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:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
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…

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

Game review, 2013: Samford

Links of interest:

Game story in The Post and Courier

Three points on the game (from The Post and Courier)

School release

Box score

WCIV-TV report (video)

WCSC-TV report (video)

Postgame comments from Kevin Higgins and Ben Dupree (YouTube video)

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (YouTube video)

Radio highlights

I’ll write a little bit more about this game later in the week when I preview the game at Elon. Just a few quick thoughts:

- The Citadel did a lot of things right in this game, and it’s a good thing, because Samford was a solid opponent. Before the game began, I thought the Bulldogs would have to play very, very well to win. They did just that.

- The use of sweeps to get outside against Samford’s “bear” front was well conceived, as was the commitment to continue testing the middle throughout the game, which paid off. The fake punt was timely and perfectly executed.

- My only real quibble with the playcalling/game management on Saturday was the sequence that led to The Citadel punting from the Samford 33-yard line late in the game. You never want to put yourself in position to punt from inside the opposing 35.

- Given the opponent, that may have been the best defensive performance of the season.

- SoCon officials need remedial work in ball-spotting. That hurt both teams on Saturday.

- Samford’s football video game coordinator was not happy with no penalty flag being thrown on the two-point conversion attempt, as can be seen in the comments to the ESPN3.com video highlights review. Those grapes are mighty sour.

Also, he’s wrong. Sadath Jean-Pierre’s coverage on the play was legal and excellent. The throw wound up closer to the end rifleman for the Touchdown Cannon Crew than the receiver (who did not run a particularly good pattern, in my opinion).

- While the effectiveness of the team’s play has been questioned at times this season, the effort certainly has not been. There is no quit in this group.

I was very impressed with the Bulldogs’ collective resolve while trailing 17-0. They didn’t give up, they didn’t go through the motions, they kept trying. On Saturday, that paid off with a victory.

To be honest, as I watched the fourth quarter, I knew that win or lose I was already satisfied with the performance. I had seen what I wanted to see.

Winning the game was nice, though.

Let’s talk about off the field — specifically, the tailgating/homecoming scene. Three quick notes, and then a story…

- Tailgating can be educational. For example, I learned that in Chester, South Carolina, Bi-Lo’s is the default option for quality fried chicken. If you’re ever in Chester, keep that in mind.

- I didn’t meet the gentleman, but I understand a member of the Class of 1943 was in attendance on Saturday, for what would have been the 70th reunion year for his class. Kudos to him.

- There were many, many outstanding tailgates in evidence. However, the biggest bash I saw was definitely the one for the Class of 1968.

The spread for the ’68 party was so large, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out next week that Sus scrofa domesticus was being placed on the endangered species list.

- Okay, story time.

About ninety minutes or so before kickoff, I was with a few friends of mine in the tailgating area adjacent to the Altman Center. As the filling for fish tacos was being carefully prepared, we were discussing important matters of state, such as The Citadel’s urgent need for varsity lacrosse.

At that point, Nancy Mace walked into the area. As you may or may not know, Mace is the first woman to graduate from The Citadel as a member of the corps of cadets, and she is also campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Lindsey Graham. Both Mace and Graham are seeking the Republican nomination.

It wasn’t a surprise to see her at Johnson Hagood Stadium; after all, she’s an alum. She had attended at least one other game earlier in the season. On Saturday, she was with her campaign manager and (I think) one other person.

Mace was introducing herself to folks, chatting tailgaters up, doing the kinds of things associated with retail politics, when a small group of about ten people entered the same space. From among them appeared none other than…Lindsey Graham.

The scene was riveting. The tension in the air was thicker than a tortilla shell. Some people were noticeably uncomfortable.

(Others may have been amused.)

Graham began greeting the same people who had been talking to Mace, shaking hands, talking, hugging at least one person. At least one observer thought Graham purposely avoided acknowledging Mace for as long as possible, which made the whole situation even more fantastically awkward.

Eventually, however, the two did talk. A détente of sorts was reached. Pictures were taken. One of them leads off my photo review of Saturday.

2013 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 2. The game will streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater and analysis by Paul Maguire.

It can also be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Samford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Pat Sullivan on the SoCon media teleconference

The Dogs are “down, but not out”

Jeff Hartsell’s three points about the Chattanooga game

Game story from the Chattanooga contest

Non-football link: my preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel’s basketball team

Hey, it’s Homecoming! Things you ought to know:

Ye olde Homecoming press release, with schedule of events

The Citadel’s freshman and sophomore wrestlers compete in The Citadel Open, beginning at 9 am on Saturday

The rifle and volleyball squads are both on the road on Saturday

Soccer’s season ended on Wednesday

Oh, and there is also a football game…

First, let me be honest here: I didn’t really follow the Chattanooga game as it was going on last week. This is the time of year when I usually take a break from my regular autumn routine, which is normally A) work and B) obsessing over sports.

Taking a respite from the fall sports season can be helpful, at least for me. As it happens [mondo nerd alert], I saw Mussel-Fishers at Berneval in person instead of watching/listening to The Citadel lose a game it led almost the whole way. I feel good about that decision.

Because I am still catching up with last week’s action in the sports world (including The Citadel’s trip to Finley Stadium), and because of other factors beyond my control, this preview may be a bit more random than usual. I apologize in advance for that.

The rest of the season is going to be tough in terms of game previews, not as much because the Bulldogs are struggling, but because I’m going to be short of time. We live in a busy world.

I have no idea how I’m going to write the VMI game preview; I might just write a one-sentence post: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.” (It’s not like anything else needs to be said for that game.)

Anyway, below are a few comments on Saturday’s opponent, followed by some friendly advice to alums heading down to Charleston for Homecoming.

Note: “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will have to do for Samford.

Samford is quite formidable this year. The Birmingham Bulldogs appear to be the best team in the SoCon and would be a major challenge for The Citadel even if the Cadets were having a good season.

Last year, I wrote of Samford:

This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title.

Samford finished 7-4 last season, not quite good enough to win the SoCon, but still a very solid campaign. SU could not get past Georgia Southern or Appalachian State last year, and also lost a tough defensive battle at Chattanooga.

In 2013, Samford still has a lot of talented players, but it has made the jump to the top of the conference. SU has already taken care of business against App and GSU, and last week won at Wofford. Only UTC seems to stand in the way of a league title for the folks from Birmingham.

Offensively, Samford has been excellent. Taking Georgia Southern and Appalachian State out of the equation (because the NCAA doesn’t count those two schools in its FCS database), the Birmingham Bulldogs lead the SoCon in total offense, passing offense, and scoring offense, and are in the top 30 nationally in all three of those categories.

Samford’s numbers are skewed slightly by its pace of play, though this season SU is only averaging 67.1 plays per game, down slightly from 71.4 in 2012 and 75.6 in 2011. However, Samford has been much more efficient this year, averaging 6.6 yards per play, a significant increase from the 4.9 yards per play it averaged in 2012.

By contrast, The Citadel is averaging 63.8 plays per game on offense, and 5.7 yards per play. Last week, Wofford ran 82 plays against Samford (with 69 rushing attempts), but only averaged 4.1 yards per play.

Oddly, Samford has had issues in the second quarter this season, being outscored 71-42 in that frame. In the other three periods, Samford has a decisive edge in points.

The Citadel has lost two straight to Samford, and that streak could easily be three; the Bulldogs’ 13-12 win in 2010 was achieved thanks mostly to special teams and inspired D inside the red zone. Samford’s defense has had all the answers for The Citadel’s triple option attack in the three years Kevin Higgins has employed the offense.

In three games against Samford’s “Bear” defensive front, The Citadel has mustered a combined total of 34 points. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions. The Citadel only converted six of them for first downs.

Samford’s D has basically forced The Citadel to beat it by going outside or over the top, and the Bulldogs have been unable to do so with any consistency in any of those games.

In terms of yards per play, Samford defensively has not been quite as good this season (5.3 this year, after holding opponents to 4.8 y/p in 2012). One thing that will probably help Samford’s defense is that The Citadel will be the third triple option team the Birmingham Bulldogs have faced in their last four contests.

Andy Summerlin is Samford’s starting quarterback, and is enjoying his sixth (and presumably final) season of college eligibility. Yes, I said sixth.

Summerlin is 25 years old. He started his career at Memphis, although even his stint there was delayed by a semester:

He’s seven years out of high school, and is listed as a sixth-year senior after being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA because of injuries. He delayed college enrollment by a semester because of a high school injury.

Though he’s been at three different schools…

To tell the truth, I’m okay with Summerlin still getting a chance to play, but then I tend to lean to the “when in doubt, give the athlete a break” side of the ledger on these matters. It does seem a bit unfair, though, that Summerlin is good to go while The Citadel’s All-American wrestler, Khishignyam Undrakhbayar (better known as “Ugi”), is out of NCAA options after just one year as a competitor. Such are the vagaries of the NCAA.

At any rate, he’s having a fine season, completing passes at a 63.8% clip for an average of over 285 yards per game, with 17 TDs (to eight different receivers) against 7 interceptions. Summerlin has made his share of big plays this year, completing 15 passes for 30+ yards.

