Big Dance victory droughts: major-conference schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years — the 2014 edition

Last year, I wrote about the BCS schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years. Thirteen schools fit that description, unfortunately for them. Two things subsequently happened:

1) One of the thirteen, Mississippi, won its first NCAA tournament game since 2001. The Rebels beat Wisconsin in the round of 64 before losing to La Salle.

2) The Big East split into two leagues, the “new Big East” and the American Athletic Conference.

The latter event is leading to a slight change for this year’s post. What, precisely, is a “major conference” in college basketball? Does the Big East count? What about the AAC? And if they do, then perhaps shouldn’t the MWC as well? Does the Atlantic-10 have a case?

For this year, I’ve decided to consider seven leagues as “major conferences”: AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, SEC, and Pac-12.

For the record, here are the 13 schools in the A-10 and MWC that have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004 (a few of them have never won a tourney game at all): Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s, Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, and Wyoming.

The following 17 major-conference schools have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004:

- Northwestern (no tournament appearances): NU is the cause célèbre of schools to have never played in the NCAA tournament, because it is the only major-conference school to have never competed in the event. You can read about Northwestern and all the other schools that have never made the Big Dance here: Link

At 13-18 this season (6-12 in conference play), the Wildcats would have to win the Big 10 tourney to make the NCAAs for the first time. That would mean winning four games in four days, against Iowa, Michigan State, probably Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan.

No, that’s not happening.

- Nebraska (no NCAA victories): The Cornhuskers are winless in six trips to the Big Dance, and haven’t made the NCAAs at all since 1998.

That “haven’t made the NCAAs” bit is probably going to change this year, though, as Nebraska appears a decent bet to get an at-large bid. Whether it can finally win a game in the tournament is another matter, of course. It should get the opportunity, though.

- UCF (no NCAA victories): The Knights’ football team won a BCS bowl game this past season, but in four trips to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, UCF is 0-fer. All four of those appearances came as a member of the Atlantic Sun.

This year, UCF is 12-17 overall, 4-14 in the AAC, and waiting for football season.

- South Carolina (last won an NCAA game in 1973): It has been more than 40 years since the Gamecocks advanced in the NCAAs. South Carolina’s last victory was actually in a regional consolation game. Its losing streak in NCAA play began with a loss to Furman.

The Gamecocks would have to win five SEC tournament games in five days to earn a trip to the NCAAs this year, which is about as likely as Frank Martin controlling his emotions on the sidelines.

- Houston (last won an NCAA game in 1984): That’s right, the Cougars haven’t won an NCAA tourney game since the days of Phi Slama Jama. That may seem hard to believe, but Houston has only made one trip to the NCAAs since 1992.

In order to return to the grand stage for the first time since 2010, the Cougars would have to win the AAC tourney, a dicey proposition at best. Houston is the 6 seed in a league tournament with five very good teams. Beating three of them in three days is probably not realistic.

- Oregon State (last won an NCAA game in 1982): The Beavers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1991, the longest such drought for a BCS school outside of Northwestern, and haven’t won a game in the tourney since 1982, when OSU lost to Georgetown in the West Regional final. The program has two appearances in the Final Four, so it’s not like Oregon State is bereft of hoops tradition.

Only a Pac-12 tourney title will be enough to get Oregon State back to the NCAAs. Raise your hand if you think President Obama’s favorite Pac-12 team can win four games in four days, with the first two coming against Oregon and UCLA. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

- Rutgers (last won an NCAA game in 1983): The last time RU won a tourney game was in 1983, when the Scarlet Knights were in the Atlantic-10. Rutgers has since moved from the A-10 to the Big East to the AAC, and, beginning next season, the Big 10.

In 1976, Rutgers made the Final Four as a member of the ECAC Metro conference. That league was probably a bit easier to navigate than this year’s AAC, in which Rutgers went 5-13 in conference action (11-20 overall). There will be at least one more year on this list for the Scarlet Knights (if not more).

- TCU (last won an NCAA game in 1987): TCU hasn’t made the NCAAs since 1997, when it was in the WAC. TCU’s last victory in the tournament came in 1987, as an SWC team.

This year, as a member of the Big XII, the Horned Frogs were the only program in Division I to go winless in conference play. I wouldn’t put any money on a league tournament run.

- SMU (last won an NCAA game in 1988): The Mustangs’ last win in the Big Dance was an 83-75 victory over Digger Phelps and Notre Dame. SMU was a member of the SWC at the time, as it was for all ten of its appearances in the NCAAs.

Under the tutelage of the remarkable Larry Brown, the Mustangs are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 1993, this time as a member of the AAC.

- Providence (last won an NCAA game in 1997): Two notable coaches (Dave Gavitt and Rick Pitino) each led the Friars to the Final Four (in 1973 and 1987, respectively). Providence hasn’t won a game in the NCAAs since losing a regional final to Arizona in 1997, however, and hasn’t made an NCAA appearance at all since 2004.

