2015 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Matt Stewart providing play-by-play and Wayne Gandy supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Preview of The Citadel-Georgia Southern from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Southern

SoCon weekly release

Sun Belt weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Willie Fritz on the Sun Belt teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/15 press conference (includes comments from Dondray Copeland and Jorian Jordan)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

When I was thinking about what to write for this week’s preview, what first came to mind wasn’t as much the upcoming contest, but rather Georgia Southern’s move from the SoCon to the Sun Belt and the long-term ramifications for that program and school.

That’s because, from a programmatic perspective, the matchup with the Eagles is arguably the most meaningless game The Citadel has played since the Bulldogs made a trip to face Wyoming in 2002.

I’ll explain what I mean by that later. First, a look at Georgia Southern. I’ve written about the school’s history before, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

Georgia Southern was founded in 1907, and classes began the following year. It was originally known as the First District Agricultural & Mechanical School, but despite an initial focus on agriculture, the school would become a teacher’s college for the majority of its history.

There had been a football team at Georgia Southern as far back as 1924 (at that time the institution was called the Georgia Normal School), but the sport was dropped during World War II. By the early 1980s, the school had increased in size (it would be granted university status in 1990), and there was a groundswell of local and institutional support for reinstating football.

To re-start the program, the school hired longtime Georgia assistant coach Erk Russell, who was already a legend in the Peach State. He was, to say the least, a great hire.

Russell took the football program from club status to I-AA, fashioning an eight-year record of 83-22-1, with three national titles.  Beyond the win-loss record, the coach’s impact and influence on the school was immense.

Ludicrously, Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He is actually ineligible under current rules.

The shadow of Russell at Georgia Southern did have negative repercussions, inasmuch as he was an impossible act to follow. The redoubtable Paul Johnson was the only one of the head coaches who succeeded him to really measure up to Russell in the eyes of the fan base.

Tangent: speaking of Johnson and other former Georgia Southern head coaches, the most fascinating matchup this week in college football is the one between PJ’s Georgia Tech squad and Notre Dame, which employs Statesboro persona non grata Brian VanGorder as its defensive coordinator. The two men aren’t exactly fast friends, and that’s being polite.

The essential issue that coaches following Erk Russell faced — how do you top what he did? — could also apply, in a general sense, to Georgia Southern and the move to FBS. After a while, some supporters got restless. They had already sampled the pot of gold at the end of the FCS rainbow, and now they wanted to know if the gold at the end of the FBS rainbow was shinier, regardless of the consequences.

It took a while, but eventually the fan base started moving in the “we want FBS” direction. Those not so sure about the idea were eventually brushed aside. A new director of athletics with an “FBS or bust” attitude and mission, Tom Kleinlein, pushed things along. Eventually, Georgia Southern made the move to the Sun Belt.

Now, Georgia Southern is an FBS school. Its first season in the Sun Belt was full of success, as it won the league with an 8-0 conference record. I’m not sure the Sun Belt was anticipating that, or if its administrators were really excited about having the league won by a program that had gone 4-4 in the SoCon the year before.

Despite winning an FBS conference, though, Georgia Southern didn’t get to go to a bowl game, because it was still in transitional status. That didn’t sit well with fans.

Kleinlein asked for a waiver (which was denied by the NCAA). In asking for the waiver, I suspect he went against the wishes of the league office:

Without the waiver, Georgia Southern’s only other option to become bowl eligible this year was to hope fewer than 76 teams reached six wins…

…Last month, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA TODAY Sports that even if Georgia Southern became bowl eligible through that route, they would be placed at the bottom of the league’s pecking order out of deference to the longstanding FBS members. Currently, the Sun Belt has four bowl eligible teams for three contracted spots.

Kleinlein is now arguing, however, that Georgia Southern (9-3) should be treated differently because it won the conference championship outright.

“If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument,” he said. “But we’re conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn’t make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn’t make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal.”

Benson didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Of course Benson didn’t return Dan Wolken’s telephone call. He was probably on the horn with Kleinlein, asking him to at least wait another year before burning every bridge in the league his school had just joined.

Now, about that “meaningless game” comment I made at the beginning of this missive. Mike Houston was asked about playing Georgia Southern at his weekly press conference:

The Citadel will be the first SoCon team to visit GSU since the Eagles left the SoCon, but don’t expect Georgia Southern to appear regularly on Bulldog schedules — not when games at ACC or SEC foes can bring much more money. This game was scheduled before Houston and athletic director Jim Senter were hired.

“If I’m the ones making the decisions, no,” Houston said when asked if he’d schedule games like this one in the future. “You are playing an FBS program that has more resources and scholarships than we have. And if you are playing those kinds of games, there needs to be financial restitution that matches that … It’s not ideal, especially if you are playing two FBS teams in one year.”

In other words, if Georgia Southern wants to schedule The Citadel again, the military college is going to demand a lot more cash. $175,000 isn’t going to be nearly enough; The Citadel is going to want more than twice that amount of money. Maybe more than three times that amount of money.

In a way, it illustrates a problem Georgia Southern now has as an FBS member when it comes to scheduling home games. Schools that pay FCS schools big bucks for a “guarantee game” can afford to make those payments, because they have large stadiums and huge budgets. That isn’t the case for the folks in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern may have expanded Paulson Stadium, but 25,000 seats is a far cry from the likes of the facilities at Florida State, or South Carolina, or even North Carolina (opponents of The Citadel last year, this year, and next year).

That also affects Georgia Southern’s ability to get home-and-home games (or two-for-one deals) with non-conference FBS foes, especially from major conferences. So far, GS hasn’t scheduled such a series with a P5 school.

Of course, if the Big 10 gets its way, the days of Power 5 conference schools scheduling FCS programs may be coming to an end. Even if that happened, though, it probably still wouldn’t be worth it for schools like The Citadel to play Group of 5 conference schools for less money.

The potential chain reaction that could occur if the entire P5 decided not to schedule FCS programs would likely be complicated (and a subject for another post). I think it is probable that The Citadel would simply not play any FBS schools, with the gridiron landscape possibly changing to such a degree that no FCS schools would.

All that said, the game on Saturday isn’t as unimportant to The Citadel as the 2002 game against Wyoming. For one thing, the program will make at least a little money. That Wyoming game, well

The game against Division I-A Wyoming, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has been on the Bulldogs’ schedule for years. [Ellis] Johnson talked to Wyoming coach Vic Koenning a year ago about getting out of the game…

…After chartering a flight to Laramie and spending a night there, The Citadel will just about break even on the trip, [Les] Robinson said.”Thank goodness for LSU [another FBS game The Citadel played during the 2002 season],” Robinson said. After securing the LSU game, Robinson offered to negotiate a settlement with Wyoming.”They didn’t want to negotiate,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t offer them $100,000 or anything like that. We couldn’t make it worth their while.”As it is, the Bulldogs will play 12 games without a week off this season. Johnson said his players might not even put on pads this week in practice in an effort to stay fresh.

Also, the Bulldogs will have their fair share of fans at this game. It’s not the worst place in the world to play a game for recruiting purposes, either (Exhibit A being The Citadel’s starting quarterback, Dominique Allen, who grew up about an hour’s drive from Statesboro).

However, ultimately this matchup is unlikely to define the season for The Citadel in any way. It’s a game the Bulldogs would like to win, but it’s not a conference game, a home game, an in-state game, or a game against a high-profile opponent. It provides a limited benefit to the program from a financial standpoint.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit dubious about Georgia Southern venturing into the land of FBS, though not for reasons of on-field competitiveness. I don’t think any veteran observer of college football was shocked the Eagles dominated the Sun Belt last year. Mildly surprised, maybe, but not shocked.

However, this is a school that, even as it has grown, still has issues to overcome when it comes to big-money athletics. Its alumni base, while growing, is still much smaller than most FBS schools; the market demo is younger than many other areas (so there is less disposable income floating around); and the surrounding region doesn’t have a huge corporate base.

Also, Georgia Southern has to compete with numerous major-conference FBS programs within a 300-mile radius, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, and Auburn.

