey, women’s rowing, men’s and women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

James Madison

If JMU decides against a possible invitation to the Sun Belt Conference and remains in FCS, it may become a target for the SoCon. Like Delaware, James Madison competes in 15 of the 19 SoCon-sponsored sports. It does not have teams in men’s cross country, men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), and wrestling. JMU has three women’s teams in sports not sponsored by the Southern Conference: field hockey, swimming, and lacrosse.

UNC-Wilmington

UNCW competes in every SoCon-sponsored sport except football and wrestling. It also has men’s and women’s swimming.

Jacksonville

JU fields teams in 13 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. It does not have men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s and women’s tennis, and wrestling, and its football team is non-scholarship. Jacksonville does have men’s and women’s rowing teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and also sponsors women’s sand volleyball (which is an “emerging” NCAA sport; in February, South Carolina became the 31st school to sponsor the sport at the varsity level).

Campbell

Campbell’s football team is non-scholarship. It competes in every other SoCon-sponsored sport, and also has women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming.

After reviewing these schools and a few others, I came to the conclusion that the Southern Conference is likely to sponsor at least two more sports in the not-too-distant future, namely men’s and women’s lacrosse. Some of the schools in the SoCon’s general geographic footprint that have or will soon have lacrosse for either men or women or both: Mercer, VMI, Kennesaw State, William & Mary, Richmond, James Madison, Furman, Elon, Presbyterian, Campbell, Jacksonville, Howard, Coastal Carolina, Stetson, Delaware, and Winthrop.

More realignment excitement will be coming our way soon, I’m sure…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

On Wednesday, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are expected to announce that they have each accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. Both schools have been desperately trying to wangle an invite from an FBS league; it looks like it is finally going to happen.

I wrote about this possibility a few weeks ago. Now that it has come to pass, I want to revisit what it means for the Southern Conference and what schools are candidates to join the SoCon as replacements — and also what schools, if any, are candidates to leave the league.

Conference realignment analysis is complicated, to say the least. A move on one side of the country can cause repercussions on the other. No one really has a handle on the hopes and dreams of every single school out there. The difficulties in trying to see what leagues and schools will do can best be encapsulated by this quote from an AD at a Missouri Valley Conference school:

We’re just sitting here wondering if Creighton goes [to the Big East], which of the 26 schools in our footprint that make some sense should we be pursuing.

That’s right. To replace Creighton, there are more than two dozen reasonable candidates, and whichever one is chosen will set off a chain reaction all over the nation — but each different school may set off a different chain reaction. It makes long-range predictions more or less futile (as does the entire process of musical chairs in general).

Despite that, I’ll muddle through this post anyway…

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leaving, the SoCon will look like this:

The Citadel
Furman
Wofford
Elon
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Samford
Davidson*
UNC-Greensboro*

* no scholarship football program

First, let’s discuss the current league schools rumored to be candidates to leave for another conference. That would be all of them.

Seriously, every school in the league has been the focus of various rumors, some with solid sourcing, some just made up. The internet is a wild and crazy place.

The most realistic contender to jump may be Davidson, which has a good hoops program with no scholarship football. If Davidson were a person, however, he would be a very cautious accountant who happens to love basketball (and not much else). This is a school that isn’t changing leagues unless it knows it’s the right decision. It’s not going to jump into a lake like the College of Charleston did and find out the level of the water has dropped eighteen feet overnight.

Elon is the league wild card, as I’ve noted before. At this point I would be surprised if it decided to move to the CAA, but who knows. Chattanooga has (somewhat curiously) been mentioned as a potential Sun Belt candidate, which I think even most of its fan base finds puzzling.

That is what the SoCon has right now. What is going on in the rest of the land that may impact the league? A brief review follows.

- Big East (newly minted version)

The new league formerly known as the Catholic 7 is adding three schools. Butler and Xavier are joining from the A-10, and Creighton is moving from the Missouri Valley. For at least one year, the number of league schools will stay at 10. It is widely believed that the new Big East will add two more schools in time for the 2014-15 season, and that both additions are likely to come from the A-10. One will probably be St. Louis, and the other will come from a group that includes Dayton, Richmond, and VCU, with the Flyers being a slight favorite.

The MVC will replace Creighton, but that won’t affect the SoCon. The A-10, however, has already moved forward, will undoubtedly continue to do so, and those decisions will have a trickle-down effect that will be watched by SoCon observers.