This year the Friars are a “bubble” team. To make the NCAAs, Providence probably needs to win at least one Big East tournament game. As it happens, the Friars’ first-round opponent is another bubbler…the next team on this list.

- St. John’s (last won an NCAA game in 2000): SJU has only played in two NCAA tournaments since 2000, testimony to the modern struggles of this tradition-rich program (two Final Fours, four Elite Eights).

To have any shot at returning to the NCAAs this season, Steve Lavin’s Red Storm must beat Providence on Thursday (and likely needs to win the following day as well, a potential matchup against Villanova).

- Iowa (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Iowa is another school that has a fine basketball history. The Hawkeyes played in the 1956 NCAA title game, one of three times Iowa has made the Final Four. Since 2001, however, it has only made the NCAAs twice, losing in the first round on both occasions (the latter appearance as a 3-seed, in a gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern State).

The Hawkeyes should be returning to the NCAAs again this year, barring a lot of conference tourney upsets across the country. Fran McCaffery’s squad will get a chance to dance.

- Penn State (last won an NCAA game in 2001): The Nittany Lions got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, upsetting North Carolina in the second round to get there. PSU has only made one tourney trip since (2011).

Barring a spectacular run through the Big 10 tournament, Penn State (15-16 overall, 6-12 Big 10) will have to wait at least one more season to return to the NCAAs.

- Georgia (last won an NCAA game in 2002): UGA has only made two NCAAs since 2002. In 1983, Hugh Durham’s Bulldogs made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to eventual champ North Carolina State. That 1983 appearance was actually UGA’s first trip to the NCAAs in school history.

Despite a 12-6 conference record, Georgia will have to win the SEC tourney in order to return to the NCAAs. Of all the teams on this list that are in “win league tourney or else” mode, though, the Bulldogs may have the best shot. Admittedly, it’s not much of one.

- Auburn (last won an NCAA game in 2003): The last time Auburn made the NCAAs, the Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003 before losing by one point in the regional semifinals to Syracuse, which won the national title that year.

The Tigers tend to play well in the NCAAs (12-8 alltime) when they get to the NCAAs. Getting there, however, has been a bit of a challenge at times. This year will be no exception. Only an SEC tournament title will do, and Auburn is the 12 seed in that event.

Seton Hall (last won an NCAA game in 2004): Louis Orr was the coach when Seton Hall last won a game in the Big Dance, winning an 8-9 game against Lute Olson and Arizona in 2004. Orr was also on the bench when the Pirates made their last appearance in the NCAAs, in 2006.

This year, Seton Hall is 15-16, and would have to win four games in four days at Madison Square Garden to qualify for the NCAAs. It would be quite a story.

- DePaul: (last won an NCAA game in 2004): DePaul hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since advancing to the round of 32 in 2004.

This season, the Blue Demons have been dreadful (11-20, last in the Big East), culminating in a horrific 79-46 loss to Butler on Senior Night. That would be Senior Night…at home. In Chicago.

(Speaking of Chicago, it’s been a tough year for college hoops in the Windy City. The five D-1 schools in the metropolitan area (UIC, Chicago State, Northwestern, Loyola-IL, DePaul) have a combined record of 52-103; four of those schools finished in last place in their respective leagues.)

For any of these schools to break through and win a game in the NCAAs, the first step is getting to the tournament. This year, SMU will be there, and Iowa probably will be as well. Nebraska should join them.

Providence and St. John’s could possibly garner at-large bids. The other twelve schools can only get there by winning their respective league tournaments, a tall order. Otherwise, they are guaranteed to be on this list next year.

Big Dance victory droughts: BCS schools that haven’t celebrated an NCAA tournament win in quite a while

Update: the 2014 edition

This post was partly inspired by a recent recap of a Frank Martin press conference. Now, Frank Martin pressers are often required viewing, because the South Carolina coach doesn’t mince words. What struck me, though, was this note:

Martin said he realized this year marks the 40th anniversary of USC’s last NCAA tournament victory.

You read that correctly. South Carolina hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. That’s a long drought for a team in a major conference (even if the Gamecocks weren’t in a BCS league for part of that time).

It got me thinking…what other schools currently in BCS leagues haven’t won a game in the Big Dance in a while? Not just get a bid, mind you, but actually advance in the tournament with a victory?

After looking up some records, I was mildly surprised to discover that 13 current BCS schools have gone at least ten years without such a win. Some have gone a lot longer than that — and two of them have never won an NCAA tournament game.

That group of 13 does not include South Carolina’s fellow Palmetto State school, Clemson, although the Tigers actually haven’t advanced past the round of 64 since 1997. However, two years ago Clemson won a play-in game against UAB, which counts (more or less).