Hey, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. I just happen to think there is a good chance in about ten years, there might be more than a few Georgia Southern fans wondering what the administration was thinking when it decided to chase that other rainbow.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Georgia Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Georgia Southern, I included eleven of the Eagles’ twelve games. After some consideration, I decided to remove the statistics from Georgia Southern’s 83-9 victory over Savannah State.

Thus, the statistics below are for the rest of the games the Eagles played last season, which came against the following opponents: North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Georgia State, Troy, Texas State, Navy, and ULM.


Georgia Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.8 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 6.81 5.35
Offense yards per play 7.00 5.56
Offense points per game 35.09 24.86
Penalties per game 4.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 47.1 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 62.5 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 69.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 6.9 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.41 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.62 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 24.72 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 40.5 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 40.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 68.6 60.0
Time of possession 32:53 32:40

Who will start at quarterback for Georgia Southern on Saturday?

As glad as [Georgia Southern head coach Willie] Fritz is to have Ellison back, he’s staying close to the vest when discussing how big of a role Ellison will play this weekend. With a full week of film study and practice still in front of the Eagles, Fritz wasn’t yet ready to say whether Ellison or [Favian] Upshaw take the first snap against The Citadel.

“Those guys are going to be trading reps all week and they’re both going to be playing Saturday,” Fritz said. “We don’t know if we’ll go by quarter, by series, or every two series. As the week goes on, we’ll get that plan in place.”

Ellison was suspended because of an academic issue dating back to the fall semester of last season. Ellison failed to accrue enough credits to satisfy the NCAA standard and was initially handed a four-game suspension.

By taking on additional classes over the spring and summer semesters – and by earning solid grades in those classes – Ellison was able to get his suspension reduced.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Ellison said. “School has to come first. I kind of overlooked that last year.
“Now I’m just glad to play for my school and to be able to go out there on Saturday.”

Ellison is hoping that this run-in with The Citadel is as successful as the last.

In 2013, Ellison was the star of the game as the Eagles pulled out a 28-21 win. Ellison passed for 138 yards, ran for 135 more and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 to play.

Regardless of who starts at QB, Willie Fritz’s offense will look the same. It isn’t the triple option offense of Paul Johnson or Jeff Monken, but it is conceptually not dissimilar.

I’ll let The Birddog, triple option maven and proprietor of the superior Navy athletics blog of the same name, explain how it works:

Run primarily out of pistol formations, Georgia Southern uses more zone blocking as opposed to the inside veer that is the foundation of past GSU offenses. For the quarterback, it’s not too much of a change; he still progresses through his reads like he did before. Zone blocking is different for the offensive line, but it still favors quicker linemen that can get to linebackers quickly. That’s what GSU’s line was already built for under Monken. Besides, it’s not like they had never used zone blocking before. It’s just a different focus. The zone read is hardly a concept unique to Georgia Southern. Everyone runs it at least a little bit. What’s unique about Georgia Southern is more how committed they are to it. They are very much an option offense as opposed to an offense that dabbles in the option once in a while.

You can read a lot more about Georgia Southern’s offense in that post. In fact, you should. Education is the surest way to get ahead in life.

In its eleven games last season against FBS competition, Georgia Southern threw the ball 20.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 22.5% of the Eagles’ total offense.

Contrast that with Georgia Southern’s 2013 season (again omitting a game against Savannah State). That season, the Eagles threw the ball 14.0% of the time, and passing yardage accounted for 21.5% of Georgia Southern’s total offense.

So, despite a new coach and a different “style” of offense, there really wasn’t a big fundamental change in approach.

– Note: 2014 statistical references to follow are for all 12 games Georgia Southern played.

Kevin Ellison rushed for 1108 yards last season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He completed 55.5% of his passes, with five touchdowns against three interceptions, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Fabian Upshaw completed 70.4% of his throws (19-27), averaging 10.6 yards per attempt, with two TDs and one pick. Upshaw rushed for 385 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

While both Ellison and Upshaw are capable of making things happen, the biggest playmaker on the Eagles offense is running back Matt Breida, who rushed for 1485 yards last season and 17 TDs. He averaged 8.7 yards per rush attempt, leading the nation in that category.

During his press conference, Mike Houston stated that Breida also led the nation in “explosive plays”, i.e. plays of over 50 yards from scrimmage. He had seven last season.

Breida had his first “explosive play” of this season last week,  a 70-yard TD run against Western Michigan. He finished that game with 176 yards rushing (on only 11 carries) and four touchdowns.

He is joined in the backfield by fellow running back L.A. Ramsby, who rushed for 691 yards and 12 TDs last season. “L.A.” stands for “Little Al”. His father is Big Al.

Wide receiver B.J. Johnson led the Eagles in receptions last season with 23, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Three of those receptions were for touchdowns.

Houston referred to Georgia Southern as being “huge up front”, and he wasn’t kidding. The Eagles’ starting offensive linemen average 6’4″, 305 lbs.

Left guard Darien Foreman, the lone returning starter on the offensive line, was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt pick. Right guard Roscoe Byrd is a transfer from UAB.

Georgia Southern runs a 4-3 base defense. Of course, teams often change things up when facing The Citadel’s triple option.

Last year against Navy, the Eagles started out defensively by running a 4-4 look with the safety taking the pitch, then adjusted as the game went on. If you want to see how that functioned, I again refer you to The Birddog (who also breaks down how Navy handled Georgia Southern’s offense in this post): Link

The Eagles have a great deal of size along the defensive line, including the imposing Jay Ellison (no relation to Kevin Ellison), a 6’1″, 310 lb. nose tackle. The Citadel’s offensive line will have its hands full with Ellison, a second-team preseason Sun Belt selection.

Darrius Sapp, listed as Jay Ellison’s backup on this week’s two-deep, started both of Georgia Southern’s first two games at defensive tackle. Sapp weighs 330 lbs.

Starting defensive end Lennie Richardson is 27 years old. Richardson began his collegiate career at Troy before transferring to Georgia Southern. After a year in Statesboro, Richardson enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent 3 1/2 years as a tank gunner before returning to GSU.

Linebackers Deshawntee Gallon and Antwione Williams both have fifteen tackles so far this season for the Eagles. Williams has already graduated from Georgia Southern (the same is true for Lennie Richardson).

Free safety Matt Dobson returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. Dobson was a second-team preseason all-conference choice.

Placekicker Younghoe Koo is an athlete, as this “trick kick” demonstrates. However, he’s coming off a one-week suspension after a DUI arrest. Alex Hanks handled placekicking duties last week for the Eagles and is listed ahead of Koo on this week’s depth chart.

Georgia Southern punter Matt Flynn is in his first year as the starter. Koo is listed as his backup this week, though the depth chart describes this as an “OR” situation.

Long snapper Jake Banta is another refugee from the currently shuttered UAB program.

Derek Keaton and Montay Crockett were the primary kick returners for Georgia Southern last season, and are back this year. Keaton also returns punts.

Odds and ends:

– Georgia Southern’s “dress roster” includes 90 players from thirteen states. There are 68 natives of Georgia, 11 Floridians, five residents of South Carolina, three Texans, and one player each from Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will play in a contest designated “Military Appreciation” Day (or Night). The game ball will be brought in by the Golden Knights Army Parachute Team. Georgia Southern players will have a Department of Defense decal on the back of their helmets.

An early contender for the title of most-asked question by fans in the stands on Saturday: “Hey, what does DoD mean?”

The Citadel last played Georgia Southern in Statesboro in 2013. It was Military Appreciation Day at Paulson Stadium for that game as well.

– The ESPN3 analyst for this game, Wayne Gandy, was a consensus All-American offensive tackle at Auburn in the early 1990s. Gandy had a 15-year NFL career with four different teams, starting 205 games.

– The sideline reporter for the Georgia Southern radio network is Danny Reed, who Bulldog fans remember from his three years as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”. Reed will become the play-by-play voice this season for the Eagles’ men’s basketball and baseball teams, and will take over gamecalling duties for football in 2016.

I think Reed will become the second person to work as the play-by-play voice for both The Citadel and Georgia Southern. Longtime Charleston radio man Ted Byrne also called games for both schools (and worked College of Charleston games at one point, too).