Summerlin is joined in the backfield by the outstanding Fabian Truss, one of the elite backs in the SoCon. Truss is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season (the same as he did last year), and he is also a threat to catch the ball, with 27 receptions, good for 9.7 yards per catch.

Truss is also a great kick returner. He already has two 100-yard TD returns this season. Truss currently leads the nation in all-purpose yardage.

The top receiver for Samford is Kelsey Pope, who has 36 receptions this year, averaging a shade over 15 yards per catch. Against Georgia Southern, Pope had receptions of 58 and 83 yards (the latter for a TD).

Samford’s offensive line is big, averaging 6’3″, 288 lbs. Left guard Kasey Morrison, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, has started 30 games in his career.

On defense, expect Samford to stack the middle of the line and deny the give to the B-back. Two key players to watch along the d-line in this respect are DT Jeremy Towns (like Summerlin, a sixth-year player) and noseguard Jeremy Mathis, another experienced lineman (18 starts). Both Towns and Mathis are listed at 290+ lbs.

Middle linebacker Justin Shade is a tackling machine, and he’ll put you down before or after you get to the line of scrimmage. Shade has 90 tackles so far this season; he made 19 stops against Southeastern Louisiana and 15 versus Wofford. Shade has 12.5 tackles for loss, including seven sacks.

His father, Sam Shade, is Samford’s DBs coach. If you have a good memory, you may recall the elder Shade starring at Alabama before playing eight years in the NFL.

One of Sam Shade’s pupils, Jaquiski Tartt, is Samford’s best defensive player, and one of the best defenders in the league (if not the best). So far this season he only has one interception, but Bulldog fans will remember his pick-6 against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Samford has a solid punter in Greg Peranich, now in his third year of handling the punting duties. Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 16 of those landing inside the 20. Seven of his punts have gone for 50+ yards.

The placekicker for the Birmingham Bulldogs is redshirt freshman Warren Handrahan, who is 11-13 on field goal tries with a long of 48. He has only missed one PAT.

Handrahan chose to wear a bow tie for his personal team picture, however, which automatically makes him a suspicious character.

So you’re an alum about to travel to Charleston for Homecoming weekend. Maybe you’re a season-ticket holder, maybe you go to a game or two each season, or maybe you haven’t seen a game since Johnson Hagood Stadium was renovated.

You probably know that The Citadel’s football team was supposed to be good this year, but instead has a record of 2-6, and is looking at a 3-9 or 4-8 type of season. Perhaps you would like to ask some questions about this, or some other things that are related to athletics.

I’m here to help!

First, however, there is one thing you should not do. It’s hard not to do, because it’s kind of traditional, but don’t do it…

Don’t complain about or blame the corps of cadets for any shortcomings.

Is the corps perfect? No. Was it perfect when you were in school? No, it wasn’t.

There will always be a bum (or two or three) in the crowd — and as a group, they may not show a great deal of enthusiasm about the gridiron festivities. Expect this.

Also expect, though, to find almost all of the cadets to be polite, respectful, smart, and driven. Today’s corps of cadets isn’t as good as it was in your day — it is better.

When you see problems within the corps, keep in mind that those problems are usually symptoms of a larger issue with the school itself. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the student body.

I think I’m lucky in that I am around campus just enough to get a general idea of things, but not enough to become disillusioned. You can get very cynical about The Citadel in a hurry if you’re there too long, as anyone who was ever a senior at the military college can attest.

If you’re not around at all, though, then it’s possible to assume the worst.

This isn’t to say the cadets should be completely immune from criticism; it’s just that some other things need to be fixed first before worrying too much about the corps. Let Leo Mercado worry about the corps.

It also doesn’t do the school any good when it is trying to recruit the best and the brightest, and at the same time some of its alums are whining about the current crop of students. That’s just counter-productive.

The bottom line: don’t go bananas about any slacker cadets. There have always been slackers. Maybe the notion of being a slacker cadet cuts a little close to the bone…

If you’re still with me following that harangue, here are some topics that are worth discussing. I’m assuming that the average alum reading this is the biggest of big shots, someone who knows all the major players at the school in the department of athletics and within the administration in general, and who can get a personal one-on-one with any school official at any time.

Here are some questions you might consider asking:

- With last week’s loss to Chattanooga, the Bulldogs are guaranteed to finish with a non-winning record. The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons in football since the 1990-92 campaigns.

That stretch of futility, now at 21 years and counting, is the longest such period in the history of the school, going back to the first football season (1905).

Your question(s): is it acceptable for The Citadel to not have any stretch of consistent success on the gridiron? What are the school’s goals on that front?

- You may have noticed that The Citadel isn’t doing a lot of winning in almost any sport as of late. Even the baseball team has had losing seasons in two of the last three years (though that program appears to have rebounded). The basketball team has averaged eight wins per season over the last three years, and has a winning percentage of 26% in SoCon play during that time.

There are several varsity sports (including tennis and golf) that have been particularly non-competitive in recent years.

Your question: given that the school seems to be doing very well overall, why hasn’t that institutional success crossed over into varsity athletics?

- The Citadel’s new (as of this year) long-term strategic plan is called the LEAD Plan 2018, which I wrote about in January. I would urge anyone with an interest in The Citadel to read the plan itself.

Included in the LEAD plan are goals such as increasing membership in the Brigadier Foundation by 25%, funding full scholarships in all sports, and endowing athletic scholarship funds by an additional $5 million.

Your question: is significant progress being made towards accomplishing any of those (or other) goals?

- There is soon going to be a changing of the guard, at least of the canine variety. General and Boo IX are retiring, and will be officially replaced as the school mascots on November 15 by the relentlessly cute G2 and BX.

Donations for care and upkeep of the dogs are always appreciated. The Citadel does not provide any funding for the dogs, which strikes more than a few people as ridiculous, given the popularity of the mascots.

To be fair, I can understand why the school doesn’t allocate funds for the mascot program. What puzzles me is why the powers that be don’t publicize the need for donations more often. I’m sure it’s just an oversight.

It was suggested to me a while back that at least one administrator is afraid that people will contribute to the mascots in lieu of something else. I choose not to believe that; if it were really true, then I would happily wait in line to dump that administrator into a vat of hydrochloric acid.

Your question (if you have some spare cash): would the school be interested in starting an endowment for the mascot program?

- While you were travelling to Charleston on your private jet, you noticed while perusing your favorite college football TV listings page that all six Big South teams will either be on TV and/or ESPN3.com this Saturday. Two of those games will be on regional nets or affiliates.

Meanwhile, Samford-The Citadel will be on ESPN3.com, an online platform. This is the second ESPN3.com appearance for The Citadel this season; the football team will probably get a PPV-only TV appearance at Clemson, but other than that the Bulldogs will not appear on television in 2013.

You probably remember the days when The Citadel appeared on regional TV once or twice per season. You may wonder why the SoCon can’t do a better job of getting its teams exposure, especially when you see what similarly-sized (or even smaller) conferences are able to do in that respect.

Your question: what can The Citadel do to increase its television exposure?

The last few questions should only be asked after you enter the stadium to watch the game.

- Why don’t we have any cheerleaders?

Note: this is a trick question. No matter what answer you get to that question, it will be wrong. There is no correct answer, as The Citadel obviously should have cheerleaders.

- How come the band only plays a few times during the game?

- Is there any reason why the loudspeaker system should play the (truly horrific) pop song “Come on Eileen” instead of having the band play during that time period?

- If the band isn’t going to play, could the school make more money by renting it out for weddings and bar mitzvahs during the game?

- Is it true that prior to the Furman game, the freshmen lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation and started to chant “C-I-T-A-D-E-L”, only to be drowned out by the loudspeaker system as it played a selection from ’80s glam-rock band Poison?

- Is it possible the atmosphere at the stadium is so dominated by the ad-intensive videoboard and the ridiculously loud (and ill-used) loudspeaker system that fewer fans go to the games as a result?

- Is there anyone in the department of athletics brave enough to inform adidas that the name of the school is “The Citadel”?

Okay, I think that’s enough…for now.

Last week, The Citadel started well and Samford started poorly. The Citadel led by 10 points at halftime; meanwhile, Samford’s first offensive possession resulted in a pick-6 for Wofford, one of four turnovers SU had in that game. Ultimately, though, one group of Bulldogs could not hang on for a victory, while the other overcame an early shock to win a critical road game.

The effort in Chattanooga was very good. The team has obviously not quit, which is a credit to the players (and the coaches). Still, effort in itself is not enough, and everyone knows it.

I don’t know how the team will play on Saturday. Samford is a very difficult matchup. I cringe just thinking about the Birmingham Bulldogs’ big-play capabilities, particularly through the air (as The Citadel has been susceptible to those types of passes).

I’ll be there on Saturday, meeting a few old friends and settling in to watch some pigskin. I’m hoping for the best. I’m not counting on it.

Social media and the SoCon: the age of Twitter and Facebook

Last week, I saw a ranking of college sports twitter feeds posted at Tennessee’s athletics website. I thought it was interesting, though I wouldn’t want to draw any immediate conclusions from the data.