Let’s take a look at our sad list of 13, then. None of these schools has won a tournament game since 2003:

- Northwestern (no tournament appearances): Famously, NU is the only BCS school to have never played in the NCAA tournament (despite hosting the very first NCAA title game in 1939). You can read about Northwestern and all the other schools that have never made the Big Dance here: Link

- Nebraska (no NCAA victories): Here is the only other BCS school to have never won an NCAA tournament game, although the Cornhuskers have at least played in the event. Nebraska is 0-for-6, including three losses as the higher-seeded team. The Cornhuskers last made the NCAAs in 1998.

- South Carolina (last won an NCAA game in 1973): As mentioned above, the Gamecocks haven’t advanced in the NCAAs for four decades. South Carolina’s last victory was actually in a regional consolation game. Since then, the Gamecocks have suffered some particularly excruciating losses, including losing in the first round in consecutive years as a 2 and 3 seed, respectively. South Carolina’s NCAA tourney losing streak began in 1974 with a loss to Furman. Ouch.

- Oregon State (last won an NCAA game in 1982): The Beavers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1991, the longest such drought for a BCS school outside of Northwestern, and haven’t won a game in the tourney since 1982, when it lost in the Elite Eight to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Oregon State has two final fours in its history; it’s odd the Beavers haven’t been able to put things together for so long.

- Rutgers (last won an NCAA game in 1983): Of course, the Scarlet Knights haven’t always been a major-conference program, but at any rate the last time RU won a tourney game was in 1983 (as a member of the Atlantic 10). In 1976, Rutgers made the Final Four as a member of the long-gone ECAC Metro conference. The Scarlet Knights were undefeated that year until losing to Michigan in the national semis.

- TCU (last won an NCAA game in 1987): Here is another school that hasn’t been in a major conference throughout its history. However, since the Southwest Conference dissolved, the Horned Frogs have only participated in one NCAA tournament (1997, as a member of the WAC). TCU’s last victory in the Big Dance came in 1987, as an SWC team.

- Providence (last won an NCAA game in 1997): The Friars have advanced to two Final Fours and came very close to notching a third trip in 1997, when Pete Gillen’s squad lost in overtime to eventual national champion Arizona in the Elite Eight. Providence has yet to win a game in the NCAAs since then, however, and hasn’t played in the tournament at all since 2004.

- St. John’s (last won an NCAA game in 2000): SJU has only played in two NCAA tournaments since 2000, a major disappointment for a school with a hoops tradition as rich as St. John’s. The Red Storm has never won the NCAA title, but the program does have two Final Four trips and four Elite Eight appearances, including one as recently as 1999.

- Iowa (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Like St. John’s, Iowa is another school with a history of playing quality basketball. The Hawkeyes played in the 1956 NCAA title game, one of three Final Four appearances for Iowa. Since the 2001 season, however, it has only qualified for two NCAA tournaments.

- Penn State (last won an NCAA game in 2001): The Nittany Lions got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, upsetting North Carolina in the second round before losing to Temple. Since then, Penn State has only made one NCAA tournament (in 2011).

- Mississippi (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Mississippi got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, and returned to the NCAAs in 2002 (losing in the first round that year). That 2002 appearance is the Rebels’ most recent in the event. Mississippi has only played in six NCAA tournaments, and is probably most remembered for being on the wrong side of Bryce Drew and “Pacer” back in 1998.

- Georgia (last won an NCAA game in 2002): UGA has only made two NCAAs since 2002. Georgia had never played in the NCAA tournament before 1983. That year, though, the Bulldogs (led by Vern Fleming) made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to Jim Valvano’s destined North Carolina State squad. Georgia has only managed to get to the Sweet 16 once since that year.

- Auburn (last won an NCAA game in 2003): The Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003, losing by one point in the regional semifinals to Carmelo Anthony and eventual national champ Syracuse. That was the last time Auburn made the Big Dance. Oddly, the Tigers have a winning record in NCAA tournament play (12-8), despite never advancing to the Final Four (one Elite Eight appearance).

When Auburn gets to the tournament, it’s a solid bet to win a game or two; the one time AU didn’t win its first-round tourney game, a loss to Richmond, its star was one Charles Barkley. The problem is that the Tigers don’t get there that often — which is something that can be said for several of the schools on this list.

Will any of these schools break through and win a game this year? Well, first they have to make the tournament, and there is a good chance not one of them will get a bid. Iowa and St. John’s are bubble teams (arguably on the wrong side of the bubble), while the others would have to win their respective conference tourneys to get there.

In other words, there is a good chance all of them will remain on this list next year.

SoCon hoops season begins for The Citadel

On Thursday, The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a home game against Georgia Southern.  Before discussing that game and the two matchups that follow, I want to take a look back at the first five games of the season.

I figured that at worst The Citadel would be 2-3 after five games.  There was only one game (Richmond) that I did not think The Citadel had a good chance of winning, and even there I thought the senior-laden Bulldogs would be competitive.

As it happens, The Citadel was blown out by Richmond in an embarrassing fashion (79-37).  The Bulldogs then lost at Charleston Southern (a very disappointing result) and dropped their home opener to James Madison (which I would have rated as a tossup game).  Chuck Driesell finally got his first career win against High Point, an “expected” win, but then The Citadel blew a second-half lead and lost at Coastal Carolina.