– Lainie Fritz, sports anchor/reporter for WCBD-TV in Charleston, is the daughter of Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz.

– Per the SoCon weekly release, The Citadel has the top two active sack leaders in the conference. Mitchell Jeter has 13.5, most among current SoCon players, while Mark Thomas is second with 11.5 career sacks.

– Mike Houston is undefeated against schools from the state of Georgia in his head coaching career. He is 2-0, with wins over Fort Valley State and Mercer.

– As of this writing, the National Weather Service forecast for Saturday in Statesboro: high of 87 degrees and sunny, with a low that night of 67. Weather should not be a factor during the game.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Georgia Southern is a 25 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel this week. The over/under is 56.

I think Saturday’s game will be competitive, assuming The Citadel doesn’t go into turnover mode on offense. The Bulldogs may have trouble stopping Georgia Southern’s high-powered attack, but I believe The Citadel can control the ball enough on offense to limit the total number of possessions and frustrate the Eagles.

Earlier in this post, I wrote that this game isn’t that important for The Citadel in the grand scheme of things. However, I fully expect the Bulldog players to give it everything they’ve got — and why not?

If you’re going to play the game, you might as well try to win.

Game review, 2015: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Mitchell Jeter, Dominique Allen, and Rudder Brown

Video from WCIV-TV

Box score

The Citadel 28, Western Carolina 10.

Random thoughts and observations:

– Another day of threatening weather led to another night of disappointing attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The crowd of 8,048 was into the game (and the corps of cadets had another strong performance), but Jim Senter has to hope for sunny skies when Charleston Southern comes to town in two weeks.

– The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, including 4.9 yards per rush and 17.5 yards per pass attempt (on six throws). Western Carolina averaged 4.9 yards per play, including 5.1 yards per rush and a relatively anemic 4.7 yards per pass attempt (with Troy Mitchell throwing the ball 40 times).

In last season’s matchup, the Catamounts averaged 9.2 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina had ten plays from scrimmage that went for 20+ yards in that 2014 contest; on Saturday night, WCU had only three.

– At one point early in the second half, Bulldog B-backs carried the football seven straight times, including all six plays on the second series of the third quarter. There was just a bit of murmuring in the stands, but the runs up the middle had a purpose.

Of the 32 offensive snaps for The Citadel following those “seven plays of stubbornness”, the Bulldogs averaged 6.7 yards per play, including ten first downs and three touchdowns.

– It’s possible that offensive coordinator Brent Thompson may have regretted the second-and-1 pass play the Bulldogs tried near the end of the first half, the only play call I questioned on Saturday. Dominique Allen’s throw was poor, and was intercepted.

It was the third time in two games The Citadel had thrown the ball on 2nd-and-short (and the second time on Saturday). Just as a reminder, in conference play last season the Bulldogs only threw the ball in that situation four times (in seven league matchups).

– Later in the contest, Allen more than made up for his bad throw in the first half. He threw a gorgeous seam pass to Rudder Brown early in the fourth quarter that set up The Citadel’s third touchdown.

On the play, Brown essentially stiff-armed a defender for almost 25 yards. That’s a pretty fair stiff-arm.

– In general, the victory over Western Carolina reminded me of the win last season against Gardner-Webb. That was another game in which the Bulldogs were trailing midway through the third quarter, but wound up winning going away, partly because the other team’s defense was worn out with 20 minutes still to play.

Two differences: this year, it happened earlier in the season, and Western Carolina was a better opponent.

– While The Citadel was the better team on Saturday night and fully earned the victory, it didn’t hurt to catch a break or two. The biggest break of all was on the muffed pitch play that resulted in a recovered fumble-TD by Jorian Jordan.

If Western Carolina had fallen on the ball, would the resulting change of momentum (and immediate loss of seven points) have changed the game’s outcome? I don’t think so…but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

– Many of the fans were pleased to hear the band’s rendition of the “Hawaii 5-0” theme, complete with the obligatory surfboard.

The band needed to play a little more during the game, in my opinion. It was a tough night for the sound system operators, who received a deserved warning from the referee for playing music as Western Carolina lined up on offense. Even worse, someone slipped “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners into the music rotation. Awful.

– The game program’s recap of the victory over Davidson included a reference to the 69 points scored against the Wildcats being “the 3rd highest point total in program history”.

It is actually the fifth-highest point total in program history, but it appears that the 1909 victory over Porter (99 points scored by The Citadel) and the 1913 win against Furman (75 points) are both being disregarded.

This is wrong. Those Marion Square teams should be recognized. They are part of the fabric that makes up football at The Citadel. Plus, 75 points against Furman! That will always count, thank you very much.

– The program also includes an article on the golf team, and how it is honoring an alumnus who was killed in action.

– As mentioned earlier, the corps of cadets brought plenty of energy to the stadium. I thought the ACU look was fine, though I wouldn’t want to see it become a regular option.

I know a few of the sophomores were disappointed not to get overnights, but hey — it’s The Citadel, that’s part of the deal. (And 25 years from now, you’ll be the one telling cadets about how that’s part of the deal.)

– He didn’t have a particularly good night, but I’m glad that The Citadel has seen the last of WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell. I just automatically assumed that whenever the Catamounts faced a 3rd-and-long, Mitchell would lead the Bulldogs’ defense on a merry chase that would result in a 20-yard run or a 40-yard pass.

Mitchell has been a fine player, and worthy opponent, for four years.

– Last week’s game lasted exactly three hours. This week: three hours and four minutes. The man in the red cap controls all time and space.

– The Citadel still leads FCS in rushing offense, well ahead of Kennesaw State (!), which is in second. (Kennesaw State also runs the triple option.)

Last year’s leader in rushing offense, Cal Poly, is currently sixth. I think that is very impressive, considering the Mustangs’ two games have been at Montana (a win) and at Arizona State (a loss, but Cal Poly gave the Sun Devils all they wanted).

Next week: Georgia Southern, in Statesboro. That should be interesting. I’ll have a post previewing that game later in the week.

Below are some photos, including shots of the pregame scene and the on-field action (most of which are annotated). They aren’t necessarily good photos. Then again, when are they?

Gridiron countdown: what teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

Ah, it’s a now-annual July topic. This season, I am delving a little further into the schedules, and noting which teams The Citadel’s opponents face after playing the Bulldogs.

Here we go…

September 5: Davidson makes its first appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium since 1985, which was also the last time the Bulldogs and Wildcats met on the gridiron. As for 2015, it is the season opener for both teams, so Davidson naturally won’t have an opponent in the week prior to its trip to Charleston. The Wildcats’ most recent game was a 27-13 setback at Valparaiso to close out the 2014 campaign.

After playing The Citadel, Davidson will face Catawba the following week in its home opener at Richardson Stadium.

September 12: Western Carolina is the opposition for the Bulldogs, and the Catamounts will come to the Holy City after opening the week before in Cullowhee against Mike Houston’s alma mater, Mars Hill.

I don’t think WCU’s players and coaches will be looking ahead, not with The Citadel being the SoCon opener for both schools. However, a few of the Catamounts’ fans may do so, as Western Carolina plays at Tennessee on September 19.

September 19: The first road game of the season for The Citadel will be a short one, as the Bulldogs travel to Statesboro to play Georgia Southern. It will be the second home game of the season for the Eagles, as GS welcomes Western Michigan to Paulson Stadium on September 12.

Georgia Southern opens its season at West Virginia in a game that has “early upset potential” written all over it. I predict lots of Red Bull will be consumed in that contest.

In terms of scheduling, playing the Eagles after they come off games against WVU and Western Michigan (which will be one of the favorites to win the MAC) may not be such a bad thing for The Citadel. Of course, if Georgia Southern is 0-2 by that point, maybe it would be a bad thing. I don’t know.

Georgia Southern goes on a classic Sun Belt conference road swing after the matchup with The Citadel, travelling to Idaho and Louisiana (to play ULM) in consecutive weeks.