I decided to see how the SoCon schools compared to each other when it comes to Twitter and Facebook presence. This proved to be difficult, because schools don’t necessarily approach Twitter and/or Facebook in similar ways.

The league is almost evenly split between schools that have football-specific twitter feeds and those that do not. Samford has nine different sports with dedicated twitter feeds; meanwhile, Wofford doesn’t have any. There is significant variance in the number of Facebook pages created by the individual schools. Those are just a few of the differences.

Part of the reason for the contrasting approaches is probably manpower, and part of it is likely philosophical. Not everyone thinks having multiple Twitter feeds and Facebook pages is such a great idea for smaller schools. Says one social media consultant:

In college sports, unlike professional sports, fans usually have an allegiance to a school, not a team. To say that fans would be annoyed by news from other school sports in their Twitter feed might be an error…

We found that the majority of…fans appreciated news from other sports, and wanted one main feed where they could get all the news. Most of the sports communicators I’ve talked with at non-BCS schools say their fans feel the same way. Their allegiance is to the school, not a particular team.

The opportunity to showcase the team across multiple channels is much more important to a school than having a sport-specific Twitter feed or Facebook page…smaller schools (non-BCS schools) need to think about scale, not volume…Their fans bases are simply too small.

Another consideration is the percentage of people who use the different social media elements. A survey taken at the end of last year suggested that usage among internet users breaks down this way: 67%, Facebook; 16%, Twitter; 15%, Pinterest; 13%, Instagram; and 6%, Tumblr.

I would say that if your school decides to have a dedicated feed for a sport on Twitter, then it should have a Facebook page for that sport as well — and vice versa. I also am of the opinion that Instagram is on the rise, and that not using YouTube to promote your school and its teams is a major mistake.

Included in my mini-survey are all current SoCon schools, the school that just left (College of Charleston), and the three schools that will enter the league next year (East Tennessee State, Mercer, and VMI). The numbers listed (“follows” and “likes”) are as of the weekend of July 13-14.

What follows are a few observations, and then some tables, with two caveats:

1) I may have missed a couple of school feeds/pages. If I did, it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the school(s), for not making it simple for an easily confused person like myself to find their feeds/pages.

2) Twitter and Facebook are far from the only things happening in social media, of course. For example, The Citadel has done an excellent job in recent months using YouTube, and it is not alone on that front. A few schools have taken a spin with Pinterest.  Instagram has been embraced by several of the league members (as well as the SoCon office itself). However, Twitter and Facebook are the focus of this post.

- The league website has a “Social Media Directory” that needs to be updated. For one thing, CofC isn’t in the conference any more [Edit 8/16: the CofC links have now been removed from the directory]. The feeds themselves also need to be checked; some are not valid, and there are also a number of omissions.

I don’t really blame the SoCon office for this as much as I do the individual schools. It’s probably very difficult, if not impossible, for the league office to keep up with team-specific feeds.

On the other hand, someone at the conference probably ought to know that @CoachMikeDement shouldn’t be the listing next to UNCG’s “Head MBB Coach” line, since he hasn’t been the Spartans’ coach for over a year and a half. Wes Miller is clearly upset about this.

- Speaking of UNCG, its AD, Kim Record, is on Twitter, and she is listed as such in the SoCon directory…but her feed is protected.

- Furman’s most-followed feed is its general athletics feed, which is not a surprise. The second-most followed Furman feed, however, is for a coach of a program that has yet to win a game. The Paladins will start playing men’s lacrosse in 2014, and head coach Richie Meade (formerly the longtime lacrosse coach at Navy) has 1024 followers.

- The twitter feed for Furman’s baseball program is run by players.

- Davidson, a basketball-first (if not only) school if there ever was one, doesn’t have a dedicated feed for men’s hoops, and head coach Bob McKillop isn’t on Twitter.

- At least one SoCon head football coach follows two different Jenn Brown accounts.

- Chattanooga’s wrestling feed has 2574 followers, which stacks up fairly well when compared to other programs across the country. The most I found for a collegiate wrestling feed was for Oklahoma State (11857). Defending national champion Penn State has 5750.

The other two SoCon schools with wrestling feeds are Appalachian State and The Citadel, though I should mention that UNC-Greensboro has a dormant feed as well (one that became inactive when the school dropped its wrestling program).

- Several SoCon schools have twitter feeds for their equipment room/staff. They tend to be fairly well-followed, too, partly because equipment room staffs from across the country all follow each other. Equipment guys circle the wagons.

- The new head football coach at East Tennessee State, Carl Torbush, isn’t on Twitter. However, there are two different parody Carl Torbush accounts, though both are inactive. ETSU’s athletics twitter feed is following one of them.

- I only found one other fake twitter feed for a conference football coach. Western Carolina’s Mark Speir has been so honored. Also parodied: SoCon commissioner John Iamarino.

- As of this weekend, Samford only had 44 followers for its men’s hoops feed, but that’s because it only established the feed on July 2.

- VMI seems to have two different official university (non-athletic) twitter feeds. Neither has many followers; perhaps I’m just missing the “real” feed.

- Of the six SoCon schools that have dedicated twitter feeds for both baseball and men’s basketball, five of them have more baseball feed followers, which may say something about the league’s status in each sport. I didn’t include College of Charleston in that group of six since it is no longer in the league, but it also has slightly more baseball feed than hoops feed follows.

- East Tennessee State doesn’t have a football twitter feed yet, or a pigskin Facebook page, but it does have a notable fan “bring/brought back football” presence for Twitter and Facebook.

- Wofford athletics only follows one feed, that of PGA pro (and Wofford alum) William McGirt. Similarly, the Facebook page for Wofford athletics only “likes” one entity — the 2012 Southern Conference basketball tournament.

- GSU head football coach Jeff Monken takes it one step further than Wofford, however. Just like Jay Bilas, Monken doesn’t follow anybody.

- With VMI being admitted to the league, the Southern Conference facebook page made sure it “liked” VMI’s university facebook site. Unfortunately, it appears the actual “active” VMI school facebook page is this one.

- UNCG is the league school with the most sport-specific Facebook pages, having one for eleven different varsity sports.

- I found a few sport-specific facebook pages that are essentially dormant. However, they are still “official”, and since they have not been deleted I included them in the tables.

- Of the lower-profile SoCon sports, volleyball may be the most active in terms of social media. Seven conference schools feature Facebook pages for volleyball, and that doesn’t include CofC or ETSU, both of which also have pages for their volleyball teams. CofC and ETSU join six SoCon schools that also have twitter feeds for volleyball.

Some of the Twitter and Facebook statistics for follows/likes are grouped in tables below. I didn’t list all the sports feeds/pages that are on Twitter/Facebook, just some of the ones that tend to draw the most interest.

Twitter

Athletics
Appalachian State 10644
The Citadel 2292
Davidson 3970
Elon 4300
Furman 2951
Georgia Southern 8493
Samford 3131
UNC-Greensboro 3466
UT-Chattanooga 4144
Western Carolina 3773
Wofford 3171
College of Charleston 4726
East Tennessee State 2651
Mercer 1578
Virginia Military Institute 1521

Football
Appalachian State 1133
The Citadel 692
Furman 759
Samford 939
UT-Chattanooga 900
Mercer 1270
Virginia Military Institute 261

Head Football Coach
Appalachian State 2585
The Citadel 555
Furman 236
Georgia Southern 4515
Samford 1005
UT-Chattanooga 571
Western Carolina 1301
Mercer 679
Virginia Military Institute 382

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 700
The Citadel 190
Elon 956
Furman 149
Samford 44
UNC-Greensboro 866
UT-Chattanooga 637
College of Charleston 2135

Head Men’s Basketball Coach
The Citadel 335
Furman 675
Georgia Southern 730
Samford 370
UNC-Greensboro 7572
UT-Chattanooga 2438
Western Carolina 1418
East Tennessee State 412
Virginia Military Institute 584

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 1338
Davidson 102
Elon 341
Furman 416
Georgia Southern 347
Samford 398
UNC-Greensboro 505
UT-Chattanooga 827
College of Charleston 590
East Tennessee State 374

Baseball
Appalachian State 2141
The Citadel 1263
Davidson 444
Elon 1015
Furman 427
Georgia Southern 1030
Samford 1206
UNC-Greensboro 332
College of Charleston 2413
East Tennessee State 579
Mercer 561

Facebook

Athletics
Appalachian State 5946
The Citadel 2301
Davidson 4771
Elon 4426
Furman 2629
Georgia Southern 12302
Samford 3590
UNC-Greensboro 6276
UT-Chattanooga 6459
Western Carolina 13546
Wofford 4586
College of Charleston 2405
East Tennessee State 3951
Mercer 1865
Virginia Military Institute 3632

Football
Appalachian State 45948
The Citadel 2117
Elon 867
Georgia Southern 3482
Samford 256
Western Carolina 235
Mercer 2244

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 2474
The Citadel 74
Davidson 554
Elon 982
UNC-Greensboro 1491

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 61
Davidson 187
Elon 648
Furman 612
Georgia Southern 241
UNC-Greensboro 476
UT-Chattanooga 731
College of Charleston 221
East Tennessee State 552

Baseball
Appalachian State 1659
The Citadel 408
Elon 307
Furman 177
Georgia Southern 745
Samford 1282
UNC-Greensboro 170
East Tennessee State 274

Watching a Watch List (from the CFPA), and some early FCS preseason polls

It’s mid-June, and we’re getting closer to actual gridiron activity. There have already been a few national preseason polls released, and a series of watch lists. I decided to take a quick look at a few of them, starting with the CFPA watch lists.