The Bulldogs have had serious issues on the defensive end, especially in the second half.  The Citadel led at the half against Charleston Southern, James Madison, and Coastal Carolina, and lost all three games.  The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot exactly 50% from the field, which is the bottom 20 nationally.

Breaking it down a little further, The Citadel’s opponents are shooting 54.4% from 2-point range (bottom 40 nationally).  That suggests a lack of presence on the inside, which is borne out by below-average rebounding numbers and the fact the Bulldogs have blocked a grand total of two shots in five games.

In the second half, the defensive FG% numbers are beyond terrible. In The Citadel’s four losses, opponents are shooting 62% from the field after the halftime break, which is a good reason why the Bulldogs lost those leads.  For example, a five-point halftime lead over JMU dissolved when the Dukes shot 71% in the second half.  The three-point shooting numbers for opponents haven’t been that bad (not great, but reasonable), but The Citadel has just been abused in the paint.

On offense, the Bulldogs are also struggling, with an eFG of 42.1%, which is 306th out of 347 Division I teams.  Zach Urbanus, a mainstay for The Citadel for four years, is shooting just 30.9% from the field and 29.6% from 3-land (last year those numbers for Urbanus were 38.9% and 40.0%, respectively).  Cameron Wells and Austin Dahn are near their 2009-10 numbers, with Wells starting to get going (enough to be the latest SoCon Player of the Week).

Those three have scored 204 of The Citadel’s 300 points, which is 68% of the Bulldogs’ scoring offense.  Last season, they accounted for 57% of The Citadel’s points, so a little extra offensive help for them would be nice.  However, getting the defensive deficiencies straightened out has to come first.

One issue is that the “big three” are playing a lot of minutes.  They always have, but it’s even more pronounced this season.  Urbanus is averaging 38.6 mpg, an increase over his workload of 36.1 mpg last season.  Wells is averaging 35.2 mpg (34.9 in 2009-10), and Dahn 32 mpg (26.1 last season).

I believe that for The Citadel to have a successful season, those numbers have to go down a bit.  I was hoping, actually, that they wouldn’t be so high so early in the season, but Driesell’s rotation has been fairly tight so far.  Only eight players have seen action in all five games.  Going forward, the Bulldogs need to get quality minutes out of some other backcourt performers.

The Citadel also needs to get increased productivity from its big men, on both ends of the court.  So far the only frontcourt player getting the job done is Bryan Streeter, who has been basically all you could ask of an undersized “4”, except for the fact he can’t shoot free throws at all.  Being so foul from the foul line has been problematic at times, and obviously down the stretch of close games is a real liability, but aside from that he has been solid — arguably the second-best player on the team after Wells.

Streeter has had to be solid, because he hasn’t had a lot of help down low.  In particular, the much-discussed 7-foot transfers, Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek, have yet to make an impact.

Dejworek did not play in the last two games, and in the games he has appeared has averaged fewer than two rebounds per contest.  He has scored two points in 32 minutes of play.  Williams is shooting only 26.3% from the field, which is remarkably poor for someone who plays so close to the basket.  He is a decent defensive rebounder, but has not shown an affinity for the offensive glass (a Streeter specialty). Williams also has more turnovers in 68 minutes of play than Wells does in 176 minutes of action.

Chuck Driesell promised a more up-tempo style this season.  The Citadel is averaging 7.6 more possessions per game so far, but seems to still be searching for an offensive identity.  The defense would be a problem regardless of the game’s pace.

While being interviewed postgame on the radio after the loss to Coastal Carolina, Driesell openly wondered if fatigue was affecting the team’s defensive play.  He may have a point, and it’s just another reason to watch individual players’ minutes, but I think post play is a bigger factor (although that doesn’t completely explain opponents’ second-half success).  I’m not watching the practices, so I’m not going to advocate for individual players to get more time, but I have to admit there are two or three players who I would like to see on the court more often.

I am a little worried this is going to turn into a true “transition” season, one in which a new coach establishes his style of play at the expense of wins and losses.  I hope that doesn’t happen, for two reasons.  The first is that this is as good a senior class as The Citadel has had in many, many years, and I want to see them succeed.  I think they have a chance to build upon the previous two seasons and win a lot of games.

The other reason is that I believe, based on what has happened so far this season, that the SoCon is there to be had.  This is not going to be a vintage year for the league (not that any year ever is).  The league has gone 21-44 in non-conference action (through November play).

That includes a 3-20 mark against major conference opponents, with the three wins coming against BCS bottom-feeders Auburn, DePaul, and Nebraska.  The league’s best OOC victory is probably Appalachian State’s 89-86 win over Tulsa.  It could be argued the SoCon’s best performance came in a loss — Wofford’s 3OT defeat at Xavier.