September 26: Charleston Southern comes to town to play the Bulldogs. Just like last season, CSU will play a Thursday night game the week before its game against The Citadel, giving it a couple extra days for recuperation and preparation.

The opponent for Charleston Southern on September 17 is another group of Buccaneers, as CSU hosts East Tennessee State and its resurrected football program. It will be ETSU’s first football road game since a contest at Wofford on November 8, 2003.

That game against East Tennessee State comes five days after Charleston Southern travels to Alabama to face a Sun Belt outfit, Troy. CSU begins its season with a home matchup versus North Greenville.

After playing The Citadel, Charleston Southern has a week off before beginning its Big South campaign with a home game against Monmouth.

October 3: There is no game this week for The Citadel. Not coincidentally, I’ll be on vacation.

October 10: Wofford is the Parents’ Day opponent this year for The Citadel. It will be the second SoCon game for both teams, as the Terriers will travel to Mercer on October 3 for their league opener.

Wofford’s early-season non-conference slate includes games at Clemson and (bizarrely, at least to me) at Idaho. After playing The Citadel, the Terriers host Western Carolina.

October 17: The Citadel makes the trek to Alabama to tangle with another group of Bulldogs, those representing Samford. It will be SU’s second meeting with a military college in back-to-back weeks, as it plays VMI in Lexington on October 10.

Samford opens with three home games (including a matchup with Chattanooga) before going on the road to face Louisville and VMI. There is an off week in between the games versus the Cardinals and Keydets.

After returning home to play The Citadel, Samford travels to Western Carolina. The October 17 game in Birmingham is SU’s only home contest between September 19 and October 31, a situation similar to that of the next opponent on The Citadel’s schedule.

October 24: Furman hosts The Citadel for the first time since 2012, with the Paladins having a week off before facing the Bulldogs. It will be Homecoming weekend at Furman.

The Paladins are at Chattanooga on October 10, and will travel to Samford on October 31. The game against The Citadel will be Furman’s lone home game between October 3 (South Carolina State) and November 14 (Mercer).

October 31: The Citadel hosts Mercer on Halloween (a day game, thankfully). It will be the second straight week the Bears will have squared off against a military college, as Mercer plays at home versus VMI on October 24.

The Bears are back in Macon on November 7, playing Chattanooga.

November 7: The final home game of the season for the Bulldogs is a big one. It will be Homecoming weekend at The Citadel, and VMI will arrive in Charleston to battle for the coveted Silver Shako.

The Keydets are at home against Wofford the week before making the trip to face the Bulldogs, and will return to Lexington the following week for VMI’s regular-season finale, versus Western Carolina.

November 14: The last SoCon game of the season for the Bulldogs is a road matchup against Chattanooga. As mentioned above, the Mocs are at Mercer on November 7. The week after playing The Citadel, Chattanooga meets Florida State in Tallahassee.

November 21: The Citadel travels to Columbia to play South Carolina. The two programs have split their last two meetings in the Palmetto State’s capital city.

The Gamecocks will be playing the second of three consecutive home games to complete the regular season. The contest versus the Bulldogs is sandwiched between games against Florida and Clemson.

The Bulldogs face one team coming off a “bye” week (Furman), and another that will have two extra days off (Charleston Southern). Obviously, Davidson won’t have played the week before facing The Citadel, either.

There is only one “triple option preview” situation this season. VMI will play Wofford the week prior to its game versus The Citadel, which incidentally was also the case last year.

Getting closer to kickoff…

Riley Report: Previewing the 2015 baseball season for The Citadel


Links of interest:

Schedule and Roster

Season tickets are on sale now

“Quick facts” from the school website

Preview of the upcoming season for the Bulldogs from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

Preview article from 843Sports.com

College Baseball Today‘s national rundown (The Citadel is picked to finish 5th in the league, and is ranked 193rd out of 301 D-1 teams)

SoCon preview, Baseball America (Drew Ellis is BA‘s preseason Freshman of the Year)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily (The Citadel is picked to finish last in the league)

SoCon preview, D1Baseball.com (The Citadel is picked to finish 8th in the league)

SoCon preview, Perfect Game (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is tied for 7th in the coaches’ poll, and is 6th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (Skylar Hunter and Johnathan Stokes made the second team)

Skylar Hunter named to the preseason NCBWA All-America third team

Two quick comments before getting started:

1) Unless I state otherwise, all statistics that follow are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it is easier and generally fairer to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is all about. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends (The Citadel played 26 league contests in 2014).

2) This year’s preview includes the return of SS+ and SS-, the most meaningless SoCon baseball stats ever created by yours truly. They are also the only SoCon baseball stats created by yours truly. As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!

I’ll explain in detail later in the post.

The last five seasons for The Citadel’s baseball program have gone like this:

– 2010: League champions in the regular season; won the conference tournament
– 2011: Last place
– 2012: Transition season
– 2013: Good year; just missed winning the SoCon tourney
– 2014: Last place

Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for the Diamond Dogs. Expectations were fairly high, but actual results were rather low.

It isn’t like the league got a lot better last year, either. Here are the conference RPI rankings for that same five-year period:

– 2010: 10th
– 2011: 14th
– 2012: 7th
– 2013: 12th
– 2014: 13th

(Note: the numbers in this section are for all games.)

What must The Citadel do to improve in league play? Well, before answering that question, it might be instructive to see just what kind of league the SoCon was in 2014. I’m not talking about power ratings; no, I’m talking about…power.

I’ll put it like this: in 2014, the SoCon was college baseball’s version of a slow-pitch softball league.

The conference led all of D-1 in runs scored per game. SoCon teams averaged 6.05 runs per contest, the only league to break the six-run barrier (the national average was almost a full run less, at 5.08 runs per game).

How did league teams score those runs? By swinging from the heels. SoCon squads averaged 0.73 home runs per contest, again leading the nation.

They also struck out 7.06 times per game, most in D-1 (okay, maybe that wasn’t quite like slow-pitch softball). There were plenty of pitches thrown when SoCon teams were playing, as when not striking out or hitting homers batters were willing to take a walk. The league was fifth (out of 31 conferences) in walks per game.

Oh, and forget about bunting: no conference averaged fewer sacrifice hits.

Four SoCon teams finished in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game: Davidson (3rd), Georgia Southern (6th), Samford (8th), and Western Carolina (10th). Appalachian State and Wofford finished in the top 25 in that category as well.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was last in the league in home runs per game. Obviously, a good part of that is a function of park effects. Not all of it, though.

Given the style of offense employed by most of the league’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCon pitchers piled up lots of strikeouts, with a K/9 that ranked third nationally (and that almost one-third of those strikeouts came on called third strikes, the fifth-highest percentage among conferences).

Okay, now for some SoCon-only statistics (with innings pitched totals, “0.7” equates to two-thirds of an inning; “0.3” equals one-third of an inning).

Here are batting totals for the league teams in 2014 in conference action:

UNCG 0.322 867 163 19 0.461 85 11 141 0.384 0.845
Davidson 0.308 906 182 29 0.472 96 24 218 0.384 0.856
Furman 0.305 920 169 17 0.435 123 20 173 0.391 0.826
App St 0.294 934 176 26 0.454 100 17 165 0.369 0.823
Samford 0.279 941 193 29 0.446 98 28 205 0.361 0.807
W. Carolina 0.279 870 177 28 0.441 108 30 195 0.372 0.813
Elon 0.278 927 151 21 0.412 105 14 205 0.357 0.769
The Citadel 0.277 881 131 17 0.381 95 30 167 0.361 0.742
Wofford 0.251 844 136 22 0.374 89 38 167 0.344 0.718
Ga Southern 0.248 899 135 18 0.364 110 26 215 0.344 0.708
TOTALS 0.284 8989 1613 226 0.425 1009 238 1851 0.367 0.792


Pitching totals, 2014 league games only:

Ga Southern 2.82 239 107 75 0.248 11 22 3.01 7.53 0.64 0.299
W. Carolina 4.32 231 128 111 0.265 32 23 3.90 8.38 0.86 0.323
Samford 4.81 236 157 126 0.273 22 31 4.27 7.25 0.84 0.318
Davidson 4.82 222 147 119 0.268 22 19 3.53 7.30 1.01 0.304
Wofford 5.59 227 168 141 0.294 26 20 4.28 8.13 1.15 0.348
Elon 5.75 234.7 180 150 0.288 24 29 3.95 5.91 0.92 0.313
UNCG 6.13 211.3 188 144 0.310 26 40 4.73 7.20 0.51 0.367
Furman 6.15 228.3 173 156 0.288 35 17 4.26 8.12 0.91 0.346
App State 6.27 224 186 156 0.306 28 20 3.17 6.79 1.13 0.346
The Citadel 6.51 225.7 179 163 0.304 26 17 4.83 6.50 0.96 0.343
TOTALS 5.30 2279 1613 1341 0.284 252 238 3.98 7.31 0.89 0.331


Fielding totals, 2014 SoCon games:

W. Carolina 984 693 265 26 0.974 18 15 13 0.536 4 0.6824
Furman 993 685 281 27 0.973 18 28 10 0.737 3 0.6614
Wofford 942 681 235 26 0.972 17 25 11 0.694 1 0.6604
G Southern 1046 717 295 34 0.967 19 34 17 0.667 6 0.7078
The Citadel 964 677 255 32 0.967 22 29 8 0.784 2 0.6605
Elon 1005 704 264 37 0.963 17 19 5 0.792 19 0.6939
Samford 1046 708 297 41 0.961 28 19 10 0.655 4 0.6897
UNCG 897 634 227 36 0.960 25 22 12 0.647 7 0.6385
Davidson 920 666 216 38 0.959 16 22 8 0.733 3 0.6994
App State 1009 672 293 44 0.956 28 37 6 0.860 1 0.6573
TOTALS 9806 6837 2628 341 0.965 208 250 100 0.714 50 0.6752


I thought it was interesting that the defensive efficiency rating in conference play (.675) was lower than when all games played by league teams were taken into consideration (.688). Of course, park effects would be one potential reason for the discrepancy.

Speaking of park effects, that brings me to my fabled statistical concoctions, SS+ and SS-, and an explanation.

It’s obvious that statistics can be skewed by park effects. The Citadel plays in a “pitcher’s park”. Western Carolina quite clearly does not. I try to account for this.

First, I use the Park Factors calculated by college baseball statistics guru Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the four seasons from 2010-2013. That gives us a chance to make a valid comparison, based on the “building blocks” of the game — runs. Teams want to score runs, and teams want to prevent them. How they do so doesn’t really matter in the long run.

There are a couple of caveats. One is relatively minor, while the other may or may not be.

The four-year period in question includes one year in the pre-BBCOR era, and three years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings, though to be honest I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, a slightly larger problem is that these aren’t the updated park factors. Ideally, I would base 2014’s numbers on park factors from 2011-2014, but Nation hasn’t released the data from last year yet (and probably won’t for another month or two). Despite that, I forged ahead.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 83, by far the lowest in the league. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, home of Western Carolina, has a PF of 123, which is the highest in the SoCon for the 2010-13 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the different road stadia each team played in during the 2014 season, and combined them. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all of its conference games.

Keep in mind that teams played an odd number of home/road games (and some games were rained out, so not every team played the full allotment of 27 league contests). In my formula, I do account for the different number of home/road matchups.

Okay, here we go:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF Runs SS+
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 193 1.976109215
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 182 1.797708416
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 176 1.630210189
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 163 1.588306943
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 169 1.583423423
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 177 1.560528993
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 151 1.511679644
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 136 1.455144033
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 131 1.413864674
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 135 1.383826879
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Samford, which scored more runs than any team in the league, did indeed have the best offense, even taking park factors into account. This table also suggests that despite finishing third in the league in runs scored, Western Carolina’s offense was actually slightly below league average.

To have had an offense that would essentially match Samford’s production, The Citadel would have had to score 183 runs in conference play last season (7.03 runs/game). The Bulldogs actually scored 131 (5.04 runs/game).

To be a league-average offense, The Citadel needed to score 148 runs (5.69 runs/game).

Now for the pitching/defense:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF RA SS-
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 107 1.096810934
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 128 1.128518142
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 147 1.451995259
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 157 1.607508532
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 173 1.620900901
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 186 1.722835768
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 168 1.797530864
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 180 1.802002225
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 188 1.831912302
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 179 1.931921959
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Ugh. Not a good look for The Citadel, which allowed the seventh-most runs in SoCon play, but was in reality the worst team in the league at preventing them. Wofford also fares a bit worse when using this metric.

To match the pitching/defense of Georgia Southern, The Citadel would have had to allow only 102 runs in league action (3.92 runs allowed/game). The actual total: 179 (6.88 runs allowed/game).

For league-average pitching/defense, The Citadel’s number was obviously the same as the offensive break-even point, 148 runs (5.69 runs allowed/game).

Now it’s time to take a look at The Citadel’s prospects for 2015. The difference in experience between the position players and pitchers is noticeable.

SoCon-only batting statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs. It’s not a long table:

J. Stokes 97 13 2 11 15 0.289 0.351 0.412 0.763
Bret Hines 57 7 0 2 3 0.281 0.290 0.333 0.623
R. Kilgallen 63 10 1 9 16 0.254 0.365 0.333 0.698
Austin Mapes 14 2 0 2 2 0.286 0.375 0.286 0.661
C. Walsh 20 1 0 1 4 0.200 0.227 0.300 0.527
S. Windham 10 1 0 4 5 0.200 0.400 0.200 0.600
Bailey Rush 18 1 0 1 6 0.167 0.211 0.167 0.378
B. Charpia 3 0 0 0 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
S. Hansen 0 2 0 1 0 0.000 1.000 0.000 1.000
Totals 282 37 3 31 54 0.259 0.328 0.337 0.665

– Total SoCon at bats in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 705
– Total SoCon at bats in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 900
– Total SoCon at bats in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 282

Now that’s a dropoff. There are opportunities galore for position players in 2015. Basically, the Bulldogs appear set at shortstop (with Johnathan Stokes), catcher (Ryan Kilgallen) and maybe third base (potentially a platoon situation). That’s about it.

In 2014, Bulldog returnees had hit 30 home runs in SoCon play during the previous season. This year, that number is three.

From the school’s preview:

The offense will rely on the tradition hallmark of Citadel baseball – doing the little things which produce runs in a variety of ways but does not rely on the long ball – as the departed players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s extra base hits and nearly 70 percent of the RBIs.

Not relying on the long ball definitely goes against the grain when it comes to playing in the Southern Conference. While most of their league opponents will zig, the Bulldogs plan to zag.

Last season, The Citadel had an OBP of .361 in conference play, 7th-best in the league. If the Bulldogs are going to succeed at “small ball” in 2015, they will need to get on base at a better clip, something closer to the team’s OBP in 2013 SoCon action (.404).

Johnathan Stokes had one stolen base in 2014 SoCon play, the only steal in a conference game among Bulldog returnees. Overall, The Citadel was 12 for 20 in stolen base attempts in SoCon action last year, after going 33 for 48 in league games in 2013. It’s hard to swipe a bag when you don’t get on base.

A couple of names to watch who aren’t listed in the above table:

– Drew Ellis was named the preseason SoCon freshman of the year by D1Baseball.com. Ellis (6’4″, 225 lbs.) is a native of Columbia who swings the bat from the left side (but throws from the right). He’ll be competing for a spot at first base.

Shy Phillips played this fall on the football team, of course, but the freshman is also a talented baseball prospect who committed to The Citadel in that sport before his senior season on the gridiron (where the Hartsville resident promptly played well enough to make the Shrine Bowl). Phillips (6’0″, 165 lbs.) will be in the mix for a place in the outfield.