Two or three years ago, the College Football Performance Awards started to get cited by athletic media relations departments on a regular basis. This is when I first began to wonder if anybody with a pulse could come up with preseason and postseason awards and have them publicized by desperate sports information directors. Of course, the folks behind the CFPA would argue they aren’t just anybody:

The goal of College Football Performance Awards is to provide the most scientifically rigorous conferments in college football. Recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

As prominent scholars from a wide variety of disciplines note, CFPA eliminates the politics and biases that vitiate balloting-based awards. Furthermore, CFPA has received praise from both Republican and Democratic White House officials for promoting objectivity and fairness in college football.

Well then.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote about the CFPA three years ago:

Just what the world needs, more college football awards, right? It has gotten a bit silly. Every position and coach is honored to the point that, well, didn’t some group or another just announce the Petrino Award, for the coach most likely to rent?

Anyway, I clicked on the site just for giggles. Something caught my eye…

…The consultants on this project include noted economist Andrew Zimbalist…

…Former Davidson and USC kicker Brad Smith put the CFPA together.

That’s right. An ex-Davidson placekicker is responsible for the CFPA, which has an “academic review” panel that includes, well, academics. The undergraduate degrees received by members of this group include Davidson, Carleton, Kansas, Columbia, and St. Mary’s College. Very few pigskins have been bruised in recent years at any of those schools.

To be honest, at times when I was wandering through the CFPA website (which needs updating in a major way), the thought occurred to me that the whole enterprise was a giant put-on. I don’t think it is (Andrew Zimbalist isn’t going to lend his name to a joke), but it does not inspire a great deal of confidence.

I noticed that a lot of releases from various schools trumpeting one of their players being selected to a watch list included this phrase (or something very similar):

All CFPA recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

That’s nice, but what exactly is the process that leads to “objective scientific rankings”? Where is the statistical summary? I couldn’t find any nuts-and-bolts description of the CFPA “methodology”, which I found disappointing (no, the overview on page 2 of its Methodology page doesn’t cut it; besides, the page itself hasn’t been updated since 2008).

Last season, CFPA named Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple its QB of the year and its National Performer of the Year. Chapple led a Crimson squad that set multiple offensive records in the Ivy League. He certainly had an outstanding season, but was it really good enough for a player of the year honor at the FCS level? It’s not like the Ivy is considered to be among the better FCS conferences, and Harvard didn’t even win the league — Penn did.

The CFPA claims to control for strength of schedule. Without more information, it’s hard to know it that is actually true.

Also, someone needs to inform the CFPA that the commissioner of the Southern Conference is John Iamarino.

At any rate, let’s take a quick look at the CFPA watch lists, at least from the perspective of The Citadel. A watch list isn’t really scientific — it’s strictly a promotional vehicle — but that’s okay. It gives people something to read during the summer, after all.

FCS Offensive Awards Watch List

- Ben Dupree is on the list of quarterbacks. Also on the list of note: Jamal Londry-Jackson (Appalachian State), Jacob Huesman (Chattanooga), Jerick McKinnon (Georgia Southern), Andy Summerlin (Samford), and Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion). The Citadel will face a number of quality QBs this season (including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd).

- Darien Robinson is one of three SoCon players on the running backs list, joining Dominique Swope (Georgia Southern) and Fabian Truss (Samford). Tyree Lee (Old Dominion) is also on the list.

- There are no Bulldogs among the “watch list” wide receivers and tight ends, but plenty of The Citadel’s opponents are represented, including Sean Price and Andrew Peacock (Appalachian State), Kierre Brown (Elon), Larry Pinkard (Old Dominion), Kelsey Pope and Zeke Walters (Samford), and Mario Thompson (VMI).

FCS Defensive Line/Linebackers Watch List

- Derek Douglas and Carl Robinson of The Citadel are both on the watch list at their respective positions. Also on the list from the defensive side of the ball: Derrick Lott, Davis Tull, Wes Dothard, D.J. Key, and Kadeem Wise (Chattanooga), Javon Mention (Georgia Southern), Caleb Taylor (Old Dominion), Jaquiski Tartt (Samford), and Alvin Scioneaux (Wofford).

Chattanooga will undoubtedly be championing the CFPA watch list until at least the start of the season.

Several preseason magazines are already out with their predictions and polls. Here are three of them.

Sporting News Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Appalachian State
6. Sam Houston State
7. Villanova
8. South Dakota State
9. Illinois State
10. Old Dominion
11. Central Arkansas
12. Northern Iowa
13. Towson
14. Montana
15. Richmond
16. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
17. Northern Arizona
18. Stony Brook
19. Eastern Illinois
20. Chattanooga
21. Cal Poly
22. New Hampshire
23. Colgate
24. Sacramento State
25. Bethune-Cookman

Its preseason All-American list includes Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion at QB, Georgia Southern’s Garrett Frye and Furman’s Dakota Dozier along the offensive line, and wide receiver Sean Price of Appalachian State. Davis Tull of Chattanooga (DL) and Jaquiski Tartt of Samford (DB) are on the first-team defense.

Predicted SoCon standings:

1. Georgia Southern
2. Appalachian State
3. Chattanooga
4. Wofford
5. The Citadel
6. Samford
7. Furman
8. Elon
9. Western Carolina

Athlon Sports Top 25

Athlon has five SoCon schools in the Top 25, including The Citadel at #25. About the Bulldogs, the magazine says:

A rare sweep of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season could be a prelude for an even better 2013. The Bulldogs’ triple option returns quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, 1,000-yard fullback Darien Robinson and a veteran offensive line.

Athlon’s first-team All-Americans include App’s Price, Chattanooga’s Tull, and Samford’s Tartt, who was one of two Samford players named (Fabian Truss made the squad as a kick returner).

The magazine projects Chattanooga and Wofford will make the playoffs out of the SoCon.

Lindy’s Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. South Dakota State
5. Wofford
6. Eastern Washington
7. Central Arkansas
8. Towson
9. Villanova
10. Sam Houston State
11. New Hampshire
12. Appalachian State
13. Northern Iowa
14. Stony Brook
15. Coastal Carolina
16. Northern Arizona
17. Bethune-Cookman
18. Eastern Illinois
19. Youngstown State
20. Chattanooga
21. Richmond
22. Illinois State
23. Montana
24. Wagner
25. Tennessee State

Lindy’s first-team All-Americans include Tull, Dozier, Dothard, Tartt, and Truss (again as a kick returner). It also has a preseason second-team AA roster; Price and Frye are on that team.

The magazine also makes an excellent point about the expanded 24-team FCS playoff. There will be no Ivy League or SWAC teams participating in the playoffs, and Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Old Dominion are all ineligible for postseason competition.

If you assume that the Pioneer League champion will be the only team from that league to receive a bid (which is likely), then essentially there are 91 schools competing for 23 spots in the playoff. Those aren’t bad odds.

Something to think about as the season draws closer…

If FBS schools no longer play FCS schools in football, what are the ramifications?

If you follow college football at all, you probably are familiar with last week’s story out of Wisconsin, where Barry Alvarez was quoted as saying that Big 10 schools would not schedule FCS opponents going forward:

“The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvarez said on WIBA-AM. “It’s not very appealing…

“So we’ve made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools.”

A couple of quick points:

- Obviously, FCS schools are members of Division I. You would think the director of athletics at a D-1 institution would know that.

- Alvarez claimed that the Big 10′s non-conference schedule “is ridiculous”, yet he is the same AD who in recent years scheduled multiple FCS schools from all over the country, including The Citadel, Wofford, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, Austin Peay, and Cal Poly. The Badgers will play Tennessee Tech in 2013.

Alvarez’s comment drew a lot of attention, understandably so, although it is not a lock that the Big 10 will enforce such an edict. Northern Iowa’s AD was blunt:

I would tell you the loss of the Big Ten schools will be devastating, to UNI and to a lot of our peers. Not just because we wouldn’t play Iowa and have the guarantee, if you think this will stop at the Big Ten…I look at things happening in the equity leagues in fives, and so I have to believe this might lead to additional dominoes…It impacts our ability to generate money in football. It closes the ranks, it closes us out a little bit more.

Samford’s AD had a similar reaction:

If the SEC and ACC make the same decision, we’ve all got to sit back and reevaluate how we’re going to replace our money. If you eliminate those guarantee teams, it puts us in a tough situation at a private school where we don’t get any state funding.