There is an opportunity for The Citadel to make some noise in the league.  That needs to start on Thursday.

Georgia Southern is struggling.  The Eagles’ record is 2-5, and the two wins are both over non-Division I teams.  GSU has lost consecutive neutral-site games to Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State; the other losses were drubbings by Notre Dame, South Florida, and Texas Tech.

It should be pointed out that none of GSU’s five losses came at home, but the statistics indicate that the Eagles greatly resemble last season’s squad, one that went 9-23 and played terrible defense.  That 9-23 mark included a split with The Citadel, with the Bulldogs hammering the Eagles at McAlister Field House in the first game, and then blowing a 21-point second half lead and losing the second.

Willie Powers scored 19 points to lead GSU in that matchup, but unfortunately won’t be playing this season.  The star-crossed Powers has been a fine player when healthy, but he suffered his second major knee injury in August and is out for the year.

Without him, the Eagles appear to be a similar outfit to last year’s edition.  GSU averages 77.6 possessions per game, has a turnover rate among the bottom 40 nationally and shoots poorly from beyond the arc (28.1%).  It’s hard to play racehorse basketball without the horses.

Davidson was 16-15 last year in Year 1 A.C. (After Curry).  I think the Wildcats could be a sleeper pick to win the league this year, assuming Davidson can ever be a sleeper pick in the SoCon.  I’m not sure the Wildcats were completely prepared to play without Stephen Curry last season, but this year should be a different story.

Davidson is 3-3.  None of the losses are bad, and the Wildcats do have a win over a major conference team (Big XII caboose Nebraska). Davidson has four players averaging double figures in scoring, including center Jake Cohen, who as a freshman scored 39 combined points in two games against The Citadel last season.  Cohen will again be a difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

The Wildcats are not yet locked in from beyond the arc (28.8%), but that was true last year as well until Davidson made 15 three-pointers at McAlister Field House.  The Wildcats are holding opponents to 40.4% shooting from the field, which includes excellent interior defense (at least statistically).  Davidson does foul a lot, averaging 23 per contest.

Before playing The Citadel, Davidson will travel to the College of Charleston.  It’s the second year in a row the Wildcats have opened SoCon play by making the Low Country swing.

The Citadel’s third game in five days (and last before an 11-day break for exams) is a non-conference matchup with St. Mary’s.  That’s not the St. Mary’s in California that made last year’s Sweet 16; no, this St. Mary’s is a Division III school in Maryland.

Some fast facts about the school, for those unfamiliar with St. Mary’s:

– Like The Citadel, St. Mary’s has about 2000 undergraduates, was founded in the 1840s (1840 for St. Mary’s, 1842 for The Citadel), is a public school that is often mistaken for a private institution, and is big on history.

– The “big on history” thing is a little different, though.  St. Mary’s is located in St. Mary’s City (hence the name of the school), which was once the capital of Maryland. There is a significant archaeological site in the area; actually, the town is basically the school and that site.

St. Mary’s City was the fourth British settlement in North America, and founded as something of a test case for religious tolerance.

– St. Mary’s was a junior college for most of its existence; it has been a four-year college since 1966.

– Notable alums include professional wrestler Scott Hall (also known as Razor Ramon, and an original member of the New World Order!) and trailblazing female baseball player Julie Croteau.

– The Seahawks play in Division III and are members of the Capital Athletic Conference.

One of St. Mary’s fellow CAC schools is Marymount, which was once coached by…Chuck Driesell.  That may go a long way towards explaining how this game with St. Mary’s came to be.  Of course, it may have nothing to do with it, for all I know.

One thing Driesell will be sure to tell his players is that they can’t take St. Mary’s lightly. This is a solid Division III program.  The Seahawks were 26-4 last season and made the D-3 Sweet 16.  They are a cut above The Citadel’s normal non-Division I fare and should be respected as such.

St. Mary’s has won four of its first five games this season to date (and will play another game, against Stevenson, before facing The Citadel).  The Seahawks are led by 6’1″ guard Alex Franz, a two-time All-CAC selection who is averaging 15.5 points per game.  Statistically, St. Mary’s doesn’t have any extraordinary numbers, although the three-point differential is curious — the Seahawks are shooting 38.4% from beyond the arc, while their opponents are shooting just 22.9% from 3-land.

To get off to a good start in the league, The Citadel must improve defensively and needs contributions from a wider variety of players on its roster.  I will be disappointed if the Bulldogs do not win at least two of the three upcoming games.  Winning all three would make up for the slow start.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Arizona

Gametime:  10 pm ET, September 11.

Telecast:  KWBA, local channel 58 in Tucson, and on Fox College Sports Pacific (FCS-Pacific), joined in progress; announcers are Dave Sitton, John Fina, and sideline reporter Glenn Howell

There won’t be many schools this season who will face in consecutive weeks opponents as different as Chowan and Arizona.  Chowan is a small Division II school in North Carolina.  Arizona is a large Division I (FBS) school, the flagship university of a populous western state.  Chowan has about 1,100 undergraduate students. Arizona has 30,000.  Indeed, Arizona has more undergraduate and graduate students than The Citadel has living alumni.