SoCon-only pitching statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs:

Austin Mason 5.20 36.3 23 21 3 0.271 6.19 4.46 0.313
L. Meachem 1.69 5.3 1 1 0 0.200 8.44 3.38 0.267
Zach McKay 1.93 9.3 5 2 0 0.222 6.75 4.82 0.267
Skylar Hunter 2.65 17.0 5 5 1 0.155 7.41 6.88 0.186
P.J. Krouse 3.18 5.7 2 2 0 0.333 3.18 1.59 0.350
James Reeves 3.44 18.3 7 7 2 0.253 12.76 1.47 0.362
Zach Lavery 4.50 8.0 6 4 0 0.300 4.50 0.00 0.333
Nate Brecklin 9.66 4.7 7 5 1 0.440 3.86 7.71 0.455
Zach Sherrill 10.44 14.7 19 17 3 0.385 6.14 6.14 0.400
Ross White 11.00 9.0 11 11 0 0.429 6.00 9.00 0.500
Brett Tompkins 12.38 8.0 11 11 3 0.303 4.50 7.88 0.269
A. Livingston 12.94 16.0 26 23 1 0.400 7.88 6.19 0.468
Kevin Connell 15.89 11.3 21 20 4 0.407 5.56 8.74 0.400
C. Walsh 40.91 0.7 3 3 1 0.500 13.50 40.50 0.500
Totals 7.24 164.3 147 132 19 0.313 6.97 5.32 0.356

– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 225.7
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 197.0
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 164.3

There are spots to be won on the pitching staff, too, but for another reason. Plenty of Bulldog hurlers got a taste of the action in 2014. However, there weren’t many who had a great deal of success in league play.

As a group, The Citadel’s pitchers didn’t strike out batters as much in 2014 league games (K/9 of 6.50) as they did in 2013 (7.42). Worse, the BB/9 rate went up dramatically (from 2.56 to 4.83).

The gopher ball was also more of a problem in 2014, with an significant increase in HR/9 (from 0.73 to 0.96). Add it all up, and you get a team ERA (6.51) almost two runs per game higher than it was in 2013 league play (4.69).

There are several freshmen who will be candidates for the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. I want to make a couple of quick observations about two of the returning hurlers, though:

James Reeves only threw 18.3 innings in SoCon play due to injury. He is back this season, and if his elbow is okay the Summerville native should be a dependable fixture in the weekend rotation.

Reeves pitched very well last year before being shut down. The lefty was also solid in league play in 2013, with a 2.53 ERA that year, allowing just one home run in 32 innings.

Zach Sherrill had knee surgery in the offseason. Sherrill was a very effective (and frequently-used) reliever in 2013, but struggled last season. If he can return to his form of two years ago, he will once again be a weapon in the bullpen.

While Sherrill clearly got rocked at times in 2014 (allowing 3 homers in SoCon play after giving up none in league action the year before; he also walked too many batters), it’s also true he could use a little more defensive help. Sherrill’s BABIP in 2013 was .281; last year, that shot up to .400 (which was also reflected in his batting average against).

A few defensive numbers on which to ruminate:

– The Citadel’s DER in 2012 SoCon play: 68.8% (league DER: 68.4%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2013 SoCon play: 68.9% (league DER: 66.1%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2014 SoCon play: 66.0% (league DER: 67.5%)

– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 25
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 14
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 22

– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 47 (78.3% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 29 (74.4% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 28 (80.0% success rate for opponents)

– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 39
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 57
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 32

I should point out that the DER numbers mentioned above are not park-adjusted. Given the spaciousness of Riley Park, it may be that the Bulldogs were a little better defensively than the seventh-best defensive squad in a ten-team league (Georgia Southern led the SoCon with a DER of 70.8% in conference games).

Having said that, even if you bump the Bulldogs up a notch or two, they still wind up average or slightly below average defensively. Average or slightly below average is simply not good enough.

We’ve got to pitch and defend,” [Fred] Jordan said. “We feel like we should have enough starting pitching, and the back end of our bullpen is very experienced. We hope we will pitch extremely well. Defending? Some of the new faces are going to have to get their feet wet, and we’ll have to be patient with that. But if you can pitch and defend, you have a chance.”

The SoCon’s reshuffling means that this year three new schools are in the league (Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI), while four have departed (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson). The conference now has nine baseball teams (Chattanooga dropped its program over thirty years ago).

Mercer and East Tennessee State were most recently in the Atlantic Sun conference, and both made regional appearances two years ago (2013). That season, the Bears were the regular season league champions, while ETSU won the A-Sun tournament under the tutelage of noted clutch hitter Tony Skole.

The Buccaneers had a losing season last year, though they were competitive (27-30). Mercer won 38 games (the fifth consecutive season the Bears had won at least that many games), but went 2-and-BBQ in the conference tourney.

Both East Tennessee State and Mercer should fit right in with the bombs-away nature of the SoCon. Mercer was 15th nationally in home runs per game last season, while ETSU was tied for 24th overall in the category.

VMI was 25-23 last year, with an 11-16 record in the Big South. In stark contrast to the Bucs and Bears, the Keydets hit just 11 home runs in 48 games. The paucity of circuit clouts was a two-way street, however, as VMI’s pitchers only allowed 16 homers in 2014.

In December, VMI named Jonathan Hadra as its new baseball coach, after Marlin Ikenberry unexpectly resigned. Hadra, a 2004 graduate of the school, is the only first-time head baseball coach in the SoCon this season.

ETSU has a relatively new park, Thomas Stadium (referred to colloquially as “The Thom”; at least, that is what Wikipedia claims). It opened in 2013. In a bit of a scheduling fluke, The Citadel’s baseball team will not travel to any of the three new members in 2015. Mercer, ETSU, and VMI all play the Bulldogs in Charleston.

Of course, those three schools will make a return trip to Riley Park for the 2015 Southern Conference baseball tournament, which returns to the Holy City this season.

With eight league opponents this season, The Citadel will play 24 SoCon contests, twelve at home (ETSU, Mercer, VMI, Wofford) and twelve on the road (Western Carolina, UNCG, Samford, Furman). The league opener for the Bulldogs is March 27 in Cullowhee, against WCU.

The non-conference schedule is interesting. There are no early-season “tournaments” at Riley Park this season, however.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a fair share of games against former league opponents (College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, and Elon). Air Force comes to town for the opening weekend. The Bulldogs also have three-game home series with Lafayette, UMBC, and Alabama State.

The Citadel plays midweek games against North Florida and several in-state squads, including Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. As always, The Citadel has a home-and-home with South Carolina.

Also as always, there will be no games versus Clemson. The Tigers have not played the Bulldogs in Charleston since 1990.

Boyd Nation put together a preseason “strength of schedule” feature on his website for this season. Of course, no one knows in February what a team’s actual strength of schedule will be.

That said, I was curious as to how programs put together their non-conference schedules. Ranking the preseason SoS numbers, this is how it shakes out for the SoCon:

119 – Samford
149 – UNCG
180 – VMI
184 – Furman
186 – The Citadel
187 – East Tennessee State
197 – Western Carolina
208 – Mercer
280 – Wofford

The two teams that finished 1-2 in the preseason SoCon media poll have two of the three (presumed) weakest OOC schedules.

Just in case you were wondering, here are a few other teams’ non-conference SoS rankings:

1 – Stanford
2 – Cal State Fullerton
3 – Fresno State
4 – Pacific
5 – San Diego

(1 through 5 are California Dreamin’)

25 – Coastal Carolina
38 – Indiana (Chris Lemonis, immediately followed by…)
39 – Louisville (…Dan McDonnell)
45 – Liberty (ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
51 – Georgia Southern
55 – Clemson
59 – Appalachian State
85 – Kennesaw State (also ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
87 – College of Charleston

128 – Vanderbilt (the defending national champion, almost immediately followed by…)
130 – Virginia (…last season’s runner-up)
132 – Elon
168 – North Carolina
172 – North Carolina State
176 – South Carolina
237 – Winthrop
258 – Charleston Southern
296 – Army
300 – Lehigh
301 – Navy (there are 301 D-1 teams)

In the end, none of that will likely mean anything. It’s just early-season fun.

Odds and ends:

– Just like last season, this year’s edition of the Bulldogs will include three Austins and three Zachs. Five of the six Austins/Zachs are pitchers.

– In a further attempt to encourage fans to buy scorecards, The Citadel will also feature twins, freshmen Philip and Jacob Watcher. Both are expected to see plenty of time in the infield and on the hill.