- Atlantic 10 (which actually had 16 schools this past season)

The A-10 was already losing two schools, Charlotte (which is starting a football program and moving to CUSA) and Temple.

The Owls are moving to the “old” Big East for all sports, and to avoid confusion I’m going to call that conference the Metro, which is surely a better league name than the “America 12″.

With Xavier and Butler gone (Butler having been in the league for about an hour), the A-10 decided 12 schools weren’t enough and added George Mason on Monday. It is quite possible the A-10 will add another school in the near future. Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for this spot, but there is a catch, as there are reports that Davidson would like a fellow southern school to go with it for travel reasons. The school most often named as pairing up with Davidson is the College of Charleston.

However, Davidson is not the leading contender to be the next A-10 pickup, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. That would be Siena. Another school reportedly in the mix is Iona.

My fearless (and meaningless) prognostication: Siena joins the A-10, and Davidson becomes a more serious candidate when the A-10 loses St. Louis and one of the Dayton/Richmond/VCU trio next year.

- Metro

Tulsa is expected to join this league any week now, leaving CUSA. This would lead to Western Kentucky leaving the Sun Belt and taking Tulsa’s place. Massachusetts may eventually wind up in this conference (though that is far from certain), which would presumably open up another spot in the A-10 in hoops (UMass currently competes in the MAC in football).

- Sun Belt

League commissioner Karl Benson wants a conference championship game in football, and he is apparently going to get it. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will become football members 9 and 10, so the conference needs two more schools to stage a title matchup. According to Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports, New Mexico State and Idaho are going to be added as football-only members.

Idaho has to get permission from its State Board of Education to make the move, which is probably a formality. Not everyone thinks adding New Mexico State and Idaho to the Sun Belt (even for just football) is a good idea.

However, if WKU leaves as expected, the Sun Belt would actually need one more football-playing school to get to 12, and would have to look further into the FCS ranks to find it. From the SoCon’s perspective, the most interesting candidate for that spot (other than longshot Chattanooga) is James Madison of the CAA, which has been left behind in that league by all of its fellow Virginia schools except William & Mary. Losing JMU would be a very tough blow for the CAA. Liberty is also a Sun Belt hopeful, as are a couple of Southland Conference schools (Lamar and Sam Houston State) and Jacksonville State.

- CAA

Before delving into the CAA situation, I wanted to mention the press release issued by its commissioner after George Mason decided to join the A-10:

As a result of the George Mason University Board’s decision to withdraw from CAA membership…and in accordance with conference bylaws:

-George Mason’s teams in seven spring sports…will become ineligible for CAA spring 2013 championships.

-George Mason will forfeit its projected 2013 conference distribution of approximately $330,000 and future distributions (through 2017 totaling an additional $1.32 million). George Mason will also pay a minimum liquidated damages fee of at least $1,000,000. Total forfeited funds will be no less than $2.65 million…

…We are disappointed by George Mason’s decision to withdraw from the CAA after 30 years as a charter member.  We wish them well as they strive to achieve the same level of competitive success in a new conference. The CAA’s Council of Presidents will continue to aggressively pursue institutions committed to providing the finest academic and athletic opportunities for our student-athletes.

To me, that comes across as incredibly petty, especially considering GMU was (as stated) a charter member of the conference. As was the case for other schools that recently left the CAA, the athletes were punished for their (obviously huge) part in the crime of leaving the league. Imagine being a senior baseball or softball player and finding out halfway through the season that you wouldn’t be competing for the league title.

Here is the current CAA lineup (at least, as of this second):

Hofstra*
Northeastern*
Drexel*
Delaware
Towson
James Madison
William & Mary
UNC-Wilmington*
College of Charleston*
Richmond#
Rhode Island#
Stony Brook#
Albany#
Maine#
New Hampshire#
Villanova#

* no scholarship football program
# football-only member

Eleven schools for football, but only four of them are full-time members. Nine schools for basketball.

This league is a mess. In my opinion, it’s even more of a mess than the SoCon. It resembles two or three conferences unwillingly jammed into one. In addition, I think at least half of the schools in the basketball version of the league would gladly jump to the A-10 at a moment’s notice, given the opportunity. Heck, some might even consider the SoCon.