The difference is reflected in the football teams as well, of course, and thus The Citadel’s football team has its work cut out for it this week as it ventures to Tucson, the longest trip in program history.  Since The Citadel has never played Arizona (or any Pac-10 school) before, let’s take a brief look at the history of the University of Arizona’s football team.

The Wildcats (originally just known as the “Varsity”) started playing football in 1899, 14 years after the school’s founding.  Keep in mind that Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 (it was the 48th and last of the contiguous states).  It had been a recognized U.S. territory since 1862.

The first official coach of the football team was “Pop” McKale, for whom the McKale Center (UA’s basketball arena) is named.  McHale also coached the basketball team for a time and was the school’s longtime director of athletics.

McHale was also a central figure in the story of Arizona’s great tradition, its motto “Bear Down”.  In 1926, Arizona quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon was critically injured in a car accident after the first game of that season. McHale regularly visited Salmon in the hospital until Salmon’s death on October 18.

During the coach’s final visit, Salmon told McHale to “tell them…tell the team to bear down.”  McHale reportedly told the team just that, repeating Salmon’s words during a game against New Mexico State which the Wildcats managed to win, 7-0.  It’s a tale not unlike Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame.

Ever since, “Bear Down” has been the official slogan for all of the university’s athletic teams.

Salmon is one of two players to have his jersey retired at Arizona.  The other, running back Art Luppino, led the nation in rushing twice in 1954 and 1955.

Arizona first joined a conference in 1931, becoming a charter member of the Border Conference, and remaining in that league until it disbanded in 1961.  Other schools in the league included Texas Tech, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Arizona State.  They were joined at various times by Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, and West Texas A&M.  The Wildcats won three league titles while in the Border Conference and played in one bowl game during that time, losing the 1949 Salad Bowl (yes, Salad Bowl) to Drake (yes, Drake).

Arizona then became a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That league was basically a merger of the Border and Skyline Conferences, except not every school in those leagues was invited (New Mexico State, for example).  Also in the original WAC:  Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  Arizona won two league titles in the WAC and played in one bowl game, the 1968 Sun Bowl (losing to Auburn).

Arizona and Arizona State gradually outgrew the WAC, mostly because the state of Arizona was outgrowing (by percentage) most of the other states in and around the mountain time zone.  The development of air conditioning helped produce a population boom in the state, and the increase in population/resources trickled down to the state universities.  The two schools joined the Pac-8 (renamed the Pac-10) in 1978, and have remained in that conference since then.

The hallmark of the program in that time, much to the frustration of  Arizona’s fans, has been its inability to make a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Its rival, Arizona State, has been to the big game twice (winning once), but the Wildcats have never been.  Arizona has come close on two occasions, both times under the direction of Dick Tomey.

In 1993, Arizona shared the Pac-10 title with UCLA and Southern California, but lost a tiebreaker to UCLA for the Rose Bowl berth.  This is the only time the Wildcats have claimed even a piece of the Pac-10 crown.  Arizona had lost earlier in the season to UCLA, but as late as November 14 still had a shot at Pasadena after a UCLA loss. However, the Wildcats blew a 20-point lead and lost to California, 24-20, eliminating them from Rose Bowl consideration.

The Wildcats did rebound from that disappointment, beating their rivals in Tempe and then dominating Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2, with the bowl game arguably being the pinnacle of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense, which was the national identity of the program in the mid-1990s (and personified by Tedy Bruschi).

The Fiesta Bowl victory was a major reason why Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona No. 1 in its 1994 preseason issue, but after starting the campaign 4-0 the Wildcats were upset at home by Colorado State.  Arizona also suffered road losses to Oregon and Southern California and finished with a Freedom Bowl loss to Utah and a disappointing 8-4 season.

In 1998, Arizona finished 12-1, losing only to UCLA (albeit at home by four touchdowns).  However, the Wildcats were looking good for a Rose Bowl appearance anyway, as the Bruins completed their Pac-10 schedule undefeated and were poised to play for the mythical national title at the Fiesta Bowl.  That would have sent Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for Arizona (and the Bruins, as it turned out), UCLA had to play a December game originally delayed by a hurricane against the Hurricanes — and lost to Miami, 49-45.  That result meant the Bruins took the berth in the Rose and the Wildcats had to settle for the Holiday Bowl (which they won, beating Nebraska).

When I was looking at Arizona’s football history, and wondering what was preventing Arizona, a big school in a BCS conference with success in a lot of sports other than football, from grabbing the brass ring, one thing stood out.  It must have stood out to Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore too, because while calling the Wildcats’ 41-2 dismantling of Toledo last Friday on ESPN, they mentioned (and marvelled at) the following factoid:

Arizona hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since 1985.