– Zach Sherrill and the Watcher brothers are three of seven players on the roster from Sumter, which appears to be making a 21st-century attempt to become the Official Small Town of The Citadel. I am sure that Orangeburg, Camden, and possibly Kingstree will continue to battle for that title, however (although there is no player from Orangeburg on this year’s roster, which could come back to haunt Fred Jordan).

– The tallest of the Bulldogs is senior righthander Brett Tompkins, who is 6’5″. There are seven players listed on the roster at 5’9″; I bet at least one of them is shorter than that.

– Of the 45 players on the roster, 38 are from South Carolina. Of the seven Bulldogs from out of state, freshman catcher Justin Craft‘s hometown (Waldorf, Maryland) is the longest distance from Charleston.

– There are eighteen “true” freshmen among the Diamond Dogs, along with three redshirt freshmen.

– New volunteer assistant coach Aaron Gershenfeld was a catcher at Louisville, where he played for former Bulldogs Dan McDonnell (the Cardinals’ head coach) and Chris Lemonis (now helming the program at Indiana). Gershenfeld is slated to be the team’s hitting coach and will also work with the catchers.

I’m looking forward to the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a bit of a fair-weather fan (literally) for the first month or so, as my blood is still a bit thin. I’ll be faithfully watching the SoCon Digital Network, though, and listening to cult faves Andy and The Chief (“This is the out we came here for!”).

Having said that, the weather for the opening weekend looks promising, and I plan to be at Riley Park for at least one game of the series against Air Force. I hope a lot of other fans make an appearance, particularly on Opening Day — which also happens to be Friday the 13th. Don’t let triskaidekaphobia stop you from seeing the Diamond Dogs.

The Citadel is not favored to win the Southern Conference this season. Truth be told, the Bulldogs are not expected to be serious contenders for the title, as this year’s team will feature a lot of players who weren’t starters in 2014, along with a bunch of freshmen. Rebuilding is a word being thrown around in some circles.

A lack of experienced players, some freshmen, rebuilding. Hmm…that reminds me of something:

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

Go chase down those foul balls. It’s time for baseball season.

Kirk Herbstreit: the worst thing going on in college football?

Last Saturday, there was a segment on ESPN’s popular College GameDay show centered around FBS-FCS matchups. You can watch it here:


With the exception of Lee Corso, the ESPN crew was highly critical of FBS-FCS games, particularly those occurring late in the season (an SEC specialty).

The segment began with Chris Fowler listing a series of recent SEC opponents from the FCS. Fowler then noted:

Of course, a year ago this week Georgia Southern went to the swamp and did stun Georgia, giving license to all the SEC coaches to talk up the virtues, the worthiness, of today’s opponents.

Fowler delivered this line with a great deal of sarcasm, concentrating so much on his delivery that he forgot Georgia Southern actually beat Florida last year, not Georgia.

ESPN then showed snippets of various SEC coaches discussing their opponents for this week. The clips were clearly selected to make it seem that the coaches were overhyping their FCS foes.

If you were really paying attention, though, there wasn’t that much sandbagging going on. Mark Richt was probably a little over-the-top in extolling Charleston Southern’s “fever” to win, but there was nothing fraudulent about Gus Malzahn saying Samford was a “good I-AA team” (it is), or Nick Saban stating that Western Carolina was “a much improved team” (certainly true), or Will Muschamp noting that Eastern Kentucky was a playoff team in “I-AA, or whatever we’re calling that now” (he was right, as EKU made the FCS playoffs).

Also, Muschamp lost to an FCS school last year. Why wouldn’t he be concerned with a matchup against another team from that division?

Heck, he had been fired earlier in the week. Why would he have bothered overselling the game anyway?

Arguably, though, the most misleading clips were those of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, as he discussed South Alabama, the Gamecocks’ opponent last Saturday. There was no mention by anyone on the set that South Alabama wasn’t actually an FCS school at all (the Jaguars are members of the Sun Belt).

Considering South Carolina’s struggles of late (particularly on defense), Spurrier had good reason to be respectful of his upcoming opponent.

“We’re not trying to belittle [the FCS],” said Fowler, after spending the previous two minutes belittling the FCS. He then criticized the SEC for playing these games. “It’s not good for the sport.”

After a short interlude with Corso, Kirk Herbstreit looked right at the camera and said:

This is the worst thing that goes on in college football.

Yes. He said that. The worst thing that goes on in the sport. FCS vs. FBS matchups. Not any of the myriad off-field issues, not the safety concerns on the field, none of that.

“No due respect to the FCS and what they’re doing,” Herbstreit continued (with an unintentional but perhaps more accurate slip of the tongue), “…there should be a penalty [from the college football playoff committee]…when you play games like this. We need to eliminate these games when it comes to the non-conference [schedules]. They’re not good for the FCS schools, they’re not good for the SEC schools, or any other schools that play ’em. It’s just bad for the game. We have no games this weekend!”

“I hate it!” me-tooed Desmond Howard, who added that when he was in school, his alma mater (Michigan) didn’t play FCS schools. Of course, that changed after Howard left Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines rather famously played an FCS school in 2007.

Lee Corso then pointed out that the games are a financial boon to the FCS schools. Herbstreit’s response: “We’ve got enough money now…if it’s about the money, give ’em the money, just don’t schedule [these games].” Corso began cackling at the notion.

Let’s go through some of these comments:

– “There should be a penalty…when you play games like this.”

A team that schedules quality FBS non-conference opponents is probably going to be looked upon more favorably by the playoff committee than one that plays lesser competition. I’m not even sure that’s an issue.

Exactly how many FBS schools are going to be competing for one of those playoff spots in a given year, however? There are 65 FBS schools in the power five conferences (including Notre Dame in that group). How many of them are going to be serious contenders for one of four spots? What about the other 63 schools that compete at the FBS level? (Well, we probably know the answer to that last question.)

– “They’re not good for the FCS schools.”

This statement made me wonder if Herbstreit has ever talked to someone associated with an FCS school.

Besides the money aspect mentioned by Corso, FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

– “We have no games this weekend!”

Well, I looked at the schedule. I saw plenty of games.

There may not have been a matchup between two ranked SEC teams, but keep in mind that various ESPN networks featured several prominent SEC battles early in the season, while other conferences were in the midst of their non-league schedules. It’s a trade-off.

The truth of the matter is there were a lot of quality games played last weekend. Maybe you had to look a little deeper into the world of college football to find them, but is that such a bad thing?

Also, remember Week 5 of this season? That Saturday, College GameDay wound up at the Missouri-South Carolina game, due to a perceived lack of quality matchups (both the Gamecocks and Tigers already had a loss at the time, with Mizzou having just lost at home to Indiana).

Was that slate of games so poor because of a bunch of FBS-FCS matchups? No. There were only two such games in that week: Army-Yale (a game won in double overtime by the Elis), and Eastern Illinois-Ohio (the Bobcats won 34-19).

Sometimes, the schedule for a given week just isn’t going to be that alluring. That has little to do with FBS-FCS games (which were only around 7% of the complete FBS schedule for the regular season anyway).

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir watched Herbstreit and company before WCU played Alabama later that day, and he wasn’t happy.

Now, I think Speir was a little heavyhanded in his criticism of Herbstreit. The “silver spoon” reference was not necessary.

However, I fully understand Speir’s frustration, and he had every right to call out the former Ohio State quarterback for his remarks (particularly the “worst thing that goes on in college football” line uttered by Herbstreit, which was simply ludicrous).

I thought it was good of Speir to speak out, and to let people know that he was personally offended by the comments that were made. Too often the point of view from the FCS side of the aisle goes unheard.

After all, Speir has been a coach on the FCS level for most of his career, including a long stint as an assistant at Appalachian State. He was in Michigan Stadium that fateful day when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines.

In my opinion, the FCS-FBS matchups are largely good for college football, because college football is about a lot more than the schools in the power five conferences. This is something that appears to be hard for some people to understand.