Of course, not everyone is upset. Some in the media welcome the move, eager for what they perceive as “better” scheduling (though suggesting New Mexico State would be a significant improvement over a decent FCS squad strikes me as a bit puzzling). Most members of the college football press/blogosphere, however, understand the potential issues associated with such a decision and the nuances at play. Not all of them do, though — or if they do, they simply don’t care.

The best (worst?) example of this attitude is probably Yahoo! Sports columnist Frank Schwab, who couldn’t be more thrilled with the no-FCS proposal. After writing (in a headline) that “hopefully everyone follows [the Big 10's] suit”, he added:

…hopefully other conferences (and by “other conferences” we mostly mean you, SEC) stop the practice of wasting a precious Saturday afternoon in the fall on FCS opponents. The FCS teams benefit with a large payday, and that’s great for the bean counters at those schools. It’s not good for anyone else.

It stinks for the season-ticket holders that have to pay for a sham of a game. It’s nothing worth watching on television. The FBS team has nothing to gain, because a win is expected but a loss goes down in infamy. And while the FCS team will get enough money to build a new weight room, the most common result is getting pounded by 40 or 50 points, which can’t be that enjoyable for those players.

Some Big Ten-Sun Belt game in September might not be a ratings bonanza either, but at least it’s better than a parade of FCS opponents.

I thought Schwab’s overall tone was a bit much, to be honest. I sent him a tweet, trying to be as polite as possible:

You seem to have a very flippant attitude about the FCS.

His reply:

Oh, make no mistake, no “seem” about it

Okay, then…

My first thought when I read Schwab’s piece was that it was clearly the work of someone who does not understand FCS football, or who has no connection to it at all (Schwab is a Wisconsin alum). Saying that FCS players can’t enjoy the experience suggests he has never spoken to any of them about it. Most small-school players relish the challenge of “playing up”. In fact, such games are often a recruiting tool for FCS coaches. It’s not all about the money.

Earlier in this post I listed six FCS schools Wisconsin has played in recent years. Of those matchups, the Badgers had to hang on to beat Northern Iowa by five points, were tied at halftime with The Citadel, and frankly should have lost to Cal Poly (winning in OT after the Mustangs missed three extra points). I’m not really getting the “sham of a game” vibe with those contests. Now if you want to talk about the 2012 Big 10 championship game against Nebraska in those terms, go right ahead.

Schwab singles out the SEC as the worst “offender” when it comes to playing FCS schools. I think it is only fair to point out that Big 10 schools currently have a total of 37 FCS teams on their future schedules, while SEC schools have 32. (I’m sure the SEC will eventually add a few more.)

Oh, and to quickly dispose of one canard (which in fairness to Schwab, he does not suggest): some people occasionally claim that allegedly easy FCS matchups have given the SEC a leg up on winning BCS titles, because they play fewer quality non-conference opponents. You only have to look at the Big 10 to see that isn’t the case.

The SEC has played more FCS schools in the past than has the Big 10. However, despite that, Big 10 schools have actually lost more games to FCS opposition since 2005 than has the SEC. In fact, no BCS league has lost as many such games (six) or had as many different schools lose them (four) in that time period.

Not playing FCS schools won’t hide the Big 10′s real problem, which is illustrated to a degree by this article, written in August of 2012:

Iowa has four nonconference football dates. It has chosen to fill two of them this year with games against teams from the Mid-American Conference

The reason for this: The Hawkeyes wanted two games they would have very good chances to win.

That’s not exactly a revelation. But perhaps you aren’t aware of just how pronounced Iowa’s (and the Big Ten’s) dominance over MAC teams has been.

The columnist wrote that the MAC was “the Big 10′s football piñata”, which in years past it may have been. Unfortunately for the Big 10 (and to the undoubted surprise of the writer), it would lose three games to MAC schools in 2012, and that was just part of a trend — MAC teams have beaten Big 10 squads twelve times since 2008. (MACtion, indeed.)

As for the Hawkeyes and the “two games they would have very good chances to win”…Iowa lost one of them by one point, and won the other by one point.

The truth is the Big 10 just hasn’t been that good in football in recent years, which doesn’t have anything to do with playing FCS opposition. Dropping FCS schools from Big 10 schedules won’t change things, either. SEC schools aren’t winning all those BCS titles because they play FCS teams; they’re winning them because SEC schools have the best players and (in some cases) the best coaches.

So what happens if the Big 10 follows through and has its members drop all FCS opponents? What happens if other leagues do the same thing?

You’ve seen the quotes from ADs at schools that would be affected. Then there is this take from agent/event promoter Jason Belzer:

If other conferences follow the Big Ten’s lead and stop scheduling games against FCS opponents, the institutions that compete at that level will have two options: 1) look to make up the funds elsewhere, or 2) essentially be forced to stop competing at the same level as the larger institutions. Because it is  unrealistic to believe that any institution can begin to make up the difference in loss of football guarantee revenue by playing any number of additional such games in basketball, it is more likely that the second option will occur. With the loss of revenue, the gap between schools in BCS conferences and those who are not will continue to grow ever wider, leading to what may be the eventual breakup of the approximately 340 schools that compete at the NCAA Division I level.

How soon this may occur remains to be seen, but the the additional millions in revenue the new college football playoff will provide BCS conferences, coupled with their decision to eliminate the one source in which smaller schools could obtain a piece of those funds, will almost certainly accelerate the timetable for any such  fracturing.

I think that is a distinct possibility. I also think it may be the ultimate aim of the Big 10.

Not everyone agrees that the outlook is so dire, and at least one observer believes there are other ways for smaller schools to generate revenue:

FCS schools can take steps to enhance revenue streams outside of the on-field competitions with big schools. For example, very few schools FCS schools have media rights deals. Yet there are an increasing number of regional sports networks (RSNs) and national networks that are looking for programming. In fact, NBC Sports Network signed a media rights deal with the FCS Ivy League to “broadcast football, men’s basketball. and lacrosse.” FCS schools can and should continue to pursue these deals to be less dependent on paycheck changes…
…many institutions do not lobby at the federal or state level for their athletic programs or rely the schools’ lobbyists for their athletic programs. As schools like UNI receive more state funding, it is unclear how much of that funding will go to its athletic department. Therefore, FCS can and should make larger commitments to lobby on their athletic programs’ behalf, especially if paycheck games are eliminated.

That comes from a blog by a group (or maybe just one individual) called Block Six Analytics. I’ll be honest. I don’t buy either of those options.

I think many smaller institutions already lobby on varsity sports interests, and at any rate in most cases there would be a ceiling for actual results. To use The Citadel as an example, the school has in recent years begun to play Clemson and South Carolina in football on a more regular basis, as do several other FCS schools in the Palmetto State.

This outcome was basically due to a request by the state legislature to the two larger schools, neither of which had any real problem with it. However, The Citadel can’t play Clemson and/or South Carolina every year, since there are numerous other FCS programs in the state (Furman, Wofford, South Carolina State, Coastal Carolina, Presbyterian, and Charleston Southern).

The first point, that FCS schools should have media rights deals…um, it’s not like they haven’t tried. I’m sure the Southern Conference would like to have a profitable contract with CBS or ESPN or Al-Jazeera, but that’s not likely to happen. Even the mid-major conferences that do have deals (like the CAA has with NBC Sports) usually only get the benefit of exposure. That’s great, but it’s not a big cash situation.

I’m trying to imagine what reaction SoCon commissioner John Iamarino would have if he was told that he should go right out and find a big-money media rights deal for his league. Eye-rolling? Uncontrollable laughter?

Speaking of Iamarino, he had some comments on the FCS vs. FBS situation that were fairly ominous:

The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility. If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.

I disagree with Iamarino that “the only reason” to have 63 scholarships is to play FBS schools (but I digress).

I’m guessing it hasn’t occurred to some of the more FBS-focused among the media that there could be a potential loss of football scholarships if the Big 10′s big idea comes to pass. No one thinks that would be good for the health of the sport. It would also be an sizable number of lost opportunities for potential students.

Iamarino doesn’t give a number, but I could see the FCS maximum dropping to around 50, based on scholarship costs and the lost income from not playing those games. That’s not much more than the D-2 maximum of 45.

This wouldn’t be the first time a Big 10 proposal had the potential to eliminate athletic scholarships at other schools, of course. As far back as 1948 the NCAA, then largely controlled by the Big 10, enacted the Sanity Code, an attempt to get rid of all athletic scholarships. It was a rule seen by many as benefiting the Big 10 at the expense of mostly southern schools.

Famously, the Sanity Code would not last long, and it is a pleasure to note that The Citadel was one of the “Seven Sinners” at the heart of its eventual destruction. I would hate to see the school have to reduce opportunities for prospective students after all these years.

Block Six Analytics did make one good point, which is that the FCS schools do have one other string in their collective bow, namely the NCAA basketball tournament:

One may argue that it is madness to have such a seemingly large organization completely dependent on one deal. However, this deal also means the NCAA will do everything in its power to ensure that there are enough Division I basketball programs to continue “March Madness” (also known as the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship). This requires that schools outside of the BCS have basketball programs that compete at the Division I level. In addition, this dynamic may allow smaller schools to actually ask for an increased amount of subsidies from the NCAA – especially given the elimination of paycheck games.