Think about that.  There can’t be that many BCS programs who have gone that long between QB draft picks.  In fact, that QB (10th-round pick John Conner, who did not throw a pass in the NFL) is the only quarterback out of Arizona drafted since 1972 (when another Wildcat signal-caller who never played in the league, Brian Linstrom, was selected in the 16th round).  It’s not like Arizona’s been running the wishbone all this time, either.

Arizona’s football program has had three different quarterbacks make a total of 29 starts in the NFL, none since 1974.  So in all the time UA has been in the Pac-10, it’s never developed an NFL quarterback.

It’s hard to win big games, or even get to big games, without a pro-caliber quarterback.  Since 1975, only one Arizona alum has thrown a TD pass in the NFL — a punter, Josh Miller, who did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 (an 81-yard pass play, incidentally).  Here is a little chart comparing alums from Arizona, The Citadel, and a mystery school:

TD passes thrown in the NFL since 1975

Arizona — 1

The Citadel — 1

Mystery School — 0

If you’re wondering, the graduate of The Citadel with a touchdown pass is Stump Mitchell.  Now, that mystery school that hasn’t had a grad with a TD toss in the NFL in the last 35 years?  Well, it’s a school that has quite a bit in common with Arizona on the athletics front.  It’s a “basketball school” that has won multiple titles in other sports, but hasn’t been able to parlay its success in those sports into a nationally prominent football program.

Like Arizona, a good argument can be made that the reason for that has a lot to do with never having an “NFL ready” quarterback.  What school is that?  Why, it’s the BCS school The Citadel played last season.

North Carolina.

I wrote about UNC’s football history in my preview of The Citadel’s game against the Heels last year.  At the time, I noted that the overall QB rating for players from The Citadel to have thrown a pass in the NFL (which would be just two, Mitchell and Paul Maguire) was exactly 100 points better than their UNC counterparts (119.6-19.6). Arizona is a little better than North Carolina in this respect (47.7), but again the mighty Bulldogs prevail.

What will this mean on Saturday?  Not much, since it’s probable the Wildcats have finally found themselves an NFL prospect at QB in Nick Foles.  Foles is a native of Austin (went to the same high school as Drew Brees) who began his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Arizona after one season.

He has NFL size (6’5″, 245 lbs.) and a good arm.  Last season he completed 63% of his passes for 19 TDs (9 interceptions).  His yards per attempt was not that high (just over 6 yards), but he was only sacked 13 times all season (so not a lot of negative plays).  His three 300-yard games included a 4-TD effort against league champion Oregon.

Foles isn’t the only impressive skill-position player on the Wildcat offense.  Nic Grigsby, when healthy, is an outstanding running back.  Grigsby averaged over seven yards per carry last season.  His problem was a bad shoulder that cost him three games and limited him in several others.  He appears to be healthy now.  Then there is Juron Criner, a rangy 6’4″ wideout who hauled in nine touchdowns last season.

Criner had a ridiculous game against Toledo on Friday, catching eleven passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Forty-five of those reception yards came on a one-handed, falling-down circus catch in the third quarter.  His TD grab was almost as good.

Arizona had to replace seven defensive starters from last season, but you would have never known it against Toledo, which did not score on the Wildcat defense (the Rockets’ only two points came on a safety called for offensive holding in the end zone).

Arizona is as good a bet as any team to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Oregon, the defending champ (and coming off a 72-0 demolition of hapless New Mexico), probably has to be the favorite, but if the Ducks slip it’s possible the Wildcats could be the team to make the move to the top and claim the school’s first Rose Bowl trip.

Arizona was picked in the middle of the conference pack in most preseason polls, likely thanks to getting manhandled 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl by a certain Mr. Suh and Nebraska.  Its most recent impression among those who vote in pre-season polls was not a good one.  Otherwise, I think a team with the talent (particularly on offense) that Arizona has might have been nationally ranked to start the season.

Arizona’s coach is Mike Stoops, also known as “Bob Stoops’ brother”.  He has very slowly built the program since arriving in 2004 (wins per year:  3, 3, 6, 5, 8, 8).  Some Arizona supporters have become a bit impatient.  He needs to have a good year this year.  He’s probably going to have one, so I wouldn’t assign him “hot seat” status, but if the Wildcats were to tank this season, I think he would be out the door.

It could be a long night for The Citadel.  In fact, it would be surprising if it weren’t.  The problem is that the defense is going to have some matchup problems (particularly with Criner), and will not be likely to get much help from the offense.

Last season against BCS foe North Carolina the defense got no help from the offense either, but the UNC offense wasn’t dynamic enough to take full advantage of its field position and time of possession.  As a result, the Bulldogs lost, but only by a 40-6 score.  Arizona may not have as good a defense as UNC did, but The Citadel’s offense will be worse (as it is still in its embryonic stage in the triple option) and the Wildcat offense is considerably more talented than the Heels’ O was.