The concept of what is best for the greater good of college football — well, it seems to be lost in certain quarters. I’ve said this before, but I honestly get the impression some members of the national college football media cabal think there should only be thirty or forty schools that play football, and that the rest should just give up the sport.

I’m not the only person who gets that vibe, judging from these comments by Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman:

Huesman was watching “Gameday” from his hotel room in Greenville, S.C., before the Mocs’ game against Furman, but he said he will not watch the show again.

“Herbstreit has bothered me for a few years now,” Huesman said. “Nothing to him matters except big-time college football. And then Desmond Howard jumped in, too, and that’s when I had had enough. I’ll never watch that show again.

“I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for them to put on a rant like that during the course of a show about college football. I thought it was disrespectful. He just alienated people.

It should be pointed out that the backdrop for Saturday’s ESPN discussion was an FCS game (Yale-Harvard), and that College GameDay visited the fine folks at North Dakota State earlier this season (for the second consecutive year). There are people at the network who clearly appreciate the FCS, along with other divisions of college football. I’m glad for that.

I just wish there were more of them, and that they were on camera.

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

– Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

– Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

– Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

– In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

The Citadel
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Georgia Southern

– As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

Secret memo to Mike Houston, The Citadel’s new football coach


To: Mike Houston

From: A concerned alum

Re: Football at The Citadel

Hello there, coach. Congratulations on being named head football coach at The Citadel. I trust you and your family will enjoy Charleston.

Now, there are some important things you need to know in order to succeed in your new position. That’s why this memo is a big secret. We want to make sure our enemies don’t have a firm grasp on your plan of attack, which is going to be aggressive, with a lot of energy.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

– Some of our alums were impressed with your youthful enthusiasm at the Thursday press conference. There were multiple queries asking if you were, in fact, the youngest coach in program history.

Of course, Coach Houston, you’re not. Most of The Citadel’s coaches were actually younger than you when they were hired, even though you’re only 42. All but five, in fact.

However, four of those five older coaches are the most recent hires at The Citadel (Powers/Johnson/Zernhelt/Higgins). Given that recent trend, it’s not surprising that people think you’re really young for the job.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that The Citadel’s first two head football coaches were both only 22 years old when they got the job. One of them, Syd Smith, later played major league baseball.

I don’t think you’re a candidate for MLB when your coaching career is over, but perhaps you can emulate The Citadel’s second coach, Ralph Foster, in wearing a snazzy hat. If not, perhaps your offensive coordinator could wear it. He definitely needs an upgrade in the headgear department.

– Speaking of that offensive coordinator, I was glad to see you’re bringing Brent Thompson on board. It would have been tough for The Citadel to announce it wanted to hire a coach who ran the option, then hire a defensive-oriented coach whose option-running OC didn’t come along with him.

I’ve heard good things about Thompson (and your offensive line coach, Ron Boyd). Thompson’s explanation of the origination of his triple option offense was interesting:

I’ve probably taken the most from Navy and Georgia Southern. And I’ve worked with  coaches at Army and with Ashley Ingram at Navy, so I steal some things from there. And I try to gather as much film on Georgia Southern as [I] can.

Ingram, of course, was one of the three finalists for the job that you eventually got.

Having said that, you should know that a few alums are a little worried about your staff. Not only have you never coached at the D-1 level, the same is true for all of the assistants you’re bringing along from Lenoir-Rhyne (with the notable exception of Thompson).

Of course, you haven’t finalized your staff yet, and there are some positive rumors about potential assistants still to be added. Fans will be waiting on those hires with considerable interest (you may have noticed, they’re interested in just about everything related to the football program).

– There is a little bit of angst that surrounds the football program. You will probably pick up on this sooner rather than later. As to why it exists, it’s simple: The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron since the 1991-92 campaigns, the longest such stretch in school history.

There are a lot of alums who are ready to win again. Some of them can be a bit melodramatic about this. “I want one more SoCon title before I die,” they’ll proclaim.

– I was glad to hear you talk about the importance of retention. Among other things, you told the assembled media on Thursday that you want to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.”

The reference to “older teams” (and the redshirting subtext) made me think of Jim Grobe and how he approached his recruiting/scholarship management at Wake Forest. Grobe won an ACC title at Wake Forest with that philosophy.

Your response to a question about transfers was excellent. “The institution does not lend itself to a lot of transfers,” you said. Indeed, it doesn’t.

– I can appreciate your comments that recruiting at Lenoir-Rhyne is not completely dissimilar to recruiting at The Citadel. However, a word of warning. Making comparisons to The Citadel can be tricky. Very tricky.

That’s why it’s important you get up to speed as quickly as possible about the institution that is now your employer. Learn as much about The Citadel as you possibly can. It’s not quite the same as the service academies, or small private schools, or anything else for that matter.

This statement you made was a good start:

You’ve got to understand exactly what The Citadel is. I’m excited about embracing the core values of The Citadel and recruiting student-athletes [who] fit the institution.

At The Citadel, you have to recruit prospective cadets who can play football. That’s the only way you can go about it. Recruiting from a football-first perspective is problematic, if not impossible.

– To be honest, coach, there is no way you are ever going to understand everything about the military college — and that’s okay. I don’t have a full grasp on the place myself, and I’m an old goat who graduated from the school.

You mentioned that a good friend of yours played football at The Citadel when Charlie Taaffe was the coach. People like that can help you start figuring things out. Talk to them early and often.

Also try to make a point of reaching out to younger alums, including former football players. I suspect you were going to do that anyway, but it’s critical to build some bridges in that area.

– The military component of the school is kind of important. It is, after all, a military college.

The key thing for you to remember is this: work with the system, not against it. Coaches who learn this, and who emphasize to their players the importance of conforming and being part of the system, tend to be successful. Coaches who fight the system every step of the way are never successful.

– It’s important to develop a positive relationship with the corps of cadets. An active and engaged corps can be a tremendous weapon for you on football Saturdays. Be sure to make a “stump speech” at the mess hall on a regular basis.

However, ultimately you aren’t responsible for the activities of the general student body. For the most part, when it comes to corps issues, let others sweat the details, at least in your first year.

– Coach Houston, we need to talk about the uniforms…

The Citadel has a contract with adidas which began last season. You might be surprised to know that before a home game against Furman, the team had to change jerseys because the SoCon officiating crew deemed them illegal.

That’s the kind of thing that might drive a coach crazy. Instead of concentrating on game preparation, the team got mired in Unigate.

Then there is the constantly revolving door of helmet logos. After a rare bout of consistency in this department, for unexplained reasons The Citadel changed its helmet design yet again for the season finale at Clemson.

Coach, I’m sure you would be puzzled at the team debuting a new design at the end of the year — and in a road game to boot. It made no sense.

However, it was just the latest in The Citadel’s tortured football uniform history. More than four years after I first wrote about it, there has been no effort to develop a standard. For a school as beholden to tradition as The Citadel, this is amazing (and infuriating).

Now, you may not be able to stop the latest helmet tweak, but you can probably make sure the jerseys feature the appropriate colors of light blue and white. Navy blue should not be a predominant color. Neither should red, or silver, or gray.

There is one other very important thing you need to fix.

Make sure the correct name of the school is on the jersey. Tell the administration you won’t lead the team out on to the field unless “THE CITADEL” is on the front of the jerseys (not “Citadel”). I can’t emphasize how critical this is to your future success.

Imagine if, during your playing career at Mars Hill, you had to wear jerseys that only read “Mars” across the front. You would be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the name of your school (though the association with Otis Sistrunk’s alma mater might have amused a few people).

If you put the “The” back on the jerseys, coach, you will go a long way to satisfying the alumni sports blogger demographic. I know you want to keep that faction happy.

Congrats again on your appointment, Coach Houston. In your remarks to the press, it became apparent the job at The Citadel was one that had been of interest to you even before this year.

You clearly wanted the position, and think you can be successful in this role. I enjoyed watching the press conference (and subsequent interviews) and seeing your intensity, passion, and confidence.

The Citadel is a very unusual place, often difficult, occasionally intimidating, and at times frustrating. It’s also a very special place, one that engenders uncommon loyalty.

Embrace the challenge. We’re with you all the way.


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