This may be the biggest obstacle to the Big 10 (and other power leagues) breaking away from the NCAA sooner rather than later. There is a lot of money in that tournament, and the event works in part because the country is enchanted with the “David vs. Goliath” component that is traditionally the major drawing card of the first two rounds. A basketball tournament only open to 65-75 larger schools wouldn’t be nearly as valuable (whether administrators at the BCS schools all understand this point is another issue).

Having said that, I have my doubts the smaller schools could extract a larger pound of flesh for their participation in the event.

A couple of other thoughts:

- If the Big 10 eliminates games against FCS schools, it will be harder for its member institutions to become bowl-eligible. This could be even more of a problem if the league moves to a 10-game conference schedule, which is reportedly under consideration.

If dropping FCS schools from FBS schedules was done across the board, there wouldn’t be enough eligible teams for all the existing bowl spots. Either the rules would have to be changed to allow 5-7 teams to play in bowls, or a bunch of bowl games would have to be cut.

- Frank Schwab wrote that a “Big Ten-Sun Belt game in September might not be a ratings bonanza either, but at least it’s better than a parade of FCS opponents”. I believe all but one of the current Sun Belt schools were once FCS (I-AA) programs. It’s not that big a difference from playing these schools versus competing against a quality FCS squad.

In addition, if FBS-FCS matchups go by the wayside, then a bunch of FCS schools will likely move up to FBS — more than are already planning to do so.

It’s possible that Alvarez’s comments to a local radio station are just the rantings of one man. I hope so, but I’m not confident that is the case. I think this is probably going to happen (though perhaps not next year). It will have a limited impact unless leagues like the SEC and ACC do the same thing. Then it will become a problem.

When it comes to maintaining financially stable sports programs, smaller schools already have too many problems.

Next year’s football schedule: Who will The Citadel’s opponents play before they play the Bulldogs?

This is just a quick post on something I was looking at this past week. One thing that a triple option team sometimes has going for it is that its opponent doesn’t have time to prepare adequately for the offense, because it is so different from the “typical” offense. Of course, these days I’m not sure there really is a typical offense.

There is also something to be said about the quality of the opponent’s immediate prior opposition and how it affects its preparation, regardless of offensive or defensive setup.

The Citadel has announced its 2013 football schedule. Just for the record, here are the Bulldogs’ opponents’ opponents the week before they play The Citadel:

August 31: Charleston Southern — well, it’s the season opener

September 7: Wofford — the Terriers will travel to Florida State Baylor the week before playing The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Advantage, Bulldogs.

Edit (2/25/13): Instead of Tallahassee, Wofford will head to Waco on 8/31, thanks to a late change in the Seminoles’ schedule.

Incidentally, Wofford’s game the next week is at home against Georgia Southern. That’s quite a stretch to begin the season.

September 14: at Western Carolina — the Catamounts are tentatively scheduled to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg prior to facing The Citadel. Yikes. That’s after an opening game at Middle Tennessee State. Later in the year, WCU plays Auburn. Yes, three FBS programs in one season. Great for the financial bottom line, not so hot for trying to build a program.

September 21: at Old Dominion — the Monarchs host Howard on September 14. That follows consecutive games against FBS opposition (East Carolina and Maryland) for ODU, which is making the transition to FBS itself.

September 28: Furman — the Paladins are off the week of September 21. Rats.

October 5: Appalachian State – Edit (2/25/13): App State will host Charleston Southern on September 28. The Citadel will be the first of the SoCon’s three triple option teams that the Mountaineers will encounter during the 2013 season.

October 12: at Georgia Southern — the Eagles are at Samford the week before tangling with the Bulldogs in Statesboro. Will this be the last time The Citadel plays at GSU?

October 19: off week

October 26: at Chattanooga — the Mocs travel to Elon prior to facing The Citadel.

November 2: Samford — Pat Sullivan’s crew plays two straight games in South Carolina, traveling to Wofford before making an appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

November 9: at Elon — November 2 will be an off week for the Phoenix. The matchup against The Citadel will also be Elon’s homecoming game.

November 16: VMI — the Keydets, like Samford, will venture to the Palmetto State in consecutive weeks, as they will journey to Presbyterian on November 9 to take on the Blue Hose.

November 23: Clemson – Edit (2/25/13): The Tigers will have two extra days off before playing The Citadel, as they will host Georgia Tech in an ESPN Thursday night game on November 14.

Clemson apparently tried to get out of the game against the Bulldogs. The Tigers have two FCS opponents in 2013 (The Citadel and South Carolina State) primarily as a result of the ACC waffling on having an eight- or nine-game league slate.

Just for comparison, last season’s opponents’ prior opponents:

Charleston Southern — season opener

Georgia Southern — the Eagles hosted Jacksonville

at Appalachian State — the Mountaineers hosted Montana

at North Carolina State — the Pack hosted South Alabama

Chattanooga — the Mocs hosted Appalachian State

at Samford — the Birmingham Bulldogs traveled to Georgia Southern

Western Carolina — the Catamounts hosted Georgia Southern

at Wofford — the Terriers traveled to Appalachian State

Elon — the Phoenix hosted Furman

at VMI — the Keydets traveled to Stony Brook

at Furman — the Paladins traveled to Appalachian State

Does it mean anything? Probably not. It won’t be in The Citadel’s favor that both Furman and Elon have a week off before playing the Bulldogs, but that’s the breaks. Another negative: Clemson will face fellow triple option team Georgia Tech immediately before playing The Citadel.

All this is, really, is something to pass the time while we wait for August 31 to roll around…

2012 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 13.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Comments from Kevin Higgins at his weekly press conference

Mark Speir SoCon teleconference

Hey, read about The Citadel’s outstanding punter, Cass Couey. He likes to fish!

When The Citadel played Western Carolina last season, I wrote (among other things) the following:

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

That was true then, and it is true now, though the circumstances are not quite the same. The Citadel was 2-4 at this point last season, having lost two straight games, and played WCU on the road.

This year, the Bulldogs are 3-3, but have lost three consecutive contests, with the last two games being dispiriting affairs. The seventh game of 2012 will take place at Johnson Hagood Stadium, on Parents’ Day.

Last year, The Citadel took care of business against the Catamounts, winning 35-7. What about Saturday’s game?

First, let’s take a quick look back at last Saturday’s game against Samford. Yes, we have to do that…

I think at this point The Citadel is a known quantity on defense. It is a unit that has some limitations, including a lack of experience in key spots. To be fair, though, that was the concern heading into the season.

For example, I believe most people liked our starting linebackers but were worried about depth at that position. Now the Bulldogs have lost two of those three players for the season. That is a problem and will continue to be one for the rest of the campaign.

It doesn’t mean the defense is a lost cause; far from it. There is still talent on that side of the ball.

The main problem on D against Samford, in my view, was that the defensive line did not have a particularly good day, getting very little pressure on Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, and not having much luck against the run either.

I think the d-line is better than that one game. That was certainly the case against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. It is also true that against Samford, the defense didn’t get any help from the offense, and that took its toll in the second half.

The offense’s play was the really disappointing thing about the game in Birmingham. It wasn’t the first time The Citadel had struggled offensively against Samford, though.

In three games against Samford since moving to the triple option, The Citadel is a combined 6 for 39 on third-down conversions. That is…not good.

Samford’s “bear” front basically forces a team to go outside or over the top to beat it. A team that is successful in doing so can break a lot of big plays. Georgia Southern couldn’t convert on third down against Samford either (0 for 10), but had three long touchdown runs. In the last three games against Samford, The Citadel has only had four plays from the line of scrimmage that went for longer than 20 yards.

In his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins referenced both issues. I felt a little better after hearing his comments. The game plan, to me, appears to have been a fairly good one:

Our goal going into the game was to be aggressive…We went for it on fourth-and-one because we wanted to send a message out to our guys that we wanted them to play aggressive. We were fortunate to get the first down. The very next play we had a play-action throw, as Ben Dupree hit Matt Thompson for a 48-yard strike and we got some momentum going there.

We had two legitimate shots for touchdowns that we just didn’t throw the ball real well or we dropped it. We ended with six dropped balls on the day. Several of those being real tough catches, but we needed to make those plays. Additionally in the second quarter Dupree threw an interception off a scramble and that hurt us [it certainly did, as it was returned for a TD].

Third down conversions were not good…We didn’t do a good job at continuing drives, as we ended up going 1-14 on third-down conversions. If we would have moved the ball better in the first half, it would have taken pressure off of our defense.

That comes close to summing up the offense’s afternoon.

Before moving on to the Western Carolina game, a special teams observation. The Citadel had a field goal blocked against Samford, never a good thing, but paid back that mishap with its own field goal block a short time later. It was yet another rejection for special teams stalwart Domonic Jones. He also got a hand on a second Samford field goal attempt that eventually sailed wide.