I wrote about some on-field things that concerned me in my review of the Chowan game.  I am hoping that the blocking improves, that the quarterbacks get more comfortable taking the snap and making the proper reads, and that the defense does a better job in assignments and tackling.   Against Arizona, I don’t really expect to see much visible progress from the offense, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

I do think that the one player who might not be physically out of place in the game for The Citadel’s offense is Domonic Jones.  I could see him making a play or two.  First, of course, the QB has to get him the ball, or at least give him a chance to get the ball.

On the other hand, I do expect the defense, even against a squad as talented as the Wildcats, to avoid multiple mental errors and not miss tackles.  That should happen. If it doesn’t, things could get ugly.

I’ll be watching anyway…

Conference expansion: should The Citadel join the Big 10?

Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas — it’s hard to take in all that’s (not) going on right now…

With all this expansion talk, there is a chance the Big 10 (motto:  “Just ignore the ’10’ thing”) might wind up with an odd number of teams.  Of course, it has an odd number of teams right now.  However, I’m thinking that when all the dust settles from this latest realignment, Jim Delany and company are going to want to be at 12 or 14 or 16 teams, if only to end speculation the league might expand again (and thus prevent all those late-night telephone calls from the folks at Iowa State begging for admission).

If the Big 10 needs an extra team, The Citadel would be an obvious candidate and would presumably get an invitation.  The question is, should the military college accept the Big 10’s offer and leave the Southern Conference?  What are the positives and negatives of making the move?

Positives

– There would be no controversy over where the conference baseball tournament would be hosted, as the other schools in the Big 10 would have no problem playing in Charleston every May.  Charleston versus Columbus?  No contest.  No more carping from the likes of UNC-Greensboro.  (And do you see UNCG mentioned as a candidate to join the Big 10?  No.  The Spartans should be grateful just to be in the same hemisphere with the Bulldogs, much less the same league.)

The Citadel would be a favorite to win the league in baseball every season.  Also, we could probably demand that all of our conference games would be played at Riley Park.  Fun spring trip for the guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and an easy three-game sweep for us.

–All home games in football and basketball would be on TV, along with a lot of televised games for the other sports.  Also, the Big 10 Network has a slightly larger distribution nationally than the SoCon TV package.

It’s important for The Citadel to increase its TV presence, as I have written many times before.  I have previously advocated playing Big 10 teams in non-conference action so as to get on TV.  Now, the opportunity could be there to play Big 10 teams as league games.

–By 2012 or 2013 or whenever we joined the league, there is a chance Indiana still wouldn’t have its act together on the hardwood and we could snag a road victory at Assembly Hall, which would be neat.  Plus, you know Nebraska won’t be any good at hoops, and Northwestern would be a promising opportunity for a road W.  So we could be competitive almost immediately.

–A new recruiting territory would open up, and with the advantage of offering recruits the best weather in the conference (unless Texas joins the league, and even then it’s a push).  The Citadel has already had some good luck recently with players from Big 10 country (Ohio is the home state for basketball’s Austin Dahn and baseball’s Justin Mackert).

If Texas winds up in the conference along with the Bulldogs, that opens up the Lone Star state even more to The Citadel’s predatory hoops recruiters (see:  Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, Mike Groselle).  With that type of opening, regular trips to the Final Four would be inevitable.

–The extra money from being a Big 10 member could go toward expanding Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Big 10 could also flex its collective muscle and break the NCAA’s silly postseason ban in the Palmetto State.  That, combined with the newly expanded JHS, would result in a new bowl game for Charleston, so the community would also benefit.

Negatives

–Well, the road trips would feature a lot of snow and ice (excepting UT-Austin, which would probably be worth a mandatory travel game for the corps of cadets).  There is only so much places like East Lansing and Iowa City have to offer (not to mention Lincoln).

That’s why you can expect a lot of the league meetings to get moved to Charleston. Also, look for a lot of the Big 10 coaches to acquire beachfront property in the Low Country, a la Roy Williams, Ralph Friedgen, Les Robinson, etc.  It’s just a natural thing for them to do.

–Big 10 basketball can often be unwatchable.  Actually, you could say that about a lot of Big 10 sports…

–The Citadel probably would not be able to play schools like Chowan or Webber International in football.  Wait, that’s a positive!

–Women’s sports:  The Citadel has a limited number of women’s teams, and the ones we have would probably struggle in the Big 10.  We don’t have a women’s lacrosse program, though, which may be just as well.

–The other schools in the Big 10 would be much larger than The Citadel, which could lead to their fans trying to take over our home parks/arenas.  If we made sure the corps of cadets was fully armed before games, however, I think we would maintain our home field advantage.

–There is a possibility that a spot in the ACC or SEC could open up.  If that happens, it’s important for The Citadel to explore all its options.

All in all, I’m undecided about a potential berth in the newly constructed Big 10.  One thing I can say for sure, though, is that The Citadel will be okay wherever it lands.  Can Rutgers or Kansas say the same?

The New Big 10

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