Would UNCW be able to resist an offer from the SoCon? It has “reaffirmed [its] commitment” to the CAA, but some think it needs to consider all of its options. Is the College of Charleston feeling buyer’s remorse? Supposedly not, though one suspects that any CofC return to the SoCon could only happen if the SoCon leadership were allowed to throw sharp objects at CofC AD Joe Hull.

Then there is William & Mary, which is going to be really out in the cold if JMU leaves. It would be hard for William & Mary or UNCW, though, to give up the significant amount of money currently on the table for the remaining CAA members.

I’ve written a couple of times about the possibilities for SoCon additions. A few things have changed since the last time I posted about this subject. My thoughts as of right now on a few of the schools in question, plus some off-the-wall ideas:

- Mercer is probably a lock, with the only issue being that the school has not yet committed to scholarship football. As I’ve said before, though, Mercer’s new facilities are not those of a non-scholarship program, or at least not those of one planning to stay non-scholarship. At any rate, Mercer can fill the spot left by the College of Charleston for the immediate future, with a hoops program at least as good and a fine baseball team as well.

- VMI, from a historical perspective, should be in the Southern Conference. Instinctively, VMI should be in the SoCon. However, VMI has issues, and I am not as confident in its chances of rejoining the league as I would have been a couple of months ago. A perceived lack of institutional commitment to varsity athletics may doom the hopes of those hoping to see the Keydets back in the SoCon. I’m not counting VMI out, though.

- William & Mary is possibly more of a sleeper candidate than it was before, thanks to the CAA’s crumbling edifice. I’m still not quite buying the Tribe to the SoCon, but I could be persuaded to rent.

- Richmond would be a football-only pick, and while I’m not crazy about a football-only SoCon member, the idea of grabbing UR for football in order to further attract William & Mary to join in all sports may have merit.

- If the SoCon wanted to be really aggressive and try to fully dismantle the CAA before the CAA tried to destroy the SoCon, it might consider approaching Delaware as a football-only member.

- If James Madison doesn’t wind up in the Sun Belt (or the MAC), the SoCon ought to seriously consider approaching the folks in Harrisburg, too. They might be willing to listen.

- Kennesaw State is starting a football program, and just hired its first coach. The Owls’ first season on the gridiron will be 2015. There has been marginally more chatter about KSU to the SoCon in recent weeks, although I am still a touch dubious about that. If Kennesaw State did join the league, it would help the SoCon maintain its quota of triple option teams, as new coach Brian Bohannon has worked for Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech over the past 17 years, coaching quarterbacks and B-backs.

- East Tennessee State is also likely to start (or rather, re-start) its football program in 2015. ETSU may have to make a decision about what league it wants to join, if it has options (the OVC possibly being one of them). It won’t be in any league without a new football facility, though. (Nobody is going to play football at the Mini-Dome.)

It’s possible that ETSU may wind up in the SoCon at the expense of VMI. I wouldn’t be shocked if neither got in, though.

- Coastal Carolina, if anything, is less likely to wind up in the SoCon than before — and it wasn’t going to get in then, either. If I were in the CCU administration, I would fax an application to the CAA every day. It’s probably their best shot at moving out of the Big South.

- Campbell has been suggested as a potential candidate. Like Mercer, it’s one of several southeastern schools (including Jacksonville and Stetson) that have started or are about to start non-scholarship football programs. I’m not really sure what Campbell could bring to the table that the SoCon would want, though. Jacksonville and Stetson would add new markets but are not in the league’s geographic footprint, which I suspect will be a major factor in determining what schools are added.

- Other schools mentioned here and there that I don’t think are serious candidates for the SoCon (but you never know): Presbyterian, Winthrop, Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, West Georgia, Gardner-Webb, High Point, South Carolina State, and USC Upstate.

USC Upstate was suggested on Twitter by Gene Sapakoff, a columnist for The Post and Courier, who was throwing out the idea of a proposed Atlantic Sun-SoCon merger. Uh, no.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino has preached patience and a waiting game. I haven’t had a major problem with that. It was inevitable that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would leave, but there wasn’t anything wrong in letting a few other things shake out nationally before making a move. The league had time.

It doesn’t really have time now. Once Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are officially out, the SoCon has to act, and with decisiveness. I hope the conference has been preparing to do just that. I realize that Iamarino may be hamstrung a bit by a disparate membership, but he has to put together a consensus. He has to add new members that will improve the league.

It’s nitty-gritty time.

2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

– Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

– Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

– The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.

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