In his last 17 games, Jones has blocked six punts and two field goal attempts (not counting the deflection against Samford). He blocked two punts against Jacksonville in last year’s opener, and would later block a punt versus Elon and another in the VMI game (of course, you had to take a number to do that against the Keydets).

Jones has burned Appalachian State in consecutive seasons, blocking a punt for a TD in both the 2011 and 2012 games against the Mountaineers. His first career block of a field goal attempt came this year and was a critical play in the Bulldogs’ victory over Georgia Southern (and may have influenced the Eagles’ other FG attempt, a last-second miss).

Blocking a kick every other game is rather remarkable, and while Jones has drawn some recognition for his kick-blocking exploits, I’m not sure he has really received his just due. I think the SoCon needs to consider adding a place on its all-conference team for a special teams performer who isn’t a kicker or return man. Jones would be an obvious candidate to fill that spot.

Times have been tough for the Western Carolina football program in recent years. If you need confirmation of that, all you have to do is look at the WCU game notes. I’ve seen a lot of releases over the years, but the folks in Cullowhee have apparently made a commitment to stating brutal truths. No sugarcoating is allowed, I guess. The lowlights include:

- An 18-game losing streak in SoCon play, which is the longest current streak of futility for any FCS team in its own conference. The last time Western Carolina won a league game? Well, it was the last time WCU played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

- That win over The Citadel in 2010 is also the last time the Catamounts defeated an NCAA Division I opponent, and the last time WCU won a road game.

- Western Carolina lost 20 SoCon games in a row from 2005-08.

- WCU has lost five straight games this season after winning its opener against Mars Hill.

- The Catamounts are 4-29 in their last 33 road contests, a stretch that dates back to 2005. WCU’s current road losing streak stands at 11 games, which is the sixth-longest such streak among FCS schools (Idaho State has lost a staggering 36 consecutive road games).

- WCU beat Mars Hill 42-14. The fourteen points allowed by the Catamounts marked the fewest points scored by an opponent since, you guessed it, the 2010 game against The Citadel (a 24-13 WCU victory).

- Western Carolina has lost 47 of its last 50 Southern Conference games. Two of the three victories have come against The Citadel.

On the bright side, most observers applauded Western Carolina’s selection of Mark Speir as its new head coach. Speir was a student assistant at Clemson during the latter part of the Danny Ford era in Tigertown. He then moved to Western Carolina for several years before three-year stops at Presbyterian and Elon. He had been on the Appalachian State coaching staff since 2003, and the recruiting coordinator for Jerry Moore since 2004.

Speir comes across (at least in the media teleconferences the SoCon puts out every week) as folksy, but not overly so. While listening to him this week, I was particularly impressed with a comment he made (basically unprompted) about this year’s Catamount squad:

I told [the WCU players] we are still here for this team, the 2012 team, to be a good football team, and we have five more opportunities to become a good football team…and our staff is not looking to next year, we’re looking [forward] to this week and the next four weeks…

That sounds like the opposite of, say, Charlie Weis. Being the opposite of Charlie Weis as a football coach strikes me as a good place to be (although Weis apparently has a great agent).

Speir clearly has his work cut out for him, though, especially this season. This year’s WCU outfit has been okay offensively, but on defense…not so much.

The aforementioned game notes actually include a paragraph entitled “Western Carolina’s Troubles With The Triple Option”. I couldn’t wait to read that section.

- Wofford rushed for 590 yards against the Catamounts, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry. Three Terriers rushed for over 100 yards.

- Georgia Southern rushed for 614 yards against WCU, averaging over 7.7 yards per carry. GSU had five different ballcarriers rush for at least 89 yards.

- You didn’t have to run the triple option to run on Western Carolina, though. Furman averaged 7.9 yards per carry in its victory over the Catamounts; the Paladins’ Jerodis Williams rushed for 239 yards on only 18 carries. Williams also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.

- Samford running back Fabian Truss rushed for 180 yards against Western Carolina.

In that Samford game, though, Western Carolina actually had the lead in the fourth quarter before giving up 15 unanswered points and losing 25-21. Still, that level of competitiveness should get The Citadel’s attention.

WCU opened the scoring against Samford with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, one of three fumble returns for TDs the Catamounts have had this season. Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest defense, but it appears WCU’s D is at least opportunistic at times.

Western Carolina runs a spread offense, not unlike that of Appalachian State. Eddie Sullivan has received the bulk of the snaps at quarterback, but Troy Mitchell will also see a lot of time. Against Georgia Southern, the two were interchanged for each other on almost every down, and occasionally were in the backfield together.

The Catamounts have several running backs; the two-deep’s listed starter, Michael Vaughn, has fewer rushing yards than three of the other RBs. Jacoby Mitchell is Western Carolina’s leading receiver, but keep an eye on 6’4″ freshman Spearman Robinson, a native of Greenwood.

There appears to be a bit of uncertainty on the left side of WCU’s offensive line, with both the LG and LT spots on the two-deep listed as an “or” situation. Josh Weinberg is a 260-lb. true freshman who will start at right tackle.

On defense, Western Carolina’s best player is linebacker/tackling machine Rock Williams, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Randy Pressley isn’t listed as a starter at linebacker, but he made 16 tackles against Georgia Southern last week, including the Catamounts’ only tackle for loss.

WCU’s defensive line is not particularly large, as only two of the nine players on the depth chart weigh more than 265 lbs. and four of them weigh less than 250 lbs. The secondary is young; two of the starters are freshmen, and two others are sophomores.

Western Carolina punter Clark Sechrest is having a good year thus far. He presents a different challenge for Domonic Jones and company in that he is left-footed and can employ the “rugby style” of punting. He is also the backup placekicker. According to WCU’s website, he kicks field goals and PATs with his right foot.

The regular placekicker for WCU, Richard Sigmon, is 4 for 8 on FG attempts with a long of 45. He has had one kick blocked. Sigmon is also the kickoff specialist. Four of his 27 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Western Carolina’s punt return unit is not particularly strong. On kickoff returns, the long for the season for the Catamounts is 38 yards.

Tangent alert…

I need a ruling. Is Saturday’s game Parent’s Day (as noted on the school’s game preview) or Parents Day (on the website’s season schedule)? Actually, I think Parents’ Day would be more correct than either.

The press release from External Affairs refers to “Parents’ Weekend” throughout, except for (of course) the title of the release (“Parents Weekend”).

I’m going to go with Parents’ Day on this blog post. Yes, I know nobody cares.

What we really care about is the action on the field. The Citadel needs to win this game. It doesn’t really matter how, although I would personally be in favor of a blowout victory in which everyone gets to play a lot and the cadets all get overnights. Hey, I’m generous. Also, I remember Parents’ Day 1986 all too well. Not a good weekend.

There have been some good Parents’ Day games (the most famous being The Citadel’s 1950 victory over South Carolina), but lately things haven’t gone the home team’s way at what I call the “celebration” games — Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has lost five consecutive celebration games.

Since 1953 (when the modern yearly Parents’ Day/Homecoming advanced schedule began), The Citadel has never lost six consecutive celebration games.

Incidentally, in none of those five losses did The Citadel wear its “traditional” uniform of light blue jerseys/white pants. Sure, that is just a coincidence. Still, perhaps Kevin Higgins’ Leadership Council can get together and appease some old alums while reversing a little karma. Just a suggestion.

I think the Bulldogs will win on Saturday, although I’m not overly confident. Nobody should be confident, given the results of the last two weeks. It is also worth pointing out that despite Western Carolina being a terrible football program for a number of years now, the Catamounts have won two of the last three games in this series.

WCU has players on its roster who know they can beat The Citadel. They will be more confident against the Bulldogs than any other SoCon team.

On the other hand, the stats don’t lie. League opponents have run the ball at will against Western Carolina. Saturday’s game is a good opportunity for Triple O’Higgins to put up some big numbers, and for the players to regain some lost confidence.

Perhaps the fans can regain some lost confidence as well.

Congratulations to all the seniors as they get their rings, with a gentle reminder that it isn’t over yet. There are still diplomas to be acquired.

Congratulations also to the freshmen who have made it to this benchmark. You still have a long way to travel, but you’ve survived the most stressful part of the trip.

I hope everyone has a good time this weekend. Let’s win this game.

2012 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 6.  The game will not be televised. The contest can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze patrolling the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pregame, halftime, and postgame commentary. Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Samford.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Samford game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS Poll

Pat Sullivan’s SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show, Part 1 and Part 2

Catching up with…Derek Douglas

Feature in The Post and Courier on Sadath Jean-Pierre

Some quick facts about Samford…

- Samford was called Howard College until 1965, when it became a university. In an effort to avoid being mistaken for Howard University, the MEAC school located in Washington, DC, the name was changed to Samford.

- While it is now in suburban Birmingham, Samford was originally located in Marion, Alabama. The decision to move to Birmingham (which happened in 1887) was far from unanimous, and among those staying in Marion was the school president, Col. James T. Murfee, who had in the post-Civil War era brought a military atmosphere to Howard College.

On the old Marion campus, Murfee founded Marion Military Institute, which is now a junior college and “The State Military College of Alabama”.

- Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school in the U.S., and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines.

(In case you were wondering, and I’m sure you were, the other law school to be bought and moved was the one at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. It was sold and moved to Seattle University in 1994.)

- Samford played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.  Samford also played in the first night game at Legion Field (in 1928), losing 12-7 to Spring Hill.

The school’s football team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963. Samford discontinued football in 1974, but reinstated the sport ten years later.

- Samford’s athletic teams, like those at The Citadel, are known as the “Bulldogs”. Also like The Citadel, its cartoon mascot is called “Spike”. It even has a live mascot now, like the military college, but there the similarities end. Samford’s bulldog is a female named “Libby“.

- Bobby Bowden was 31-6 as head coach at Samford (his alma mater), and his son Terry was 45-23-1 at Samford before taking the top job at Auburn. He is now in his first season as head coach of Akron. Terry Bowden’s first quarterback at Samford was Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bobby Bowden as head coach at Florida State.

[Pat] Sullivan said [last week] that this [Samford] team was the best he’s had in his six years at the school. The Bulldogs had their best grades in the offseason and have united as one.

“I’ve been talking about this team since last January,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know how the rest of the year is going to come out, but what I do know is that these players and coaches have been on a mission. There’s been no hidden agendas. Everybody talks about one family and this has truly been one (family) this year.”

I’m not sure if people knew what to make of this year’s Samford team before the season started. The Birmingham Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the SoCon by both the media voters and the coaches, but there was (and is) clearly a lot of respect for several individual Samford players (eight of whom were preseason choices for first- or second-team all-conference).

This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title. Currently, Samford is 4-1 after suffering its first loss of the season last week at Georgia Southern.

If you have followed SoCon football at all over the last few years, you know that Dustin Taliaferro had been Samford’s quarterback since 1916, when the team was called the “Baptist Tigers”. Okay, I’m exaggerating — but Taliaferro ran Samford’s offense for so long that opponents actually knew his last name was pronounced “Tolliver”.

Taliaferro has finally used up his eligibility for Samford, and his replacement at QB is Andy Summerlin, who is a fifth-year senior transfer from Memphis. So far, Summerlin has been solid, although he struggled at Georgia Southern last week. He is completing 62.9% of his passes, and has thrown for five touchdowns against four interceptions (one of which was returned for a TD in the GSU game).

Fabian Truss is an excellent running back. He rushed for 102 yards against Furman and 180 yards versus Western Carolina. He is also an outstanding kick returner. His backup, Jeremiaha Gates, is no slouch either; after Truss was injured against The Citadel last season, Gates rushed 12 times for 59 yards, and followed that up with a 119-yard effort the next week at Auburn.

Wide receiver Kelsey Pope should be a familiar name to fans of The Citadel, since Pope caught 17 passes in last season’s matchup in Charleston. One of the other fine wideouts on the Samford roster, Riley Hawkins, is also a very good punt returner.

Samford traditionally has a large offensive line, and this year is no different. The listed weights of the five projected starters on the two-deep: 285 lbs., 295 lbs., 285 lbs., 285 lbs., 315 lbs. The most highly regarded of that group is center Ryan Dudchock, a redshirt senior who has made 27 consecutive starts. Dudchock was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

Last year’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, left to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Arkansas State. From what I can tell, this year’ s offense is similar to what Samford ran in 2011, which was basically Malzahnish. Samford is averaging 74.6 plays from the line of scrimmage this year, almost the same hurry-up pace it had last season (75.6).

By way of comparison, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 60.8 plays from the line of scrimmage this season, after averaging 61.5 plays per game in 2011.

Samford’s play selection is very balanced, having so far this campaign rushed the ball 188 times while attempting 185 passes. Last year the Birmingham Bulldogs rushed 436 times and threw 396 passes.

The statistic that most correlates to winning and losing for Samford over the past season and a half is offensive rushing yardage. In ten victories, the rushing yardage totals have been as follows: 304, 160, 181, 348, 303, 113 (that was against The Citadel), 150, 227, 135, and 174. In five losses (not counting the Auburn game): 61, 34, 84, 92, and 63 (last week at Georgia Southern).

Samford runs the “Bear” defense against triple option teams. At his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins described the defense:

The “Bear” front is basically when you cover up the center and both guards and then you have what we would call outside linebackers that are off of the offensive tackles…then out on the perimeter…when we bring our receivers in they are going to take their corners and press a little bit. They are going to take their “mike” linebacker and he’s going to be the guy to try to get from sideline to sideline because they keep him covered up as they cover [up] your five offensive linemen…their safety is also in the middle of the field, single high, and he’s going to be running hard on plays.

Higgins noted that the defense makes it harder “to get the B-Back going” because of the number of players on the inside.

Samford against the SoCon’s triple option teams over the past few seasons:

2010 The Citadel 119 rushing yards allowed (2.7 ypc)
2010 Wofford 360 rushing yards allowed (6.2 ypc)
2010 Georgia Southern 122 rushing yards allowed (2.4 ypc)
2011 The Citadel 248 rushing yards allowed (5.1 ypc)
2011 Wofford 443 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)
2011 Georgia Southern 263 rushing yards allowed (5.4 ypc)
2012 Georgia Southern 360 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)

In that game last week against GSU, Samford allowed touchdown runs of 41, 67, and 40 yards.

Nicholas Williams was a preseason all-conference choice on the defensive line. The 310-lb. DT is likely to be a key player in Saturday’s game, as is noseguard Jerry Mathis (who tips the scales at 292 lbs.). While there is beef in the middle, one of Samford’s starting defensive ends (Brinson Porter) only weighs 211 lbs.

Samford has a great deal of experience in the linebacking corps. All three starters are seniors. The aptly-named Keith Shoulders will have to shoulder a considerable load on Saturday at middle linebacker. His backup, Justin Shade, is the son of secondary coach Sam Shade, who some may remember from his days as a star safety at Alabama and in the NFL. The  younger Shade may be a backup on the depth chart, but he recorded 63 tackles last season, second on the team.

The leading tackler last year was strong safety Alvin Hines II, another preseason all-league pick (on the second team). The other starting safety, Jaquiski Tartt, was merely the SoCon’s defensive player of the month for September.

Tartt already has 51 tackles this season (25 solo stops), along with two interceptions. He also returned a fumble 80 yards for a score against Georgia Southern.

Samford has very good special teams units. Earlier I mentioned Truss and Hawkins, both of whom are dangerous return men. The Birmingham Bulldogs also boast reliable placekicker Cameron Yaw and have a solid punter in Greg Peranich.

Last season’s game between the two teams turned on two blocked field goals by Samford (one by Hines). This year’s special teams battle will be a tough one for The Citadel.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday’s game will be Youth Day at Seibert Stadium. Any youth football player or cheerleader who attends the game in uniform will be admitted for free.

- Samford has won its last five games after a loss.

- Samford has just concluded a three-game road trip, one that ended with its players still in an exam period. Students at the Birmingham school began fall break on Friday.

- The Citadel is the least-penalized team in the Southern Conference (in terms of yardage) by a considerable margin. Samford has been penalized more (in terms of yardage) than any SoCon team, also by a considerable margin.

- Samford leads the league in the following categories: kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, punt return average, sacks, interceptions, defensive pass efficiency, and turnover margin.

- With regards to turnover margin, Samford is currently at +7 and is on pace for a fifth consecutive year of a positive turnover margin (previous four years: +7, +9, +1, +14).

- The Citadel is next-to-last in the SoCon in 3rd-down conversion defense. That has to improve, as the Bulldogs D has to be able to get off the field. Not surprisingly given that stat, The Citadel is also next-to-last in first downs allowed (and also next-to-last in offensive first downs).

One way to improve The Citadel’s third-down issues on defense is to stop the run, something the Bulldogs have at times struggled to do so far this year. Against Samford, that becomes even more important. The Birmingham Bulldogs don’t have the true running threat at QB that is associated with a lot of teams that run the Gus Malzahn style of offense, but make up for it with their running backs.

Stopping those RBs on Saturday will be a difficult task, particularly with the loss of Carl Robinson for the season due to a knee injury. Ian Thompson will step into the starting lineup in Robinson’s absence; Yemi Oyegunle and Doyen Harris will also see more action, per Kevin Higgins. I hope they tackle well. I hope the whole team improves its tackling, for that matter.

One positive from last week’s loss to Chattanooga was the passing game, which was reasonably effective and efficient. Indeed, Triple O’Higgins is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency. As I wrote in my review of the UTC game, I think The Citadel should be in run-run-run mode when feasible, but I think the game against Samford may present the military college with an opportunity to call some play-action passes.

Saturday’s game at Samford is going to be a very tough assignment for The Citadel. It may be a challenge too difficult for the cadets to overcome.

On the other hand, it is also an opportunity. The team can essentially wipe away the disappointment of the UTC loss with a victory over Samford. If that happens, it also stamps The Citadel as a legitimate contender in the Southern Conference.

That isn’t something you could say about The Citadel in recent years. It would be nice to be able to say it this season.

One more round.

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